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Divine diagnoses from the stars in Astrologaster

Jupiter ascending

Forsooth, gentlefolk, look to the skies, for they portend the arrival of a video game. It’s Astrologaster, a tale based on the real life of an old-timey doctor, Simon Forman, who blended medicine, astrology, and sort of general advice-giving into a mostly-successful business in Shakespearian London. Oh, and quite a bit of what the game delicately calls “strumpy-humpy.”

I played the game this week, and though I have treacherously sold the rights to say exactly Wot I Think elsewhere, I rather enjoyed it. You step into the comically pointy shoes of Dr. Forman after he cures himself of the plague, and address a cast of patients with problems ranging from hangovers to heart attacks to bad spouses. A lot of bad spouses. Not many marriages in plague-ridden London were happy, it turns out.

To do so, you turn to the heavens, looking at multiple interpretations of the movement of the planets and cross-referencing them with the appropriate medical advice – like letting out excess blood and applying mercury salves to one’s privates – in order to “help” your clients. Of course, you’ll also want to keep them happy so that they’ll come back and recommend you to their friends, so the best cure might not always be the best answer lest it upset them.

If it sounds slapdash, that’s because it was. All of this is based on real star charts, real world events, and perhaps most shiver-inducingly, real medical practices from the era. Thank the stars for antibiotics and the NHS. (Though if you’re especially affronted by using astrology to diagnose people, try instead feeling glad you’re not familiar with exactly how much of modern medicine is educated guesswork.)

Bits of playing doctor-slash-agony-aunt are interspersed with English madrigals – period-appropriate songs detailing what that person’s been up to since you last saw them and the like. They’re also a certified good joke delivery method, and where else are you going to find a video game to set you up for a punchline using a 400-year-old pop song?

Astrologaster is available now on Steam for £9.99/€9.99/$9.99.

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