Review: Potion Craft
By: Stephen Machuga (ShanghaiSix)
Developer: niceplay games
Available on: PC (Steam)
I love tinyBuild games. They’re always random and quirky, and Potion Craft is certainly both of those combined. Having gotten a review code from their PR firm for simply asking a basic question about a press release I’d gotten from them, I decided to take a whack at it.
The premise and gameplay of Potion Craft itself are fairly simple: you are a nameless, faceless person running a potion store on the outskirts of a nameless, faceless town. There’s not much in the way of story outside of “Wake up each day, interact with customers who are asking you to craft them certain potions by gathering ingredients from your magical garden and brewing said potions.” You get profit and build reputation in hopes of...getting more profit and reputation. No grand storyline about your potions being used to aid a war effort or help a kingdom take down a beast of yore. Just good ol’ fashioned capitalism.
I was literally talking to myself while playing Potion Craft: “This is fairly basic. There’s not a lot going on here.” And there wasn’t. And then I looked up and had spent six hours just grinding out recipes to sell more potions to get more money to invest in more herbs to grind out recipes and so on, and so forth. Much like “clicker” games where you are barely needed to be present, Potion Clicker is a great “I’m going to listen to a podcast and disappear for a while” type of game.
The main gameplay mechanic consists of what they call “The Alchemy Map.” Every potion starts with a water base (for now, they promise more liquid bases for different map layouts) map. You have a pile of herbs that generally represent the four elements: earth, fire, wind, water, and each herb has a pre-determined track that your potion will “travel” along the map. Generally, the basic herbs take a track along the four cardinal directions on the map. For example, to craft a fire potion, you need a single air herb to move the needle north, then a bunch of fire herbs to move the needle to the west, where the “fire” potion recipe is located on the map. The more complex recipes like “explosion” or “berserker” are also fire-based “west” movements on the map, but the map is filled with hazards that, if your potion marker touches them for too long, ruin your progress (which is generally very costly). These hazards force you to add all kinds of herbs to the mix to move around them to reach your intended recipe. You eventually add gemstones and mushrooms to the mix, all being ground with your mortar and pestle and all of them sending your marker all over the map in wild directions.
Trust me; it just sounds complicated. It is fairly simple once you get into it. And mesmerizing. It’s easy to say, “I’ll just fill out one more recipe/one more day and then call it,” and then keep on grinding.
The rest of the interface is fairly simple. Right now, the game is made up of five “screens” of your house. Up takes you to your bed, where you end your day. Left takes you to the storefront, where customers and other vendors will come to make their requests. Right takes you to your enchanted garden, where once a day, you can grab everything growing for your garden (you will never have enough for everything needing to be made), and down takes you into the basement where a disabled alchemy machine is sitting for massive “end game” recipes are to be built. The central block is your alchemy map and where most of your work will be happening.
That’s the game. That is Potion Craft. There definitely needs to be more. The developers promise more on a screen at the menu: more recipes, more diversified alchemy maps through different liquid bases, more varied requests from patrons, and even more music. The game plays the same track on a loop, a lilting flute medley that wouldn’t be out of place in a Renaissance Fair. Over time, you won’t even notice it as you’re grinding away at your potions.
Overall, I enjoyed my eight hours with the game. But as I looked at my “mission” checklist, I knew there wouldn’t be much of a payoff on what I had experienced so far outside of another 20-30 hours of steadily increasing potion difficulty and herb management. Think of Potion Craft like you would a lot of builder or “clicker” games: you start at bronze which is easy, then go to silver, which might require bronze to make. Then you get to gold, and that will require even more silver and bronze to make, then platinum, then diamond, then ludicrous metal, which of course requires you to make ALL the metals simultaneously at ridiculously high quantities. Because there’s no story, I knew if I spent all that time crossing off things on the to-do list, I would be greeted to a simple “You did it, yay” end screen. With no compelling story to fall back on, I quickly burned out on Potion Craft, as I imagine many people will over time.
That said, I had a hell of a good time. What a great time waster.