A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.
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Potion Making : When great art and appropriate mechanics create magic

Lowell Kempf
United States
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As I’ve mentioned before, I was one of the folks who Right Games LLC (http://www.russianboardgames.com) contacted to preview the English releases of some of their games. I have not gotten in enough plays to really do what I feel would be a proper review of their Potion Making: Practice but I still want to comment on the game.

I understand that it’s their bestselling game and has been cited as the most popular card game in Russia. I always thought that was Durak but I also always view any description like most popular with some doubt. And most popular is not always a good sign. After all, Munchkin is a popular game and Twilight is a popular book/film series and I avoid both of those like the plague.

That being said and to save folks time who don’t want to read the whole blog, Potion Making is actually a rather fun little game. It’s a casual, light game, much better for social gamers than for hardcore gamers but I didn’t see anything on the box that said that it would be a deeper experience than Twilight Struggle.

The idea behind the game is that everyone is little Harry Potters in training and they are learning how to mix potions. And a big part of what makes the game a fun experience is that the theme and the mechanics really go hand in hand.

All of the games that Right Games sent me have been very pretty. The card stock is a little thinner than I like (I like linen stock that can survive scuffing, cat attacks and soda accidents) but the art work has all been lovely. And Potion Making is the stand out of the lot.

Each card shows an ingredient, as well as either a potion or a spell. Every ingredient looks like an illustration out of an art book about fantasy. Simply put, you are not going to mistake one ingredient for another and they are just dripping with flavor.

The mechanics of the game are super simple. If a card is on the table, it is an ingredient. If it is in your hand, it’s a formula. On your turn, you play one card. You either set it on the table, in a common area, adding it to the stockpile of ingredients that everyone can use, or pick up ingredients and place them on top of the card, indicating that you have completed that formula.

However, here’s the thing. If something is on the table, it’s an ingredient, even a completed potion. The more advanced formulas (worth more points) use specific completed potions as ingredients. If anyone had made one of the required items, you can use it as one of your ingredients. It doesn’t hurt the other person that much either. They get half the points you earn and don’t lose any points for losing the potion.

When you do that, the ingredients that made up the potion used as an ingredient go back into the general stockpile, so ingredients keep on getting recycled and going back into circulation.

You earn points by adding new ingredients to the stock pile and making potions. The game ends when all the cards have been played. Whoever has the most points in the winner.

That being said, this isn’t the kind of game you play to win. It’s the kind of game you play because it’s a fun activity and because the theme is immersive enough that folks can really get into it.

And that is the make and break of the game. It is a fun social activity but it is not a deep strategy game. The hand of cards you get will give you options and there are definitely good plays and bad plays. However, the basic strategy of the game is easy enough to understand that everyone should be making good choices. That means luck of the draw could well be what tips the balance between winning and losing.

On top of that, interaction in the game is limited to the fact that everyone is using the same pool of resources. The only way you can hurt someone is swiping an ingredient before they get a chance to use it. Most of the time, you’ll actually be helping the other players by adding things to the table that they might be able to use.

So, the hard core gamer in me sees those things as flaws.

However, the social gamer in me really likes Potion Making. While there’s a lot of information in the game, the basic mechanics of the game are easy enough that you can play it with anyone. While luck does play a part in the game, there is still some thinking involved and some judgment. And, sometimes, if you just want a light game that’s fun, it’s okay that you don’t get to hurt anyone.

The real kicker is the fun theme which the artwork and the mechanics both really help kick up a notch. What are you doing? Making potions by mixing up great looking ingredients. How neat is that? The mechanics make perfect sense for the theme and the art makes it all come alive. I am dying to have some of my non-gamer Harry Potter loving friends play the game and watch them go “Squee!”

In general, you have to go into Potion Making: Practice knowing that it’s not a deep strategy game but a light social game. It’s really more of a social activity than a gamer game. However, it kicks the tar out of all those card games that Steve Jackson Games puts out.
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