Games, games and more games!
This review is part of my series of reviews of how multiplayer games work with just 2. For the full list see: My 2 player game reviews.
Rules - how are they different in a 2 player game?
The number of cubes in both the bag and the supply at the start of the game varies with player count, and the number of VPs available at end game for getting your school of magic to have used the most ingredients is reduced with fewer players.
The only other rule change with 2 is that the first two potions have to have a VP value of at least 5.
How is the game different with just 2?
It may have just been the way we played and the potions we chose, but the game just didn't work with just 2 players. One player used blue in every potion, and with the other player not having any of that colour, it meant they couldn't do any of the potions. The other player chose all the smallest VP tiles they could, which meant none of their potions were worth very much, so the opponent didn't really want to do any of them. It turned into a stall, as both players just took cubes, firstly from the bag, then from the supply, while doing the odd potion here are there as they could, and most points actually came from the initial potions that were placed.
That game experience aside, what are the differences with 2? Well, the first one is that there is no race to put potions down, as you both have only 5 potion discs, so the ten potions available will be shared between the two players. This does change the feel of the game, as in a multiplayer game choosing the potions available to your opponents is a key aspect of the game, and choosing ones that are going to be done regularly so you get cubes from them is one of the key skills.
This last comment is the main difference in a 2 player game. In a multiplayer game you WANT your potion to be done, to produce you cubes, as well as your opponents VPs - you want it to produce the cubes you need to do the other potions. In a 2 player you almost don't want your opponent to do any of your potions, as it gains them more VPs than the advantage you get from the cube, and this is one of the reasons the game doesn't work with 2.
The points from your school of magic colour at end-game can be very decisive in multiplayer games, especially at high player counts. With 2 players these are almost negligible, although as scores are lower and the difference between scores at end game can be small, they could still be key. But given the chaos in this game at the best of times, and the zero-sum nature of the game with just 2, that's probably a good thing, otherwise those points would be overpowering!
The other difference is the speed at with the supply ran out. With lots of players the supply is bigger, but generally most players are doing a potion every turn, so two cubes are taken out of the supply every turn, and in some games, where there is one particularly popular potion, or a couple that produce the same cube colours, the game can end very quickly as the supply suddenly runs out unexpectedly. I don't know if our 2 player game was usual, but we ran out of the ability to do potions long before the supply ran out, and then were just taking cubes to end the game as soon as possible.
Although I love this game as a multiplayer game, particularly with 4 or 5, I can't see me ever playing it again with 2 players. The game just didn't work when played with a zero-sum mindset, and I can't see that it would be any better in future playings, as you'd still have the same underlying problem that you don't want your opponent to do your potions, and the game degenerates into a stall, not the chaos it is in the multiplayer game.