North Ryde - Sydney
NINE LITTLE LETTERS
FECK! ARSE! DRINK! GIRLS!
This review is a re-post of our session played at Northside Gamers on 1 November.
Potion Explosion is a simple, accessible, pattern recognition, set collecting game that is somewhat like the video game Candy Crush.
Punching-out all the bits and creating the ball race took a good 20 minutes, when meant we could spend the time watching one of the Rodney Smith excellent "Learn to Play" videos, which shortcut some of the learning process.
Thematically, players are all students in the professor's lab, learning how to make magical potions using the 4 available ingredients.
The aim of the game is to be the one with the highest victory points, collected by making various potions, and in doing so, collect victory point tokens. When the short stack of victory point tokens is exhausted (6 in a 4-player game), then game ends. Each of the potions has a point value (between 3 and 11) with easier or less powerful ones scoring lower and more potent ones scoring higher.
The main component in the game is a big cardboard ball dispenser. At the start of the game, you tip a bag of marbles into the top of the dispenser and they roll down one of 5 tracks, forming columns of 4 colours (blue, black, yellow and red).
Each player collects two potions and the remainder are shuffled into 5 draw piles. Potions require various numbers of ingredients to complete as indicated by the colours displayed and the number of small holes in each card.
On your turn, you can draw one marble from any visible track. The removal of that marble causes the marbles above to roll down - like Candy Crush, and if two or more marbles of the same colour come into contact, and explosion occurs - you may then remove all the coloured marbles in that explosion. Doing so may then cause more marbles to roll down, creating more explosions - the result of removing one marble can often lead to a chain reaction of explosions - delivering lots of marbles for the active player.
Depending on the distribution of the marbles in the tracks, removing just one may not cause an explosion, so to help you along, you may also "ask the professor for assistance", this allows you to draw another marble, but you also have to take a minus 2 scoring token which deducts from your end-game score. This is worthwhile strategy if your options are limited, but there is a price for doing so.
Players then take these marbles and add them to their potion cards, in the appropriate colour. You also have a small flask in which to store 3 spare marbles, but any ones that can't fit into your potions or beaker are returned to the dispenser.
If you happen to fill all the coloured spots on a potion, you have successfully completed that potion and earn the associated victory points. The marbles are returned to the dispenser and the potion set aside - a new potion drawn from the available pool. Victory point tokens are earned by collecting sets of 3 of the same potion type or making 5 different potions.
Each of the potions have a special ability and drinking one allows you to use that ability once, such as:
- draw an extra marble
- draw two joined marbles of the same colour
- draw one mable of each colour from the bottom of each row
- re-use a potion that has already been drunk
- steal marbles form another player's beaker
Play proceeds around, with each player drawing marbles, causing explosions, assigning marbles to potions, completing potions, drinking them and collecting victory points. When the final victory point token is taken, the game ends and players total the scores for their tokens and completed potions.
Turns are generally very quick at the start, but slow down as the game progresses and players choose when to drink their potions to gain extra advantages. Even though you may only have one or two actions, assessing the every changing marble race for patterns that will lead to the right types of explosions can sometimes take time. Determining the sequence in which you perform your actions is also crucial as you really want to chain the actions off each other to gain maximum benefit, and as the game progresses, the effects build upon each other making later turns more complex and slightly longer.
There is a lot of luck in how the marbles line-up in the race. You can be lucky and be presented with a pattern that will cause multiple explosions, garnering you a fistful of marbles that allow you to complete your potions, and once you complete them you get to use those special abilities. Conversely, the marbles you need for your potions may not be easily gamed on your turn, so a lot time can be spent assessing your best options. Often the option that will deliver a truckload of marbles may not help you get the colours you need for your potions.
In our game it appeared Allan was well ahead, but none of us realise most of his potions were all low value. Ha also got stuck with people using the stealing potion to take his marbles away - putting him behind in multiple rounds. Richard managed to get his engine in the mid-game going and completed the game with a score in the 70's with the rest of us trailing in the 60's and 30's.
The components are solid - the ball dispenser is an impressive item when constructed and it works well in play. The potion bottles are heavy weight and are clear on the potion side, with little holes to hold the marbles, although the colours are a bit garish on some and the iconography isn't the clearest. The marbles themselves are cheapo and poor quality, while the colours are clear, even after one play the colours were wearing off some and a few were poorly cast with chips and dents. All the items fit neatly back into the box when fully constructed.
Overall, I enjoyed the game, but it didn't really grab my attention. As I said earlier, there is a LOT of luck in the distribution of marbles in the race - advantaging some players significantly and disadvantaging others - as long as you're prepared for this level of luck, all good. Completing a few potions early can give one player a distinct advantage as the potion abilities can then be used to get better results, in particular the stealing of other people's marbles can disadvantage them further - allowing one player to get a commanding lead. We found ourselves constantly referring to the potion summary to understand the abilities, but I can see this improving after a few games - a player reference card would have been a nice inclusion.
The game definitely suits people with good pattern recognition skills but for those prone to analysis paralysis, turns could be painfully long.
The game plays 2-4 players in around 45-60 mins. We played as a 4-player, but I don't know if it would work as well as a 2-player game. Rules are straight forward and the game is accessible as a gateway game. While there is variability in the game, long-term I have concerns that the game would feel quite samey, possibly limiting replay value.
I enjoyed our first game and wouldn't mind giving it another run and a lightweight session without too much thinking, but it's not something I personally would seek out too often. My initial rating would be a fun 6.5 - middle of the road but not yet 100% convinced it has the legs.
Thanks for the review. Good job.
You commented on you don't know if it would work with two players. I have played with 2,3 and 4 players and wouldn't play with 4 again (too much down time and you can't plan your moves ahead as the marbles will have changed too much. With two you still can't really plan ahead but as down time is reduced considerably this isn't such a problem.
The biggest downtime is when 3 playes before you are planning how to use numerous potions on a turn and this takes some time to plan out.
To summarise I would say good with 2 but at best ok with 4.
North Ryde - Sydney
NINE LITTLE LETTERS
FECK! ARSE! DRINK! GIRLS!
Thanks for the advice Steve. Good to know.
Melting souls with cuteness since 2007
To me, Potion explosion is a good game. However, once you are past the marbles distributor (after a single game or two), what's left is a very generic game.
There's nothing wrong with it, but nothing particularly engaging either.
It would be a very forgettable game if not for the marbles.