It’s exam time at the Horribilorum Sorcery Academy for Witty Wizards and Witches. Your favorite class? Potions, of course! Who wouldn’t love a class filled with dangerous ingredient extraction (Ogre Mucus or Fairy Dandruff, anyone?) and rather haphazard storing methods. You see, when clumps of the same ingredient mash together, they have a tendency to explode.
But in order to graduate, you’ll have to take the exam regardless of the danger. So the question is, can you quickly and effectively create a series of potions to prove your worth? Oh don’t worry, it’s a simple task. Just reach in the tank and grab what you need. If something happens to explode and splash more ingredients on your table, what’s the harm? It’s simply a quicker way to get those potions made. We rarely lose limbs, and in any case they can easily be regrown.
Headmaster Albedus Humblescore is standing by to hand out the grads, so dig your hands in, students, and see what you’ve got. Everyone has a chance to graduate, but only one student can be Student of the Year when it comes to Potion Explosion.
How It Plays
The goal of Potion Explosion is to complete as many potions as you can, as quickly as possible. You also get bonus points for creating sets of potions – either 3 of a kind, or 5 different types.
The crux of the game is the ingredient tank which looks something like this:
On your turn, you get to take one marble from this delightful contraption. Any marble you like! Just take it.
But wait! There’s more. If two marbles of the same color smack together after you remove a marble, why, that causes an explosion! Fortunately, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, when an ingredient explodes, you get to take all marbles of that color adjacent to the explosion.
If you remove those ingredients and another pair of marbles that are the same color smack together again, guess what? Another explosion! More marbles for you! You can keep going until you run out of marbles or explosions.
Once you’ve collected all these marbles in your hand, you place them on your potions. Each potion has slots that hold marbles, and you have to match the correct color. When a potion is filled up with ingredients, you’ve successfully mixed it. You remove it from your desk and flip it potion-side up. Extra ingredients in hand? No worries, you can store up to three marbles at the end of your turn.
Any excess marbles get dumped back into the tank. At the very end of your turn, you can refill any empty spaces on your desk with new potions.
After creating a set of 3 or 5 potions, you claim a Skill token worth 4 points. When a set number of Skill tokens have been claimed (based on the number of players) the game end is triggered. Everyone gets an equal number of turns, and then everyone counts up their points. Whoever has the most is the winner!
Of course, there’s a few more tricks up the wizarding sleeves of Aldus Humblescore. On your turn, you can get A Little Help – a token worth -2 points, but that allows you to remove one extra marble from the tank. This won’t cause any explosions, but maybe it’ll get you that last color you need to finish a potion. Or maybe you can set yourself up an amazing series of explosions.
Also you can help yourself by drinking the potions you create. Potions provide special abilities, such as grabbing extra ingredients, stealing from other players, or using ingredients as any color you want. Clever usage of these potions is necessary to set up those cool explosions and finish off your work as quickly as possible.
A Wizarding World?
There’s something obviously, glaringly, visibly exciting about this game, so let’s all just take a moment and drink it all in, shall we?
Hey you there. Back to me.
A fantastic set piece does not necessarily guarantee a riveting game. Let’s not all forget our favorite overproduced fiasco (I have no idea what yours is. Colt Express fell a little flat for me), at least for a moment. Some games seem to start with an idea for a cool component, and then end there. But, regardless, a cool set piece certainly adds a lot of flavor, and sometimes part of a game’s fun is simply interacting with the components.
Clearly, this game, this manufactured essence of decadence, calls out to you. It begs you to pull out a marble, to watch the rest roll down and smack into each other. Such a tactile event is immediately, viscerally rewarding, especially when you can pull off a big explosion, and especially especially if you can string together a series of kabooms that ends with you and handful of weighty marbles. This is everything great about a dexterity game without that bothersome skill factor getting in the way.
It’s almost as fun to dump a handful of marbles into the tank and watch them roll down their tracks as it is to draw the marbles when playing the game. I’ve seen some hacks about storing the game with the marbles left in the tank, but why? Why deprive yourself of the glorious clatter of glass against cardboard against glass as you pour the entire bag of marbles out to signify the start of the game?
Ah yes, the game. There is a game here, not just a colorful collection of marbles. The game itself is simple, almost stupidly so; yellow marbles go to yellow ingredient slots in your potions, red to red, and so forth. You have a few special abilities to unlock which by themselves aren’t excruciatingly interesting. It’s a pretty basic race-to-the-finish-line that doesn’t last all that long. There are strategies per se, but nothing particularly deep. You won’t really be exploring new and interesting ways to finish off your potions more efficiently, although admittedly you only use 6 of the 8 potion varieties each game, giving you some chance to play with how different potions interact.
But those simplifications hardly matter, do they? Because, thanks to the sky-high level of toy factor, this game is a flask full of fun. Deep strategy, maybe not. But there’s a reason games like Candy Crush are so popular despite the fact that most of us know the game is rigged against us. There’s just something so satisfying about watching those marbles smack into each other. It is so very rewarding when you see that marble pull that will get you three blues, a yellow, and four reds.
It’s even more rewarding when you can set that up for yourself, and in that regard the game makes you feel incredibly clever. You have enough tools at your disposal – a Little Help tokens, for one. Those potion effects might be simple, but when you figure out how to use them just right to set up a wonderful explosion that gets you all the ingredients you need, it’s like pouring chocolate syrup on chocolate chunk ice cream. Just oh so sweet. (If you’re one of those bizarre people who doesn’t like chocolate, first of all what is your problem? And secondly, feel free to mix and match chocolate with the sugary treat of your choice.) The potions? Yeah, they’re simple, but they’re just useful enough to allow you to do exciting things on your turn that make you feel clever.
However, much like a sweet chocolatey dessert, this is not a game I recommend playing all the time. It’s not the hearty meal that should be at the center of your game night, but a tasty treat to indulge in now and then. The rules are so simple that it’s neither difficult to remember how to play nor hard to teach. I do wish that the effect of each potion was printed clearly on the potion itself in text form, although I understand why games are often designed that way. The iconography isn’t bad, but it’s easy to get distracted by the whirling, swirling potion designs, and a little text would have gone a long way for people who aren’t good at remembering these things. Anyway. It’s not hard to jump into, is what I’m saying.
Now, due to the random nature of the marbles in their tank, you might think it’d be easy for someone to get way ahead and stay that way. It can especially seem that way at first, because potions completed make it easier to complete more potions. But there’s some thoughtful design here to take care of that. First of all, you can at best complete two potions in one turn, regardless of how many ingredients you got your hands on. This is because, even if you complete a potion, you don’t refill the slot until the end of your turn. Then, you can only save three ingredients from turn to turn, which isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things. The sum of these two things makes it pretty difficult for anyone to run away from the rest of the pack with some early luck.
On top of that, each potion can only be used once. So I may get my first potion finished up immediately and use it for a boost in my second turn, but then that boost is used up. When you get your own potions, you can pull of something neat yourself and catch up.
That being said, there’s definitely a substantive amount of luck factor here. It’s much more convenient to have a nice series of explosions waiting for you than have to use two potions and a Little Help to get there – and sometimes you can’t even set up anything that great with the tools. You can always get something though.
And once again it really doesn’t matter, because once again what we have here is a huge toy factor, front and center. I get entertainment out of other players’ sweet explosion chains almost as much as my own, and regardless of whether or not I get four marbles or twelve, I still get that great tactile experience. This is a family game, meant for the enjoyment of all players involved. It’s not the sort of game where you prove your strategic mettle against everyone else, and that’s okay. It provides just enough of a framework to feel like you’re doing something, that there’s a point to all this marble-pulling action, without the rules getting in the way.
My primary complaint? The setup part of the game is a little more tedious than I wish it was for a game of this stature. Per the rules, you’ve got to choose 6 of 8 potion types, then separate out the marked Starting Potions for players to draft from. Then AFTER the draft, you mix the 6 potions together and shuffle and then deal into 5 near-equal piles. It wouldn’t be quite as tedious except that the shape of the potion tiles doesn’t exactly shuffle well. Oh well. It’s not that big of a deal.
Could this game be better than it is? Possibly, but I certainly can’t put words as to how. Could I see this marble contraption becoming part of a much larger game? Almost definitely, although the component cost of such a thing might prevent that. Is bejeweling the next prominent mechanism that’s going to start popping up in every game everywhere? I doubt it. But it does speak to the impressive advancement of board game components over the years. Once we were limited to cards and tokens, and now look at us! It’s not like this is even the first wonky contraption to grace our tables, and I doubt it will be the last.
Overall, I have to rate Potion Explosion highly. It might not be revolutionary, but it certainly breaks new ground in the tabletop world. I might not want to pull it out every game night once the initial excitement wears off, but what it lacks in substance it certainly makes up for in pure tactile joy. The simple mechanics and fantastic set piece makes this game ideal for families, and it works well as a near-filler for high-endurance hobbyists.
And seriously. Just look at this thing.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Cool Mini or Not for providing a review copy of Potion Explosion.