Review: Miracle Merchant08 Aug 2017 2
Review: Miracle Merchant
Released 02 Aug 2017
Representing the latest iteration of Tinytouchtales’ signature solitaire gameplay, Miracle Merchant puts the player in charge of a magical apothecary, where various cures are mixed fresh for customers to be sold at a tidy profit. Satisfying customers and maximising price is the name of the game, all while carefully monitoring the ingredients you have in stock. Combining a colourful art style with polished gameplay, it is their most stripped-down and variable-rich take on the genre yet while also being their most accessible. In this review, I’ll break down how to play, some musings about its design, as well as sharing a few tips and tricks I’ve learned in my hours with the game so far.
Our enterprising Miracle Merchant will mix thirteen potions for thirteen customers. The potions consistent of exactly four ingredients, culled from four colored stacks of thirteen ingredients each (in order: blue, green, yellow and red). These are carefully chosen and added one at a time to the playing field, then combined and scored. A given potion’s score is determined by the recipe, the customer’s preferences, and the bonus icons shown on most ingredients. Some of the ingredients stocked are ‘evil’ and have negative values, complicating matters. Each colored stack of ingredients has three black ingredients mixed in. A game of Miracle Merchant successfully ends once all thirteen potions have been mixed and sold. If during play you cannot create a positively-valued potion, or cannot include a customer’s required ingredient color, you lose.
Customers each have two colors specified in their order: their required color and their favorite color. Required colors are just that: if a dour-looking skeleton demands a blue ingredient, then you must include it or forfeit the game. Favorite colors in a potion see their final values doubled. More important are the alchemical reagents, the ingredients themselves. Ingredients possess a base value of one. They have symbols printed on the bottom section, each with a specific color and position. If my blue prawn ingredient card has a red tab on the left side, for example, then it will gain the value of any red cards to its left. (N.B. Bonuses work different for black ingredients, reducing their negative value instead.) This bonus is triggered anytime a card is placed in a relevant spot and can stack up tidily with a little luck and know-how. Other bonuses take value from cards on the right, on either side, or even anywhere on the board. As you could imagine, the order and position you add ingredients is just as important to a potion’s price as the final composition. Lastly, certain combinations of ingredients follow tabulated recipes which will award a bonus, like having three-of-a-kind in a recipe, or two adjacent pairs, in a manner similar to poker hands.
The lure of creating an exorbitantly-priced potion is balanced against the need to plan for required and black ingredients. When chasing a high score, the game rewards discretion as much as any good solitaire game should: by privileging experience and memory, with a dash of luck added in for good measure. What sets Miracle Merchant apart from other modern digital games, even its own predecessors, is its utter minimalism. There are no special abilities or ways to manipulate the game state outside of the rules I’ve described above, save this one: you can kick a customer to the end of the line once every two potions.
Each game will have a fresh permutation of bonus symbols and customer preferences, arranged in a different order; however, those same variations are governed by strict rules. For example, exactly three customers will require red ingredients, guaranteed. Another invariant: the stack blue ingredients will have two cards with the center bonus symbol on them. Yet despite these known limits, the game’s replayability is vast, even without customization options. A second weakness of the game can be attributed to h vagaries of chance: a yellow ingredient with a yellow center bonus icon is a golden combo piece, but a yellow ingredient with a black center bonus is only marginally useful for damage control. The score ceiling of any given game can be defined by the setup and color bonus distribution, but skillful play is required to reach that top-shelf possibility.
Maybe you’re in danger of being put-off by the idea of having to crunch numbers, or count cards like you’re trying to scam a casino – don’t be. Let me tell you how much I dithered during my first playthrough, not to figure out a good move but merely to take in the art and atmosphere. I watched my customers shift idly while I assembled their potion, and then give a jubilant animation when served the finished product. I stared long at the ingredient cards and their eerie subjects: the larval wasp inside what might be a fig fruit, the scarlet contract signed with a heart… a fish with a human face. The art is loose, whimsical, and a little at odds with the game’s cutthroat nature, but all the more endearing for it.
For me at least, this is the definitive Tinytouchtales game, the one that taps most purely into the elemental thrill behind the idea of chance and phrases like ‘push your luck’. True, the game lacks long-term unlocks and progression, but it maintains its staying power and replayability through the sheer ingenuity of the core mechanics. It’s as casual or ruthless a game as you like, saddling the player with only a small burden of knowledge and a few straightforward decisions. Ideal for filling those brief idle moments that see people reaching for their phones for a bit of mental stimulation.