Review: Potion Explosion07 Feb 2017 4
Review: Potion Explosion
Released 26 Feb 2017
Tabletop Publisher ‘Asmodee Digital,’ has been very busy of late: acquiring a number of different publishers and developers that have ties to a number of licensed games, such as A Game of Thrones The Board Game, and tabletop behemoth Catan, which has helped the growth of tabletop gaming in recent years. They have announced their desire to get at least 20 new titles on iOS and Android in 2017. First on the list is Potion Explosion, created by Horrible Games and released back in 2015.
In some ways it acts as a physical version of Candy Crush or any number of match-3 puzzlers, with bright colored orbs that need to connect to help win the game, though it has a number of extra layers and mechanics that give it more depth than you might think at first glance. It’s a 2-4-player game that for this digital version incorporates an offline and online mode. Offline gives you the option of playing against bots that have two difficulty settings (easy, hard) and also allows multiple people to play by passing the phone / tablet around. The game’s functional design works, though there is a certain element that feels lost compared to the physical version when playing with friends. As here, you are most likely going to be treated to the back of the device when it’s not your turn.
The aim is to collect as many points as possible by creating potions. You keep two potions on display at all tines, so if you complete one, you select a new one, and the same if you finish both in one turn. Each potion can need up to four different colored orbs, and you use the orb rack on the right to collect them. In any given turn you are allowed to select one orb, which will cause a small explosion, if the orbs either side match, a chain reaction will trigger, causing those orbs to explode and be collected as well – this will continue until the adjacent orbs either don’t match or you run out of space within that column. It sounds confusing at first, but after several playthroughs the game clicks together and opens up.
The game does a solid job of differentiating potions with icons, and at any time you can tap on any completed potion to see what it does. These vary from allowing you to collect one extra orb, to destroying up to five a column to prevent another player clearing up, to a handy potion that will let you reuse any potion you’ve completed already. There are eight altogether with any six being required for a game. There’s a good balance, though it does feel like a limited number, and it would be nice to see an expansion somewhere down the line with more variants. As it is, the eight on display give room for a decent level of forward-thinking – where you start off picking single orbs at a time, before long, you’re using a number of potions on a single go to collect another two potions for your next turn. Achieving this feels super satisfying and can turn a game around.
To the left of the potions are three beakers, you can use these to store any orbs not used on that turn. Any extra orbs left after this will be discarded; this can affect the potions you will want to select next go. You earn extra points by collecting medals, which can be attained in one of two ways: either by creating five different potions, or by creating three of the same. You can earn extra medals if you manage to get another three of another potion, but there are only a limited amount of medals.
Online mode works and functions well. Though the experience had will depend on whom you are matched with. The time for each player’s turn can be adjusted from fifteen minutes up to a week – which seems excessive. Time ticks down for each player and carries over from each turn, if a player takes too long and the timer reaches zero for them they will be forced to rush through their turns for the rest of that game. I’d like to see a five-minute time added, to really force players to think.
Graphically the game is simplistic yet pleasing on the eye. Game play takes place on one screen, but it’s a lovely looking screen! The colors are bright and bold, and the focus is clearly placed on the animation being as smooth as possible. Completing and opening up potions creates a... you guessed it, “explosion” of colors that is satisfying to watch. With such a simplistic setup, it’s not surprising that the frame rate holds up, and over the course if six hours playing time, I only encountered one crash, which did unfortunately, wipe that particular game. The only major issue that game has is overriding any music or podcast you may have on. While the game has a pleasant, Harry Potter-tinged favour to its soundtrack, no part of the experience is lost or gained by having it on. I would have at least appreciated the option to continue listening to my own music.
Potion Explosion is by no means revolutionary, but Asmodee Digital do an an excellent job of bringing across a board game into the digital space in a way that seems more appealing than the original physical version. The price tag does feel weighty, and if you plan on playing with the family, I would advise on buying the real thing. But this is an enjoyable experience, and one that comes with a recommendation for both commuting for its offline mode, and when you have your feet up on the sofa with the online mode.