Choose ingredients, create wonderful explosions, and make magical potions!
Android & iOS
# of Players
Potion Explosion is a set collection game from Asmodee Digital which tasks players with creating powerful potions by combining magical ingredients. Players take turns selecting ingredients from a common dispenser and, ideally, triggering explosions among the remaining ingredients to earn even more. The game goes on until all of the skill tokens have been awarded, that turn is played to completion and the game ends, this usually takes about 15 minutes.
Potion Explosion is a really fun idea for a board game. It takes the popular digital mechanic of using a grid of items and having players attempt to trigger matching colors connecting to each other, think along the lines of Candy Crush. It is incredibly cool how they pulled this off in the physical game with the marbles and nifty dispenser. The odd downside of porting this to digital is that the game looks kind of generic on first glance. “Oh, another Candy Crush clone...great…” However, once you dive in, it becomes clear there is more to the game than you might expect at first glance.
A turn in Potion Explosion has a player selecting one ingredient from the dispenser, the player immediately earns this ingredient. The remaining ingredients in that column fall down to fill in the vacant spot, should the ingredient which was directly above the removed ingredient match the ingredient it lands on below it an explosion is triggered and the player earns all ingredients of that type which were touching the explosion (within the column). Multiple explosions can be triggered on a single turn as ingredients continue to fall. Players then use the ingredients they gained to fill their potions, of which they have two active at all times. Up to three ingredients which don’t fit in one of their active potions may be stored in your pool, any remaining ingredients from the turn are discarded. Once players complete a potion, they earn points from it and select a replacement from five rotating options. Completed potions can later by consumed in order to provide some special ability. Finally, skill tokens are earned in two ways; completing three potions with the same power, or completing five different potions. Once all of the skill tokens in the game are claimed, the turn ends and the winner is crowned to whoever has the most points.
The only other mechanic in play is the option to pay two victory points in order to get a free ingredient from the dispenser, this does not trigger explosions. On the surface this is a small addition, but when used before you select your ingredient from the normal course of your turn, you can use it to shape the dispenser to line up bigger or more explosions, so this becomes a powerful option.
There are eight different different potion types in the base game, six of which are selected per game. The abilities range from gaining ingredients from the dispenser to stealing from opponent’s pool or using ingredients from your pool even if the colors don’t match. Potions have different ingredient requirements, more ingredients leading to a bigger point reward for completing the potion. Completing potions is the primary source of points, but you also get a four points for each skill token earned. The number of skill tokens scales with the number of players, and ranges from four to six.
The strategy comes down to choosing your potions wisely to make sure you are getting useful abilities, points, and working towards the skill tokens. The really fun part is using those abilities, along with your all important ingredient choice, to try to trigger the biggest explosions possible. The potion abilities don’t trigger explosions, so they are best for setting up explosions on your ingredient selection. It’s incredibly satisfying to manipulate the dispenser and then pull off a huge combo of explosions.
Potion Explosion is a lot of fun and a great way to spend 15-ish minutes. This is not the deepest game out there, but there is a reason these matching type games are so popular; setting up big combos is blast. Potion Explosion takes that basic fun and adds a layer of strategy to it which results in a great lightweight board game.
Barrier to Entry
The game features a tutorial and a rulebook. The tutorial holds your hand at the start, stepping you through the basics of the game, then lets you finish off the game, learning along the way. The mechanics are taught, but the details of abilities are left for you to discover as you play more. The game is fairly straightforward, after a game or two most players should be comfortable with how to play. The rulebook is 50 pages which is just baffling considering the game. It works well as a reference guide if you want it, but I can’t imagine anybody reading all of it considering the simplicity of the game. I’d much rather err on the side of too much teaching than too little, so I’m glad it is there, but I did chuckle at the length when I first noticed.
Look and Feel
Potion Explosion is a fantastic looking and playing app. The screen is packed with information, but everything you need is there and it is easy to navigate once you understand the lay of the land. The little icons that pop up to cover what opponents are doing on their turns is a great touch that negates the need to switch to see their full setup on their turns. Clicking on their avatar at the top of the screen will pop up a quick overview of their current state. There is a handy “use my ingredients” button which will distribute your available ingredients to your potions and/or pool automatically. You can drag and drop them if you wish. Once your turn is over, the next player takes theirs, it is all quite seamless. The only real drawback is that there isn’t an undo button, which would be nice specifically when using your ingredients. There is an option to speed up the animations which can reduce the overall playtime for a game, always a great feature to see.
Potion Explosion features cross-platform online play with asynchronous and real-time options. You can play ranked or unranked games with two to four players. Ranked games use the familiar Elo rating system where everybody starts at 1500 and move up and down after wins/loses. There is a global leaderboard to see how you stack up.
The previous paragraph covers pretty much every online option we could ask for in a game. The downside is that there isn’t an active player base. Compounding the issue greatly is that in order to start any online game you have to wait in the lobby until the game fills up. This is one of the worst features we see in games, it isn’t unique to Potion Explosion but it is baffling that it exists anywhere unless the game only supports real-time play. Additionally, there are many reports of online games getting lost in the middle of them, becoming unplayable. Enter online play at your own risk.
The game offers local pass-and-play, which is it well suited for given the lack of any hidden information in the game.
Offline games can be played against one to three AI bots with the standard three difficulty levels: easy, medium, and hard. Easy is best suited for learning the game, many players will quickly outgrow it after learning the basics. Medium presents and respectable challenge while hard is more difficult. From my experience, the hard difficulty becomes easier to beat after playing for a while. It is a game with some clear optimal choices, so it is tough to say if the AI is too lenient or if the wins come because that’s the way the ingredients/potions fall. Overall, the AI is well done and provides a wide range of skills to test yourself against, but might get a bit stale for longtime players.
The only options when setting up a game are how many players and which potions to use. The base game offers eight potions and you choose the six you want, or have the game randomly select them for you. The app offers an extensive list of achievements to unlock, ranging from the basic “win a game” to some very specific potion combinations. Unfinished games are saved so you can complete them later, always a nice feature.
Potion Explosion offers The Fifth Ingredient expansion as an in-app purchase. This is a rather large expansion as it adds quite a few game-changing features. Notably there are now wild ingredients which can be used as any color in your potions and have fun effects in the dispenser. There are also professors which have special skills which can be triggered through in-game actions, the professors are chosen when a game is started and their skills (which can be helpful or penalizing) apply to all players. There are a few additional pieces to the expansion as well.
Perhaps the best part about the expansion is that the game allows you to walk through the full tutorial before purchasing it. This is a fantastic feature, a mini “try before you buy” option that will surely help sell the expansion as people see how much it adds to the game. The Fifth Ingredient is a great expansion, if you find yourself enjoying the game, you will likely want to dive into it at some point.
The Wrap Up
I went back and forth on the final score here quite a bit, despite the incredibly arbitrary nature of it all. On one hand, this game provides a really fun, quick single player experience. On the other, multiplayer isn’t essentially non-existent. Complicating matters is that roughly one out of every ten or so of my offline games ends up with an infinitely spinning gear when the game ends and attempts to load the scoring screen, the game hangs and I have to exit. The app has been out for a little while now, so to see this bug still existing is a bit frustrating, and the app store has clear complaints about the issue, so the developers know it exists.
Potion Explosion is a really fun game wrapped up in a well designed app. It is great for quick offline games, despite the chance you will lose some to a crash at the end. With the multiplayer design issues and lack of player base, combined with that occasional crash, we have to drop the score down a bit. If you only want a light, quick single player experience and can shrug off the occasional lost game, Potion Explosion is a great option, which becomes even better if you add in The Fifth Ingredient.