Unless you are a respected chemist or an aspiring terrorist, the closest anyone has come to any kind of mixology is that shitty attempt at making a bacon-tini that no one asked for at your friend’s birthday party.
Thankfully, this game won’t cause a vomit mudslide and may even appeal to your parents and grandparents, unlike your weird alcoholic concoctions that you keep pushing since you got your bartending “license.”
Potion Explosion is a delightful puzzle competition which, if you have played Candy Crush or Bejeweled, should click fairly quickly. It won’t drain your phone battery either (unless you get the digital version). You are a student alchemist who is in Final Exams and you are encouraged to make explosions in the hopes that it will make the most valuable potions, which is a bit too “alternative learning” for my taste. Must be a charter school.
Each turn you will have two potions and a storage area for excess marbles. You will take one marble from any row, which will cause the marbles above it to cascade down. If two separate marbles, or groups of marbles, of the same color collide, then you can take all the marbles of that color. That’s the EXPLOSION!
That smug sense of accomplishment when you get a nice chain reaction is called pride my friend. There are few things more satisfying when you see a combo which nets you a fistful of marbles in one turn, placing almost half of them back into the tray because your galaxy brain would not let you just take what you need. You will then place all of these newly acquired ingredients onto the appropriate spots of the potions you are cookin’ up, with up to three excess marbles can be placed in storage for future turns. To help you pull this off, you’ll have a few tools at your disposal: one-time-use potions you completed in previous turns and “help” from the professor, who penalizes you 2 victory points for being a dumb ass. While each ability can’t trigger explosions on their own and can be used at any time during your turn, you will almost always be using them to set up a big turn through your regular marble pull. As you may have imagined, this means that the aspiring Rain Man (or Rain Woman) in your group can drag a 3-4 player game into a slog as they calculate the absolute most lucrative turn. You may even find yourself succumbing to it as you try to satisfy your hunger, whose only cure is more marbles!
Each potion has a variable point value assigned to it so you have the choice to finish simple potions that take 4 to 5 marbles in two colors or go for the high value potions which takes 7 to 8 marbles. There is also a little bit of a set collection element where if you complete 3 potions of the same type or 5 different types , you are bestowed a seal of excellence which gets you 4 additional points. Those seals also help trigger the end game. Depending on the number of players, when all the seals are taken, then the round is completed, points are then tallied up, and a winner declared!
As a person who likes a game whose puzzle style gameplay, this game really hit the spot. Taking all of available options and finding a way to clear a row in one turn through clever use of potion powers and help just fantastic! In the many times myself and our group have played the game, the fun was in the turns we all had at some point where we made it rain marbles. These turns were met with a resounding “woahhhhhhhhhhh” around the table, with at least one person thinking that actual sorcery took place.
It didn’t really matter who won as it was a fun experience all around. Couple this with a relatively simple concept to explain and a storage solution which allows you to store the game in an almost ready-to-play state, it’s a great medium-weight game to break out which looks great on the table.
It is not without its faults though. There is the aforementioned AP issue where it is easy to get stuck in a mode where you calculate the optimal path to marble ecstasy (carrying the one) that if you get 4 people together who are even remotely regular gamers, the game can slow down quite a bit. There is no way to really plan out your turn ahead of time because the game state can change a lot by the time your turn rolls around. A two player game though runs quite smoothly though.
Also, the marble quality is kind of hit or miss. Some of the marbles had pits and holes in them and based on my research, I am not the only one by far who has had this problem. There are 2 extra marbles in each color in the box which is a nice touch but you’ll be saving those for the very worst of the bunch to replace and even then there will still be some questionable spheres you’ll be playing with. We haven’t done it yet but we plan on getting solid color marbles from Amazon to replace them.
Finally, the marble feeder is a marvel of cardboard engineering and works almost perfectly. I say almost because no matter what we do, tossing used marbles back into the hopper seems to favor the left most chute. We have done all kinds of subtle adjustments to the joints, top panel and balance of this infernal machine and we are still always pushing marbles into the empty chutes with a vain attempt to provide random distribution.
*Note: We own the 1st edition of the game and the review was written before we knew about the 2nd edition print, which addressed the marble hopper and the marble quality. I will probably look to just get a better, possibly tricked out hopper.
All of that though doesn’t diminish the fun of collecting marbles and creating satisfying moments. It’s accessibility is a great asset which can scales well enough as you get more comfortable with the game. Since you only use 6 of the 8 available potions in any single game, each game can feel a bit different.
There is already an expansion in Potion Explosion: The Fifth Ingredient which adds an additional wild ingredient, rule-breaking professors and more potions to add more variety and depth. I could talk more about the expansion but the base game is so good on its own that, to be honest, it doesn’t need the expansion. What it adds though are more ways to play the game, and that’s not a bad thing either. Overall, this is definitely one of the better medium/medium-light games available.