Potion Explosion is an entertaining, whimsical themed puzzle-like game that uses a unique component: an automatic sliding mechanic tray of marbles. If you’ve enjoyed playing digital games like Bejeweled or Candy Crush, you may enjoy this type of board game.
Each player receives two starter potions to place in their Brewer area. You will race to complete potions and use their abilities to help you obtain more ingredients (marbles) thus completing more potions. Certain potions have different values of victory points and certain abilities. You will continue to create potions using marbles that collide with one another and if they create an explosion (when the same colors crash together), you get to collect all those marbles of the same color to place in your Brewer Area.
The player’s full turn involves taking a marble-ingredient (mandatory), and if it triggers an explosion, you will get to collect the rest of the ingredients of that color that are connected to each other, and after removing those connected colored marbles, if it creates another explosion, you get to collect the rest of those marbles too and so on. Another action you can take at any time during your turn is asking help from the professor. This means you will have to take a -2 point help token, but you will be able to take any 1 ingredient from the tray, keeping in mind this action won’t trigger an explosion. For the rest of your turn, you will be placing the ingredients into the matching holes on your potions, and once they are filled you can complete the potion and gain those victory points at the end of the game. At any time, you may also drink other completed potions to gain the abilities and perform those actions. At the end of your turn, you can hold up to 3 ingredients into your reserve flask, anything else will be discarded back to the dispenser. Once a player completes 3 potions of the same kind or at least 5 different kinds of potions, they will gain a skill token. Once the skill token stack is depleted, the game ends (the skill token stack is dependent on how many players there are). At the end of the game, everyone calculates their points from potions, skill tokens, and help tokens. Whoever has the most points wins.
Potion Explosion is beautifully designed in artwork and mechanics. It’s very unique compared to other boardgames. Based on my entire collection of board games, I have none other like it. The theme goes well with the mechanics, and it’s a just a beautiful, colorful and fun game to look at. Even the marbles have funny given names such as unicorn tears (blue), dragon smoke (red), ogre mucus (black), and fairy dandruff (yellow). Something you can joke about while playing the game. Taking a marble and creating explosions is where most of the fun comes from.
The quality of the components are awesome. The insert has all the places you need to put the game away in its proper place. The cardboard of the potions and the dispenser are sturdy, and there’s a one time assembly of the dispenser and that has its own place in the insert. The rulebook is well explained and illustrated. It has sufficient diagrams to show you setup, gameplay and it also shows you where everything goes in the insert. Everything was certainly well done and produced.
There are only some minor negatives in the game. Potion Explosion seems to play quickly as a two player. Since the countdown stack is only four in a two player game, I find that it ends quickly just when you’re already well invested into the game. Although, the game does suggest it only, you can discuss with the rest of the players if you want a shorter or longer game by adding/deducting the amount of skill tokens to trigger the end game.
The setup and take down does require some rearranging of potions, but nothing overly appalling like other games. Since there are 8 different types of potions, you will only get to use 6 of them in the game. So during set up and take down, you will always have to separate them first and remove all the potions you won’t be using in that game, and then you will have to shuffle all the potions again in 5 different stacks to start the game. Also, not to mention, you have to separate the potions marked with a star as those are the starter potions for the beginning of the game.
Potion Explosion has a potential to cause AP (analysis paralysis) in some gamers. If you have friends who are notorious for being AP players, having them decide which marble to pick up on their turn can be rather daunting because they will probably consider every single marble on the dispenser and which one will give them the most explosions in return.
There’s not a whole lot of replay based off the components. Most of the replay is really from the random set up of potions and random placement of marbles on the dispenser. It’s a good thing there are only 6 out 8 potions to play in the game since that does change the gameplay a little based on the abilities of the potions. Without it, I think the game would be lacking that replay value. For example, I found that playing with and without the Sands of Time or Elixir of Blind Love changes the gameplay a little. The Elixir of Blind Love adds a little opponent interaction, and Sands of Time lets you reuse abilities that have been used before. I do hope they make an expansion for this game that would add “more” of something because I feel like there’s more I want out of the game. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. They can add different colored marbles that have special effects, and a few more special potions; maybe a rainbow marble that would be a wild ingredient; a few 2-3 special potions that will be in every game; maybe add a magic ball stack, and when you complete a magic ball, it lets you take any potion of your choice in any of the stacks or some other effect; maybe another component or mechanic to make the game a little more complex; or maybe each player will be given a starting balanced ability different from other players; this would change the strategy of each player. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing the game, but it seems that the simplicity of just taking marbles and filling the holes, and using abilities are very minimal mechanics that can possibly turn into tedious routine. It’s almost like Splendor. It’s an awesome and fun game, but you do the same thing every turn, and the only change in every game is the random set up. There’s no different way to win the game.
Overall, if you enjoy playing games like Candy Crush or Bejeweled, and you don’t mind a little repetition in game turns, Potion Explosion is still a lot of fun. Even just taking a marble from the dispenser and trying to make explosions is where I found most of my excitement.