- Designer: Lorenzo Silva, Andrea Crespi and Stefano Castelli
- Publisher: Horrible Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 30-40 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Horrible Games
Potion Explosion was the big ticket game from Horrible Games at Essen 2015, the highlight being the huge marble dispenser and the beautiful glass marbles that it holds. In this game, players take on the role of wizards that are vying with each other to grab the right ingredients (marbles) from the dispenser to finish potion tiles. Each player has his own workbench, which is a cardboard cutout with spaces for two of the potion tiles to rest as well as a beaker that can hold three extra marbles.
There are 8 different “suits” of potions – in any game, two of the suits are randomly removed to give each game a slightly different makeup of potion tiles. Each player then gets 2 starter tiles to place in their workbench and the rest are shuffled up into fives stacks. Each of these potion tiles have colored bars in them, this tells you which colors of ingredients (marbles) you have to acquire and fill in those holes.
The marbles are dumped onto the lid of the dispenser so that they randomly fill all five columns of the display. Note that the rows will be quite full, and you won’t be able to see to uppermost marbles as they are hidden by the platform of the dispenser.
Turns are fairly simply. First you take an ingredient (marble) from the supply, you are limited to the bottom-most 8 on the track, i.e. the marbles that you can fully see and fully reach. Then, you watch the marbles as they move on the tracks. If marbles of the same color collide with each other, all the marbles of that color are also removed. Again, watch the marbles, as this could cause a chain reaction of explosions of like colored marbles, and each time, you get to collect those marbles. You turn keeps going until no further explosions happen.
On your turn, either before or after you take your ingredient, you could opt to get a “little help”; to do this, you pick up a “little help” token which is a 2VP penalty, and then you collect any one marble from the dispenser. This help does not trigger any explosions, but it can be a useful tool to either collect one final marble that you need OR to set up your regular turn for some explosion goodness.
You use all the marbles that you have collected this turn. If you have some that match empty holes on your current potion tiles, you must fill in those holes. Any unused marbles can be stored on your flask, though this can only hold three extra marbles. Any excess leftovers must be thrown back onto the dispenser and randomly redistributed.
If you have completed a potion (by having a matching color marble in all of the holes), you remove it from your workbench, flip it over and place it next to your area. It will score VPs for you at the end of the game. Additionally, it comes with a one-time use action (based on its suit) that you can trigger any time after you have completed it. When you use the potion’s action, you turn it upside down to show that it is now empty.
Examples of the actions are:
- Take one marble from the dispenser
- Take up to one ingredient of each color from the bottom-most row of the dispenser tracks
- Steal all the ingredients from one opponent’s Pool
- Use any color marble to fill potions (for the rest of this turn)
As you complete potions, you should also check to see if you score bonus tokens – there are some available for finishing three potions of the same suit as well as others for completing at least one potion in five different suits. Each of these are worth 4 points at the end of the game.
At this point, your turn is over. You draw new potion tiles to bring your workbench back up to two – you are able to choose from any of the five visible supply stacks. The end-game is triggered at the end of the turn when the 6th skill token is collected (in a 4p game). The game will continue until the end of the round so that all players have the same number of turns.
Final scores are calculated
- VPs from all completed potions
- +4 VP for each collected skill token
- -2VP for each “little help” token
The player with the most points wins.
My thoughts on the game
Potion Explosion was high on my list of games to check out mostly because of the beautiful marbles and the dispenser. Having seen a picture of this on a preview really captured my attention. I will admit that I was pretty impressed when I saw it in action on the Wednesday of the fair, and it wasn’t long before Alessandro had me playing with the marbles, making explosions and completing potions.
Of note, there was a bit of a manufacturing issue with the games brought to Essen. One of the cardboard pieces that is used to make the dispenser was mis-cut, and the whole thing didn’t exactly line up correctly. The nice guys at Horrible Games did have a replacement punchboard available to fix most of the issues, but it still wasn’t a 100% fix. The game is definitely playable with the fix, but there are still a few occasions where the marbles will get stuck in the dispenser. They promised to offer replacement parts, and this has been done, and the marbles now flow beautifully in my game. Kudos to them for making sure that the game had working components – both in the short term as well as long term!
On to the game play, the game itself is easy to pick up, and trying to figure out the whole explosion thing can be an interesting puzzle in itself. The only issue is that you really can’t bother looking at the marbles until it’s your turn because even the removal of a single marble can change how the marbles react. So, plan on at least a little bit of downtime at the start of each players turn.
It can be quite painful when you see a beautiful combo lined up on the dispenser, but they’re not in colors that you need. Then, you are forced to make a decision whether you just take a smaller haul of marbles in colors that you need… or do you maybe cause the big chain reaction, if only so that the next player isn’t able to take advantage of it…
I like the way that the game provides variety in the different suits, but after three games, it’s pretty clear that my group does not like two of the special actions – as they seem overpowered in comparison to the other six. Left to our own devices, the potion of Prismatic Joy, which allows you to use any color marble to complete an potion can be a tremendous advantage. Likewise, the Elixir of Blind Love, which allows you to steal all the ingredient’s from another player’s Pool is quite strong and feels a bit out of place in its targeted nature. When you compare these actions to taking one or two marbles from the dispenser, you can see how some can be considered stronger than others.
Now, you might argue that everyone has the same chance to draw them from the supply stacks, and to some degree that might be true – but it usually ends up being a “luck of the draw” thing, and the swings in power between the different suits seems too large. Of course, I’ve only played 4 games thus far, so maybe I’m missing some of the finer balancing points in my small sample space. Further, it a game that is meant to be light and short… maybe it just doesn’t matter?
To that end, the game is light fun. You can to play with the marbles, making the best of each turn, and before you know it, the game is over. It really does tend to move fairly quickly, with the only slow spots being the start of each turn when the player really has to concentrate for a bit to figure out which marbles he wants to collect from his different options.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Craig Vollmar: Potion Explosion employs an innovative way to gather resources, but depends on constructing a fairly elaborate component out of cardboard to implement it. The game suffers as a result because the constructed marble tray, while being an interesting feat of cardboard design and architecture, doesn’t function perfectly and jams sometimes (among other problems). Also, the marbles are of different sizes and have imperfections which can both cause problems inside the tray. The game play flow is fairly straightforward, but the possibilities presented in by marble tray can definitely promote analysis paralysis.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it.
- Neutral. Dale Y, Craig V
- Not for me…
Okay, so a neutralrating from the veteran gamers. But here’s the score on this one…I work at a high school. I have introduced the game to dozens of people. They all adore it, and they all found it immediately accessible. So for casual gamers PE works incredibly well. In addition, though I returned from Essen ’15 with over 30 games, this is the one my wife requests. It really works well.
And the game does not suffer whatsoever by the construction of the marble tray. That is ludicrous. Horrible Games have created a better tray since Essen, and once it is built it is built. We have had no issues with it!
Aaron, I can definitely see that this sort of game would be a hit with students. And while I agree that the new tray is a vast improvement, Craig only got to try the game with the imperfect one from Essen, and it did in fact have lots of issues.
Kudos to Horrible Games for being diligent about providing a fix, but I think it merits mention of the problems with the original version in case a reader gets one of those copies that does not have the fix.
Thanks for reading the blog!