Capitalism is the best. Well, the best we’ve done so far (looking at you, Divine Right of Kings). Exchanging our labor for cold, hard cash is the foundation of civil society. Commerce makes the world go round, but the actual economics are rarely fun. It’s why most video game economies are only there to quantify all the shooting and looting. Is there a game that shows us that business can be pleasure?
Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator from developer niceplay games does this, and does it better than any game in recent memory. As the title implies, you’re an alchemist brewing potent potables in a medieval village for everyone from witchers who need healing draughts to wimps who need elixirs of strength. The hook of the game isn’t in the numbers as you buy and sell, but rather in an innovative crafting system that’s part puzzle, part cartography. It’s chill AF and endlessly addictive.
If you’ve ever gotten hooked on a crafting/farming sim, you likely know how important the “one more turn” effect is for the success of a game like Potion Craft. By carefully managing the gameplay into short, one-day cycles Potion Craft serves up an addictive recipe. A normal business day is measured in minutes, so you always feel like you can do one more. And you will, because there is a lot to do.
The crux of the gameplay revolves around navigating the alchemy map. This innovative system treats ingredients as directions on a map instead of fixed properties, and the recipes are the destinations. This means you can make a recipe with a huge variety of ingredients instead of, like, only the fire herb for fire potions and so on. Exploring the map requires you to draw paths based on what your ingredients let you do, and as you advance you can imbue potions with multiple properties by taking them from recipe to recipe.
The actual movement on the map is fun, too. The potion icon travels the path relative to the speed you stir your cauldron, and the paths your ingredients create can be altered by grinding them in a mortar and pestle. And you actually pick up the ingredient, drop it in mortar, pick up the pestle and drag it around in the bowl to grind.
This may sound tedious, but it prevents the game from turning into a button masher and, more importantly, conveys a nuance to crafting that is incredibly immersive. Wonderful sound engineering adds satisfying scrapes and rustles as you craft, backed by softly lilting tavern music and the bubbling and clinking of busy laboratory glass.
Of course, you’ve gotta sell these things too. A steady stream of customers is crucial for success, so you’ll need to pay attention to your popularity and reputation as you conduct business. Selling poisons to assassins may give you a big reputation, but people are gonna hate you for it. So you’ll need to screen your customers carefully to figure out what their intentions are, and if it’ll cause any trouble for you, too.
You’ll also get to haggle. The haggling system in Potion Craft is incredibly fun, on par with the dialogue minigame made famous by Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It involves some quick reflexes and has real stakes attached. As the game progresses you can add hundreds more gold to your profits with sufficient haggling. Just like grinding herbs, this small mechanic elevates what is normally a mundane part of video game life into something immerse and satisfying.
Potion Craft starts small and scales quickly. Your little garden has only a few herbs at first, and soon blossoms with rare finds. A few regular customers quickly evolve into long queues of complex requests. Your recipe book expands as you discover new, more efficient ways to craft your most popular potions. And that mysterious alchemy machine in the basement has some surprises of its own. This is the perfect game for a long lazy day of gaming but bite-sized enough to sneak in between Zoom calls.
Potion Craft is available now on Game Pass. It’s also for sale on Xbox and PC, with a Spring 2023 release slated for PlayStation and Switch.