These are strange times to be alive for sure. This review covers a digital game conversion of a tabletop game that borrows its core mechanism from other digital match-3 puzzle games. Asmodee Digital hopes gamers who aren’t confused will love the new iOS app for Potion Explosion.
Bumbling students of potions class mixing colored ingredients to make potions is the subject here. Players will take ingredient-spheres from a rack (dispenser) hoping that the spheres on either side of the selected ingredient cascade down into one another and create explosions which deliver more ingredients to the potion maker. The player who makes the most points worth of potions wins.
As with many Asmodee Digital implementations, the simulacrum of the tabletop game is near perfect. The ingredient spheres swirl with energy. There are appropriate and cute small animations to many screen objects. The myriad collection of flasks emit vapors as ingredients are collected and used. Every aspect of the screen clearly demonstrates its purpose.
This is the main area where a good digital translation of a game can excel. The best translations forget the fact that the source game is a board game and deliver an experience reminiscent of a board game. The Stone Age app does this perfectly. The same is true here.
It’s easy to switch context in the UI between looking at other players potions and your own. Rather than marbles of ingredients, the flasks clearly show how much of any given component a player has on hand with cool liquid animations.
One aspect of the UI that could have been improved is a little more explanation of what the other players are doing on their turns. As it is, it’s a small icon in the upper right which displays as the AI or the other players take actions. There’s little to watch on the screen.
The sound, however, is perfect. It’s a kooky, pop-synth theme with bass woodwinds in the background. It feels mysterious and silly, a great accompaniment for play. Other fun sounds play when getting help from the professor. His garbled language is reminiscent of the Muppets Swedish Chef.
The tutorial for the game is also well made with the crazed potion instructor popping in from various sides of the screen. It works especially well for young kids who may be used to match-3 games, but aren’t familiar with the depth of Potion Explosion.
It’s difficult to ask for anything more from a digital implementation of a game. Asmodee Digital hit all the right requirements with this app. Multiplayer, interesting tutorial, graphics, sound, and even a well done rulebook in the app all brilliantly succeed. Exceptionally competitive players will even be treated to a leaderboard to compare their scores against others.
In considering digital translations as a whole, it’s really ironic that Asmodee chose this title to bring to iOS. The original tabletop game has its roots in puzzle games such as Bejeweled and Candy Crush. Finding a way to deliver that experience in physical form was no small feat, and the tabletop version of Potion Explosion succeeds, albeit with some concessions. The way combos are made with descending marbles can’t equate to the level of complexity in digital puzzle games, but the experience with friends around the table made for an engaging experience.
What’s missing is something that cannot be completely described. The tactile feel of the marbles as they are pulled out of the dispenser is missing. The wow moments as new players get to take multiple ingredients from several cascades is missing. And the cute potion bottles sitting in front of players and the ease of looking around the table at those is missing. In the end, the implementation achieves the design goals, but this reviewer would still rather play the tabletop version of Potion Explosion.
Whether or not Potion Explosion on iOS succeeds really depends on what gamers are looking to get out of the app. For those looking to try out the game and casually play with an AI or friends, it’s perfect. For those looking to find the same fun in a digital format as with the tabletop, there is still something to be desired.
If you’d like to get a copy of Potion Explosion for iPhone or iPad, you can download it for about $3.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A perfect implementation, but going to digital for this game makes it lose its “je ne sais quoi”.
• Original’s tactile experience
• Play animations slow the game slightly