I’m a big fan of life-sim mini-games. Cooking, crafting, mining, gardening, and all those other videogame-y tasks make something that's a bit mundane into a fun little treat. It looks like developers Niceplay Games agree, as they’ve taken the joy of tactile crafting and created an entire potion-brewing sim around it - and not only is their crafting system both creative and clever, it's oh so satisfying.
We've written about it before, but Potion Craft is out now. You play as an alchemist who has set up shop in an old wizard’s hut, ready to sell your many bubbling brews and concoctions to the locals. People will come by the shop during the day banging on about their problems, so you need to listen to each customer's issue, create an appropriate potion to help, and receive a lovely handful of gold in return. It’s essentially a shop management sim, since you make money, buy ingredients, and haggle to get a good deal. But the best part of Potion Craft is all in the title; it's getting to grips with the art of potion brewing.
It's a little abstract, so stick with me. Brewing a potion uses a map, with your tools of the trade - cauldron, bellows, mortar and pestle - at the ready. The idea is to move a little potion bottle around the map, stopping when it lands on a potion icon. Adding ingredients to your cauldron will set the bottle’s course, and stirring the mixture will make it move. When it reaches an icon on the map you can pump the bellows, and your concoction will be brewed into a magical potion. Poof! Ta-da!
I honestly love the whole process of this system, from the moment you pick up your first ingredient to the puff of magical smoke signifying that your potion is complete. A majority of the map is concealed by a fog of war so moving your bottle around feels like sending it on a little adventure into the unknown. Different ingredients will move the potion in a specific direction, so choosing what to use - and when - requires some tact, especially when navigating patches of skulls that will send your potion back to the start, rendering all your efforts futile.
It’s tactile but never difficult, and takes a wonderful finesse to master. Stirring your cauldron just the right amount to make the bottle stop exactly where you want it is immensely satisfying, and there’s a handy pot of water that you can use to dilute your mixture and move your bottle back the way it came if you slightly overshoot your goal. It’s this delicate movement that really captures the art of potion brewing - or, what I imagine it to be like. The closest I’ve ever gotten to achieving a similar equilibrium is perfecting the balance of white rum, pineapple juice, and coconut cream to make the perfect Piña Colada.
Another lovely set of details go into the way that everything sounds. The bubbling of the brew as you heat it up, the crunch of a root as you crush it into powder, and the gentle clanking of the mortar and pestle - it’s like alchemy ASMR (after a quick Google turns out alchemy ASMR is a real thing because of course it is).
I’ve still got plenty of the map left to explore in Potion Craft, so I think it’ll be my first Christmas game of the holidays. There’s a big, old, dusty chemistry set in the shop’s basement I still haven’t quite figured out, and Niceplay Games have announced a bunch of future updates, the most exciting being the addition of gardening and planting management. Hell yeah.