Potionomics: Bring Your Best Brew

Brew it, sell it, and make it through to the end

Potionomics: Bring Your Best Brew
Source: Press Kit.

Potions are the lifeblood of all RPG adventuring parties.  No one would get beyond the first floor of any dungeon without guzzling down a frankly unhealthy amount of brightly coloured magical goop.  Potionomics puts the player into the shoes of a potion vendor, ready to provide the heroes of the world with the colourful healing concoctions they so desperately need.

The game is a bubbling melting pot of various genres, mixing business management elements with deckbuilding-based haggling gameplay and a sprinkling of dating simulation thrown in for good measure. Potionomics is terrific fun, even if it does ultimately end up slightly overstaying its welcome.

A story of sales

Source: Press Kit.

You'll become Sylvia, a down-on-her-luck witch who inherits her uncle’s potion shop along with his staggering debts. Sylvia is forced to enter a series of potion-brewing competitions to get her hands on a steady stream of prize money that will keep her new business afloat. The game’s writing is chock-full of charm and ingenuity, affectionately poking fun at plenty of old RPG cliches.

Unfortunately, the quality of the writing doesn’t really do much to elevate the game’s story. The plot of Potionomics is serviceable but unmemorable.  There are some twists and turns along the way, but everything quickly becomes formulaic as you enter one potion-brewing contest after another with little variety.

Sylvia is a likable protagonist; her jovial attitude blends well with frustration at her circumstances, making her distinctly memorable. The characters Sylvia interacts with are also plenty of fun, from the town’s egotistical guild master to the feline pirates who live at the docks. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t feature any voice acting, which would have done a great deal to bring the world to life.

Potions, decks, and deals

In its peculiar blending together of several genres, Potionomics offers an interesting gameplay experience. Every ten days a tournament occurs where the player’s potion-brewing and negotiation skills will be assessed. You must submit three of your best potions and have your bargaining abilities in top form to make it through.

Preparing potions is reasonably complex. Ingredients with several different attributes and properties need to be mixed together to produce the right result. These ingredients can be purchased, but you’ll generate more of a profit if you instead befriend adventurers and convince them to strike out into the wild to gather parts for you. The quality of the components thrown into the mix, as well as the quality of the cauldron they are brewed in, determine just how good the resulting potion will be. The game’s potion brewing certainly isn’t its most exciting aspect, it is mostly mental maths to keep different sets of numbers balanced, but it’s engaging enough and it can be quite satisfying when everything clicks and you find just the right combination of components.

Source: Press Kit.

Negotiating, meanwhile, is handled through a deckbuilding minigame. The player puts together a series of cards with different conversational tactics on them and draws from this pool of cards in order to strike deals with customers.

To improve their haggling abilities the player needs to form friendships or build romantic connections with other characters, who will each impart their own unique set of social skills. This is the game’s most clever innovation. Spending time with Quinn, the game’s sassy non-binary ingredients vendor, will arm the player with cutting sarcastic jibes that can be used to browbeat customers into handing over huge wads of cash. Meanwhile spending time with Mint, a compulsively shy novice adventurer, will give the player cards focused on making customers feel sympathetic towards them, winning their hearts and encouraging them to open their wallets.

It's always terrific when deckbuilding mechanics are used for something beyond bog-standard turn-based combat, and Potionomics does it marvelously.  Conversations with customers are transformed into entertaining strategic sequences, where choosing the right thing to say at the right time can majorly impact your profits.  Tying the acquisition of new cards to the player’s in-game friendships is also a brilliant decision. You are encouraged to form bonds with different members of the game’s colourful cast, and then mix and match their respective talents to create your very own strategies.

A bitter aftertaste

Potionomics has a very strange difficulty curve.  The early game is frantic, stressful, and tough.  The player starts out on the back foot, needing to scramble to get the basics together. Once some decent cauldrons and usable ingredients have been acquired, it’s a race against time to brew three potions that will pass muster at the game’s first tournament. This makes the game’s opening chapter its most memorable, as every decision must be thoroughly considered and planned. There’s no time to make idle moves, and every action needs to be undertaken for a reason. 

That curve gradually flattens out as things continue. Subsequent chapters are increasingly more forgiving, as the player gets more money and resources to keep the business comfortably afloat. When the game’s final chapter rolls around, the difficulty has eased off almost completely.  While the first 10-day interval is a brutal uphill battle, you can sleepwalk through the game’s final 10 days.  This does lead to the end of the game feeling rather anticlimactic, as you’ll likely have your last set of potions ready to go days before they are needed.

Source: Press Kit.

The game also stops introducing new mechanics just a bit too soon, having shown you all its wares by around the halfway point. Because the game also stops introducing new characters, you won’t have any new sources of cards available, leaving you to tweak and optimise what you already have rather than trying out innovative new strategies.

Conclusion

Potionomics starts with a bang and ends with a fizzle, but it’s still definitely worth checking out. The quippy dialogue is often very funny, and at times genuinely insightful. The potion brewing is thought-provoking, and the deck-building negotiation is delightfully strategic. There are few other games to really compare Potionomics to since it stands alone as a wholly unique business management deck builder with dating sim elements.

The game is currently available on Steam, and a Masterwork edition was announced for the Playstation 5 in April of 2024.  If this rework can address the issues with the game’s uneven difficulty curve, then it will offer a refreshing new reason to check out this strange and charming brew ‘em up.

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