Turn To Page 394! - Potion Explosion Review

I have friends who adore Candy Crush. And I'm glad that I've converted them onto board games, because never will Facebook gaming measure up to board gaming! And Candy Crush isn't a bad game per say, I've played many iterations of the same idea in my childhood. But wouldn't you prefer to have those marbles in front of you for you to hold and roll around?

Well Horrible Games (interesting choice for a publisher name) has answered that question for you by giving us Potion Explosion, which is basically Candy Crush: The Board Game. First thoughts in my head were not exactly full of anticipation, but it sounded like it could make a very cool gateway game if done right.

As I started hearing more positive impressions and learning more about it, I became more intrigued and actually began regretting not trying this out at Essen the previous year. I need to get more involved in demos this time round at Essen I think, at least when I'm not busy at the Dice Tower booth <wink wink nudge nudge>. So do I have a new weapon in my arsenal to draw in more people to the hobby or not?

Designer: Stefano Castelli, Andrea Crespi, Lorenzo Silva
Publisher: Horrible Games
Age: 8+
Players: 2-4
Time: 30-60 minutes
RRP: £47.99

My Own Interests Are Purely Academic Of Course!

From Horrible Games:

It’s time for the final exams of the Potions class at the Horribilorum Sorcery Academy for Witty Witches and Wizards! The rules are always the same: take an Ingredient marble from the Dispenser and watch the others fall. If you connect marbles of the same colour, they explode… and you can take them too! Complete your Potions using the marbles you collect, and drink them to unleash their magical power. Remember, though, that to win the Student of the Year Award, being quick won’t be enough: you’ll also need to brew the most valuable Potions!

Some Self Assembly Required

The price tag for Potion Explosion is not the lowest around, which might be a barrier for some, but you're getting your monies worth in cool chunky marbles, beautifully illustrated potion tiles and the dispenser unit itself. Now a word of warning first about the unboxing process. Don't underestimate how long this will take. First of all you have to punch out a TON of potion tiles and dispenser parts and worse still, each potion tile has between 4-7 tiny holes that have to be punched out separately where the marbles go during brewing. It's going to take a little while so have a bin bag ready and put something on the TV while you work!

The dispenser itself requires assembly obviously, but the rulebook has a very clear two page spread on how to do it with some subtle patronising comments put in for good humour. It's not a 5 minute job so remember to bolt that on to the time taken to punch it out, but on the plus side, once it's done, it's done and setup is actually relatively quick each game.

Once you're done with the assembly part, it won't be long till you hit your first game of Potion Explosion. There's not many rules to learn and they are all pretty clear-cut. . . except one ambiguity with regards to marbles that explode that include ones not currently visible in the dispenser. It's not 100% clear in the rulebook what you do, but from BGG the consensus was "if they're connected when they explode, take the whole lot even if they were hidden under the dispenser at the time" - just class it as a lucky freebie!

Nooo......The Recipe Specifically Says To Cut!

So if you know how to play Candy Crush, you know 50% of Potion Explosion already. It's that classic test of spotting patterns and combos within a multi-coloured ensemble of marbles with the aim to collect as many as possible every turn to prepare your potions. Whether you aim to prepare all the difficult ones for more points or the simpler ones for speed is up to you and on top of that the desire to obtain the skill tokens for producing the same type of potion or multiple types will influence your choices.

If it were just simply "collect the marbles" and that was it, there wouldn't be much here to shout about with Potion Explosion. But adding the alchemy theme works wonders. You've got 6 types (out of a possible 8) of potions in every game and all the abilities are useful, though I would say the "Wisdom" one seems a little lacking compared to some, but it's generally an easier potion to brew so it self balances.

But it's the combos that can be pulled off here that will appeal to most gamers. Each Potion can be drunk once for it's ability and considering that you're brewing around 8-10 potions or more each game, you've got a wide selection to choose from and crafty players will be able to pull off some insane power turns with a carefully constructed sequence of potion triggers. The potions themselves become a resource for the player, which feels very thematically appropriate.

The theme itself is light-hearted and intended to be humorous, which comes out especially when you read the details in the rulebook as to what the ingredients in the dispenser actually are. Of course you won't remember them at all during the game itself, but it's a nice touch regardless.

Many Of You Will Hardly Believe This Is Magic

Potion Explosion crosses that border between filler and light game. You can finish in a short space of time with 2 or 3 players, but with 4 it can be a little longer than expected. It scales fine with the skill token end-game trigger, but having four people thinking about patterns will result in some Analysis Paralysis at times. Don't play this with a slow player who takes things too seriously, that's for sure!

Part of that comes from the increased chaos factor. It's enjoyable at all player counts, but with 4, the state of the dispenser will have changed a great deal since your last turn meaning you can only plan so far ahead and thus have to start thinking about your turn when it's actually your turn, hence the occasional slowness.

But with 2 players you can plan ahead much more, but with less of the tension from the risk of your plans falling to pieces at your opponents hand. It's why yet again as with most games I find 3 to be the sweet spot as that nice balance between tension and chaos. That's not to say it's not enjoyable at all player counts, I like it with all of them, but there's always an optimal setup.

Verdict on Potion Explosion

Potion Explosion really hit home with me. A simple concept and based on a popular Facebook game that in itself is based on lord knows how many previous iterations. But it works very well, if not better as a board game. Visually it's very pretty to have a dispenser full of coloured marbles and multi-coloured potions everywhere appealing to younger players especially.

The rules are dead easy to learn bar one ambiguity and it's perfectly placed as a gateway game. That being said, 4 players can lead to some longer games due to AP so be aware. If pulling off combos is your thing then you'll adore it as it's very satisfying to pull off a power turn using all the potion abilities and so you have enough to test your brain so that it's not an auto-pilot experience.

Not the cheapest gateway game around due to the components, but it's a solid buy and well worth your time. Now go drag your friends off those Facebook apps and into a board game they'll appreciate!


You like Candy Crush - it's that experience in a board game, full stop.

You want a light, charming game with good visual appeal for all ages.

You enjoy creating power combos/turns in games.


It's too light for you - this is at the lower level of gateway gaming.

You continuously play with 4 players - it can occasionally drag with AP.

You feel it may be a little too lucky for your tastes.