I’ve been anticipating Potion Explosion ever since I first heard about it from The Dice Tower. It looked like a unique game in which you pick marbles in a Bejeweled-like setting in order to fulfill your potions. It definitely looked like a game my wife and I would enjoy playing and even something that my daughter could pick up with a little guidance.
There are quite a few cardboard punch outs since the entire game is about 80% cardboard and 20% of it is a bag of marbles, so be prepared to have some prep work to do when you first open the box. The cardboard is a decent thickness and the marbles have a good weight to them. You’ll have to construct the marble dispenser, but once you do, it can be stored fully-assembled in the game box.
To begin, you first remove 2 types of potions of your choice from the game and then randomly choose potions (you’ll need enough potions so each player will get 2) that have a yellow star on them. Starting with the player who most recently mixed a drink, you choose one of the star potions. Then the next player goes and then it loops backwards until the solutions are gone and everyone has 2 (think Settlers of Catan initial turn order).
The starting player then chooses a marble of their choice to pick from the marble dispenser. If removing that marble causes 2 of the same color marbles to roll down and clack together (i.e. “explosion”), that player gets those marbles as well. If that also causes an explosion, those marbles are taken and so on. Essentially, it is possible to take an entire row of marbles in a single turn.
Once the marbles are taken, the player then places them in the corresponding color locations of their potions. You can hold up to 3 marbles in the reserve beaker as well, but any extras are discarded back into the top of the dispenser. Once a potion is full of marbles, those marbles are also discarded and the player can choose to drink the potion (shown by turning it upside down) or keep it for a future turn. Each potion has a different effect when consumed, ranging from stealing marbles, taking marbles from the dispenser, or even reusing an old potion.
Once you complete 3 of the same type or potions or 1 of each type of potion, you receive a point token. Once all of the point tokens are gone, that signals the end of the game and all non-starting players get a final turn. It should be noted that a potion included in 3 of a kind may also be used in conjunction of 1 of each. So if you complete 3 Potion of Wisdoms, you can also count them as 1 type of potion in the 1 of each kind of potion completion.
You can also take a teacher help token, which subtracts 2 from your final score, but also allows you to take an extra marble of your choice from the dispenser (explosions don’t count). In 2-player games, we have yet to utilize these tokens as they don’t seem necessary.
Once the last point token is taken and everyone has completed their final turn, the points found on each potion and on the point token scores are added to determine a winner. If there is a tie, players each get to pick 1 marble from the dispenser and whoever ends up with the most marbles from the explosions is the winner.
Overall, this is a game we reach for when we want something light and unique to play. The gameplay is pretty interactive, as any marbles your opponent picks affects your choices, and they may steal some of your potion marbles on their turn. The marbles add a unique aspect that will appeal to non-board game hobbyists since it looks interesting on a tabletop.