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Kind of Like Hogwarts in a Card Game

Potion Making Practice

Kind of Like Hogwarts in a Card Game

Review by Craig Hargraves

*The copy of the game reviewed was generously donated to The Boardgamers by the publisher RightGames.

The Harry Potter series of books and movies has been a major feature of our pop culture for the past 10 years or so and it’s been interesting that, apart from the ever ignorable licensed games that have cropped up over the years, no other publishers have (as best I recall) really tried to feed off the theme and flavour of the series in their games. However RightGames’ Potion-Making Practice, which has recently seen its first English printing from the original Russian version, feels like there is actually a fair dose of Hogwarts in the mix.

From the tome-like box art, complete with an escaping phoenix feather and the claw of some little nasty, to the 76 beautifully, and for the most part clearly, illustrated cards the theme is well represented and it draws you into the game. You even have an intricate diagram illustrating how all of the different elements within the game relate to each other which certainly feels like it belongs in a Hogwarts’ potion making textbook.

The game play itself is also relatively simple and quite understandable by younger players interested in the Potter series. Each card features in the bottom right corner an ingredient (such as a dragon’s tooth or a bat’s wing) which when added to the table becomes an ingredient that all players can draw from the shared pool of ingredients. The top of the card will usually feature a formula for a potential concoction (for example Spring Water and Belladonna can be combined to make a Potion of Everlasting Sleep) which can be played from a player’s hand in combination with the necessary ingredients from the common pool of ingredients on the table to score the points indicated on the card. There are also some special spells on some cards which will allow you to manipulate play a bit. It’s a fairly simple system and the nicely illustrated cards also make it interesting. Even the different potions have a different strata of colours making them reasonably identifiable from across the table (although there is little to help here if you’re colour-blind). The ability to recognise something from across the table becomes important as the completed concoctions themselves become viable ingredients, no matter who made them, for still more complex compounds (which accordingly score more points). It’s an interesting and engaging system of interwoven layers which keeps you paying attention to what all of your opponents are doing. Throughout the game you are going to score points by adding new ingredients to the common pool on the table, making concoctions from your hand or having other players use potions you have previously created in further creations of their own. Having the most points when all the cards have been played out will get you the win.

Thus far I’ve played Potion-Making Practice with 2, 3 and 4 players and while the box says the game will play to 6 I’m not sure I would want to go there.  Playing a four player game, I found playing second to be quite frustrating. You see the first round of the game will tend to be one of players adding more of the 16 different ingredients to the table as there are unlikely to be enough resources to make anything from your hand. By the time four players have added ingredients to the initial pool of four, the first player on their second turn should have some good options which they’ll take and score some points. Sadly as the second player your options have now gone back to almost where you started last turn leaving you to add another ingredient for someone else to use. Repeat this for a few rounds and you can have some players getting frustrated and other players running away with a lead. I can also imagine keeping track of what 5 other players have in front of them to start becoming a bit onerous. It almost must be mentioned that this is a card game and the luck of the draw can play a big factor in what you can do on your turn. Indeed, where I’ve found the most value with this game is as a two player game where there is a less dramatic change of game state between each player’s turn and a more equitable distribution of the cards in the game.

As I mentioned above the game is nicely illustrated and that aspect of the game helps it function quite well. Sadly though the game is not without a couple of flaws. Potion-Making Practice has been translated from the original Russian and it shows in the instructions. While the instructions are quite understandable they are clearly a translation and use some very unnatural phrasing at times. The cards themselves seem to have no errors for the most part (although I have my doubts about whether the ingredient “Musharms” is not in fact a misspelt mushrooms). But again none of this makes the game unplayable, just unnatural.

I’m also not a fan of the two board score track (one board tracking single digits 1-10 and the second board counting in tens – 10, 20, 30, etc.) which requires each player to have two scoring pawns. It just seems overly clunky and impractical to me. At the very least I would rather have seen a “0” used instead of the “10” on the single digits board. It just would make it all a bit clearer for me. Also, putting the interesting ingredient matrix on the back of the score card so that it can’t be referenced during the game seems to defeat the purpose a bit.

But don’t let those few criticisms put you off giving this one a try. My wife and I have had a great time with this one as a two player game (if not so much with more players) and it is well worth a look, particularly if the Harry Potterish theme appeals to you. There are also a couple of expansions which I hope will eventually be translated into English.

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