There's a point in most management games where my brain loses traction: I can only skim over +5% profit margins and -30% completion times for so long until my head overheats. Witch shop sim Potionomics has plenty of its own management ingredients, including brewing, bartering, buying, and investing, but they've all been so reduced to the essentials that I never totally boil over. It's the most chill shop sim I've ever played, which the developers at Voracious Games tell me was a trick to get just right.
I've been anticipating Potionomics for several years at this point, since I first talked to Voracious in 2017 about the bouncy, cartoonish 3D animations it had been showing off—which, these days, I'd probably compare to the exaggerated movements of Tiktok acting. Now that I've played it, the real magic is how it's managed to keep each of its systems breezy, and especially distill haggling into a card game I don't despise.
Dealing the hand
Originally Potionomics didn't have a deck-building element, Voracious Games co-founder Aryo Darmawan tells me. Early on in development, players were meant to guess a price that the customer would be willing to pay, more like the haggling system in the indie item shop classic Recettear, one of Potionomics' main inspirations.
"While this was a lot of fun in Recettear, it felt pretty repetitive and limiting in our own game because Potionomics doesn’t have dungeoning in the core loop to balance it out," Darmawan says. Voracious was a lot more interested in the shop management side of things than, say, Moonlighter, which also felt inspired by Recettear but focused on roguelike combat instead of shop tending.
In Potionomics, haggling is a turn-based game where you're not so much playing against the customer as the clock. Each card consumes some of the customer's limited patience (use it up and they'll walk out with no deal) but helps you increase their interest in the product. As you pump their interest higher, they'll be willing to pay more, leading you to close out the deal before they get bored.
In the way that Magic: The Gathering cards represent spells you've memorized, Darmawan says "we thought it would be really cool if the cards represented the thoughts that you’re having while trying to string together a coherent argument with a customer."
When first teaching you to haggle in Potionomics, Voracious really leaned into that concept. Main character and total entrepreneur newbie Sylvia has her first attempt at a sale sprung on her and, appropriately, you're dealt a hand of cards with such brave tactics as "blunder," and "flail," and "blank out." It's one of those situations where you're supposed to whiff the first battle.
Soon after though, Sylvia manages to assemble some self confidence and my deck of haggling tactics grows with cards like "Set 'em up," which raises a customer's interest by four, and applies a buff that specifically increases the interest gains of another card, "Reel 'em in." Other characters Sylvia befriends can teach her their tactics as well. Baptiste, the charming Adventurer's Guildmaster, teaches her to "Captivate" and preserve a customer's patience for extended haggling while local ingredient-slinger Quinn offers "Plant the seed" to automatically raise a customer's interest each turn.
I often groan about deck-building as an analog for skills and especially dislike the drudgery of card minigames, but Potionomics keeps things simple enough that I can play a turn in under ten seconds without ever getting mired in percentages. I'll often throw down a sequence of cards out of habit that I know work well together, smash the end turn button, and then use my next turn to grab some extra interest without wasting too much patience and seal it up with Sylvia's "Close it out" card.
Part of Potionomics' easy breezy style is the simplicity of the haggling card game itself, but it's also down to how smoothly Voracious introduces every other bit of management after it.
"It really felt like we were trying to teach a player three different games at any given time," Darmawan says when I ask how they managed such a well-paced tutorial. So often I've felt that management games dump the entire Lego set on my head at once, effectively telling me to sort it myself. But Potionomics smoothly introduces everything you'll be doing around the shop.
First it's that harrowing first haggling attempt, then arranging potions on shelves before learning to brew my own. Later it's customizing my skill deck, buying ingredients and investing in the guild, all added to my sidebar only after I've been walked through them in Sylvia's first few days. Each is as no-fuss and stats-lite as the card game.
Darmawan says that Potionomics went through a lot of iteration before introducing players to one concept per day. "It gave them enough time to explore it a little, and then get ready for the next set of fun stuff to come their way."
Potionomics does eventually get a bit more difficult. Sylvia's loan payment looms over her head as does the first potion brewing competition against her rival Roxanne. Yet no part of it ever lets me get deep in the weeds before sending me off to some new part of Sylvia's day, be it queuing Mint up for a quest or double-checking Quinn's stock to load up on a specialty ingredient.
Now that Potionomics has finally arrived, of course I'm delighted that it earned an 87% review, in which we called it "more than the sum of its ingredients." Its haggling or brewing or adventure management may have been too simplistic to stick on their own, but together Potionomics nailed the one-more-day-ism of a shop sim by concocting a suite of managerial duties that sing in harmony.