I first got hands-on with Weedcraft Inc back in October of last year. This latest game developed by Vile Monarch and published by Devolver Digital is all about the cannabis industry—illegal, medicinal, and recreational. I was only able to play for an hour and some change at a press event and I was quite excited to sit down and play it properly as soon as I could. It was, suffice it to say, a mixed blessing.
Normally, the Devolver folks will head to trade shows or look at online media to find strange and interesting games to bring aboard their publishing platform. (Simply look at their publisher page on Steam and you'll see a fine collection of eclectic digital entertainment.) Weedcraft Inc, conversely, is the first game that Devolver Digital specifically commissioned. I dove right in to see what all the hubbub was about in greater detail. Have a look at the Weedcraft Inc announcement trailer to get a feel for the game:
Weedcraft Inc features three distinct campaigns, each of which spans over multiple cities. Only the first two campaigns were available to play in the most current beta build. The first campaign has you starting up an illegal cannabis grow house in your family home with the help of your brother. The second campaign focuses on a recently-released ex-convict entering the legal cannabis business thanks to an old friend. Story elements and objectives aside, the gameplay between both campaigns is largely the same.
Typically, you set up a grow operation first in order to get some production going. This involves several factors. At the minimum, you should provide some light and soil for your plants. As you advance through the campaign, you gain access to equipment that lets you affect the yields, growth time, temperature, and humidity. The soil's chemical composition is also important for getting the best yield and highest quality product.
You begin the campaign by yourself, alternating between growing your product and selling it at the local market. Selling is a simple affair provided that you have the required goods. Regular trimming and watering help your growing along. Eventually, I gained employees who could automatically take care of these bits and that's where the game really takes off; campaigns will see you running your operations across three separate cities.
Speaking of cities, Weedcraft Inc largely reflects the real-world situation of cannabis legalization. There are three legalization options: illegal, medicinal, and recreational. An illegal operation will require you to pay off cops or rely on stealth with air filters and the like. A medicinal operation means that you can only sell to qualifying patients based on the law (which you can change). A recreational operation means that it's fair game to sell to anyone you like.
A further level of nuance exists in the legal sphere. You can drop a cool hundred grand to propose a new law. The chances of this law passing depend on the views of the local legislators. Thankfully, you can always influence or bribe them for it to pass. While it's a hefty upfront cost, the long-term savings from a larger customer base and lower taxes make it an undeniably good investment.
One particular paradox of Weedcraft Inc is how I found the beginning of the game more difficult than the latter portions. Having to dodge the cops and deal with your rival sellers at the same time just resulted in way too much work. I went legal as soon as I could and largely left the illegal stuff behind. It's realistic, but it also might be a little too much for a new player to deal with. In a way, I think the game might be better off if the player starts with a legal business and transitions into an illegal one.
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Left: A bugged objective prevented me from advancing any further in one of the campaigns. Right: A bugged employee couldn't be fired, essentially removing one slot for an employee and costing me unnecessary money throughout the game.
There is an absurd amount of options for fine-tuning in the game. Relationships with employees, police, politicians, and rivals are all tracked across several metrics including friendliness, motivation, integrity, and cannabis acceptance. These can be manipulated through conversation, blackmail, and advertising. As for the cannabis itself, you'll eventually unlock the ability to breed hybrid strains with research points to produce a product that best fits the needs of specific customers. Once you get the hang of this, you'll be rolling in money.
Fundamentally, Weedcraft Inc is largely a solid game in terms of its design. I still think that starting the player off with an illegal operation might be a little too much information to handle at first. The machine that lets you create a custom strain of cannabis should have an option to let you highlight one or more customer bases, but it doesn't. This means that you have to keep clicking back and forth through menus for no good reason.
The technical stability, however, is another matter entirely. During the preview process, I encountered more than a few bugs. I was unable to acquire a needed strain of cannabis in the first campaign. I was also unable to complete an objective in the second campaign, forcing me to contact the developers for help. After looking over my situation, they assured me that they've fixed these bugs in their in-house build. I also had a problem with employees breaking. They stayed on staff collecting a salary, but I was unable to replace them with a non-bugged employee. My most advanced campaign also slowed down a fair bit once I had full-blown cannabis operations running simultaneously in three cities; hopefully, Vile Monarch can fix this with a little more optimization.
Graphically, the art style of Weedcraft Inc is a fantastic mix of 2D drawings and cel-shaded 3D models. It's a really wonderful style that evokes a gritty world. As for the sound, I found myself particularly fond of the game's music. The tracks that play throughout the game are perfect music for the setting. The sound effects aren't half bad, either.
One thing I'd like to highlight is the story. Playing through Weedcraft Inc shows all of the upsides and downsides of the cannabis business. Blackmail and bribery are mainstays for the more criminally-oriented player, although there isn't much of an option for violence. On the lighter side of things, you get to see the relief that you can bring to people in pain and the wide variety of customers who like to enjoy cannabis recreationally. Everyone from vagrants and punk rockers to executives and politicians will frequent your establishments.
Weedcraft Inc is a solid tycoon game with interesting mechanics and a compelling narrative theme. I was a little skeptical of whether or not this game would be any good, but the fact that Devolver Digital went and commissioned this game specifically was enough to intrigue me. I've since spent 17 hours and some change slinging this Mary Jane. I can say with confidence that I am very much looking forward to its proper release. If you like tycoon games, you should absolutely keep an eye on Weedcraft Inc.
TechRaptor previewed Weedcraft Inc on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.