Weedcraft Inc is a game that begins with a fairly straightforward premise: what if someone made a tycoon game about the cannabis business? Sure, there have been classic simple games like Drug Wars for years. Nothing on the scale of Weedcraft Inc has seriously been attempted before. Devolver Digital specifically commissioned Vile Monarch to make this game, the first time they've ever done that as a publisher. Needless to say, it's been quite the journey. I've previewed the game hands-on at an event and later in more detail. Now, I've finally had the time to sit down and play a full version for review. I can certainly say that it was an interesting experience.
There is no standalone free play or sandbox mode in Weedcraft Inc just yet; the experience boils down to two distinct story scenarios. Each of these takes you on a narrative journey that introduces the mechanics and explores both sides of the cannabis business. The first scenario has an MBA student dropout taking up selling cannabis illegally to survive. The second scenario focuses on a recently-released ex-convict getting a job in the Colorado cannabis industry thanks to some help from a friend.
Each of the two scenarios in Weedcraft Inc sees players going to three different cities. In the first scenario, your character is down in the dumps after his college money runs out. He can't complete his degree, his father passed away, and he has returned home to live with his brother. It is then that he discovers his brother has been growing cannabis in the basement of their family home. You begin to build a business, firstly by growing and selling weed by yourself and then by hiring your first employees.
Strangely, the beginning of Weedcraft Inc feels a little more difficult than the latter portions. Money is tight and the need to conceal yourself from police hurts your efficiency. You'll have to conceal the smell with special equipment. Maybe you'll need to downgrade operations to keep power usage low and avoid suspicion. You'll definitely need to establish front businesses to explain all of the people coming and going out of the buildings you rent. You're also learning the ropes, which makes this whole scenario doubly challenging. Once you have a handle on things, you'll move to another city that has legal medical marijuana. Soon after, you move to a third city and the money is rolling in by then. As long as you smartly manage your employees and your business, you'll be able to complete the scenario.
The second scenario starts things off on better footing for a new player. You're in a state where cannabis is somewhat legal so you don't have to bother with the trouble of selling illegally. Selling both legally and illegally is more profitable in some regards. However, it also requires that you hurt your efficiency by concealing your operations and occasionally bribing the police.
One of the minor problems I have with Weedcraft is the way the mechanics gradually unlock. It's understandable at the very beginning, but you're easily spending three-quarters of a campaign with something useful locked out. I would have loved to see a challenge where you weren't hamstrung from the beginning. Making use of the full range of tools available to you would be killer.
Speaking of tools, growing cannabis is, at its face, a fairly straightforward process. Rent a building, put down some dirt, plant your seeds, and wait. You can trim the plants to speed up growth and water them to increase the yield. You'll get some pretty terrible weed at the end, and it is here where the fine-tuning comes in.
Each plant has five distinct elements that need to be tweaked: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, temperature, and humidity. You can try to figure these out through trial and error, but it's an awful grind to do things this way. Unlocking research partway into the first campaign makes things much easier, requiring only that you spend research points to find the correct values. From there, it's simply a matter of balancing these elements while trying to grow as much product as possible.
The part of Weedcraft Inc that I enjoyed the most by far was breeding cannabis. You use a sort of slot machine mechanic to spend research points and try to unlock new effects. Each group of customers has certain desired effects. Targeting your product to their needs will ensure market dominance. You'll often have a few slots left over to fill with bonuses like higher quality, faster growth, or increased yield.
Employees are also an important part of the process in Weedcraft Inc. No matter how practiced you may be at cow clickers and/or tycoon games, there is just too much to do for any one man. Employees can be trained in growing, selling, and spying. Those schooled in growing weed will be better at working in your grow houses and researching product. Employees trained to sell do exactly that, and employees trained in spying can dig up dirt on anyone and smuggle weed across state lines.
Each person in both scenarios — employees included — has four distinct motive measures: Relationship, Motivation, Integrity, and Cannabis Acceptance. These are all pretty straightforward to understand. Someone with whom you have a good Relationship value will be more inclined to do you a favor purely based on your friendship. A worker with high Motivation will be more efficient, and a politician with high Integrity will be resistant to bribes.
Politics are an important part of Weedcraft Inc as well. You can lobby to change the laws about halfway through the second scenario and this is where things get a little interesting. Proposing a new law costs $100,000 right from the jump. The changes you make will make Democrative and Republican politicians more or less inclined to vote for the bill. Slow, gradual change can happen if you want to keep things honest. If you're willing to get dirty, you can bribe politicians to increase their likelihood to vote or outright blackmail them.
I found blackmail to be the most efficient means of getting things done. I just need to dig up dirt on politicians so they'll push the bill I want. Then, blackmail them for their vote, and enjoy the fruits of my (and my spy's) labor. A second attempt at blackmail fails and the politician leaves town, but you can just repeat the process again with no ill consequences.
The preview build of Weedcraft used to just let you outright buy votes and I think it's good that this was removed. However, it's far, far too easy to blackmail politicians once you are set up to do it well. I feel like there needs to be an element of risk here for the player and there isn't. Surely the state police or FBI would get involved if you tried to blackmail a politician?
I enjoyed Weedcraft Inc overall, but that's not to say that there weren't problems. There were a few bugs here and there — some of them repeatable, no less — but the situation was vastly improved as compared to the preview build. I think Vile Monarch will likely round out the rough edges in the days leading up to release and the short period afterward. I encountered no serious or deeply troubling issues in my time playing.
There was, however, a lot of "wish I could" situations. I wish the game would keep running in the background while I was breeding new strains, checking out my finances, or digging through my inventory. I wish it were easier to actually manage my inventory; it's terribly troublesome to move all of the different cannabis strains around on the hot bar. One of the worst areas in this respect is the breeding system. There ought to be a notification for when you unlock an effect that you don't have in any of the strains of weed you already own. You ought to be able to highlight the specific effects you need on some kind of menu. Instead, you have to go back and forth between your inventory and menu, checking and rechecking everything before you confirm or toss what you've researched.
Lastly (and perhaps most importantly), I wish I could understand how I lost. My money goes a bit into the negative and I get a game over screen, but it doesn't seem to happen at a consistent point. I've been at -$10,000 in one game and lost and -$20,000 later on with no problems. Is it an issue with the profit trend? I have no idea, and there's no warning either.
Graphically, Weedcraft Inc has a distinct cel-shaded style. It feels grungy and gritty and I really like the aesthetic. Whoever is doing the art really knows their stuff, and the team at Vile Monarch has a great sense of humor, too. (It took me a few passes at the title screen before I noticed they were emulating Lady Liberty!) As for the sound, the effects are certainly serviceable. The music, however, is downright fantastic and one of the highlights of my playthrough. I thoroughly enjoyed the story elements and found both scenarios to have compelling narratives.
It took me 7 hours to beat the first scenario in Weedcraft Inc and 8 hours to complete the second. All in all, I've spent 32 hours playing when you factor in my time with the preview. So what's the verdict?
Devolver Digital went out on a limb to hire Vile Monarch to make a tycoon game about the cannabis business. The subject matter alone made it a risky bet, nevermind all of the usual other perils of game development. I think they pulled it off with room to spare. If you enjoy tycoon games at all, you should definitely pick up Weedcraft Inc.
TechRaptor reviewed Weedcraft Inc on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
<em>Weedcraft Inc</em> makes for a fun new spin on the tycoon genre while tackling a serious social issue with bravery, humor, and compassion.(Review Policy)
- Innovative Application Of Tycoon Mechanics
- Challenging Gameplay That's Fun To Learn
- Excellent Music Tracks
- Breeding Cannabis Is Cumbersome
- Features Take Too Long To Unlock