It did amuse me when booting up Weedcraft Inc. for the first time the game was more concerned about explaining what data they collected as oppose to the divisive legal status of marijuana. The ongoing debate around Mary Jane even hindered Vile Monarch’s business simulator, struggling to advertise or find a publisher until Devolver Digital appeared in a puff of smoke. Much like other business simulators your empire grows from humble beginnings- with the slight caveat with what you are doing is illegal. For now. Is Weedcraft Inc. something should put down green for, or does it just burn out?
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Vile Monarch
Platform: Windows PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: April 11th 2019
Price: $ 19.99 (Review Copy Received)
The easy scenario focuses on two brothers. One who had been growing weed to help his ailing father with his cancer and chemo, while the other left business school after one year since the family could no longer afford it. That business knowledge comes into play as quickly as the legal concerns drop by the wayside.
The harder scenario certainly reminds you how serious the subject matter can be. After the protagonist of that campaign suffered ten years in prison for smoking marijuana, he now seeks to rebuild his life with the very thing that nearly destroyed it on the legal side.
Despite how official trailers portrayed it, the story is not the focus of the game. It does provide excellent dressing to the game itself however. There is also no restriction of going legit on the easy scenario, or doing shady stuff on the harder one. While the harder campaign gives you more tools earlier on, there is no sandbox mode.
Characters are not very chatty about story points either. You may dwell on the plot for a minute or so before the conversation shifts to talking about your next objective. Conversations with NPCs can be pretty dry and dire.
Gameplay is what you may expect from other plant-care and business games, and a few things that you would not. Growing your plants becomes a balancing act of working out what nutrition, humidity and temperature to increase the quality of your plants (something that is randomized every game). Not to mention deciding if a slot should be used for another future jazz cigarette or a piece of equipment to control temperature and humidity. Quantity or quality.
On top of this you have to keep out of the eye of the law, making sure the smell and electricity use does not cause any suspicion to arise. You can set up fans and even a business front to keep suspicion low. Or perhaps you risk it grow more ganja, then use your profits to bribe police officers and spend what is left on more ways to expand your business.
Now you actually have to sell all this kush. Different social groups from vagrants to celebrities have preferences and a limit on what they will pay. So when you grow one strain of nuggets, you need to consider what you will sell it for and what other strains a social group will buy.
Then you must consider the competition. Each social group will buy the top three “strains” that appeal to them based on their overall rating (affected by the quality of the pot and the price). Your competition is slowly ousted as long as you are in one of those slots, but the process is quicker if you own all three.
As the money rolls in, you can expand your business. More room for more plants and equipment, more places to grow new strains of reefer, laboratories to work out the ideal condition for growing a strain, and even creating entirely new ones to order. You can even start operations in a new city where dank is legal and risk smuggling across the country to help out your sister locations.
Finally, you can even lobby for grass to be legal in a city. Or illegal if you want to keep prices higher and avoid licencing fees. All the while slowly building up a tree of perks that help your business whether you want it to be on the up and up, or hidden in the shadows and playing dirty while riding dirty.
I honestly have very little to criticize about the pure business side of the game. The gradual progression is not too slow, and you slowly develop from keeping a close eye on your own grow (the place where you, you know, grow) until you have plenty of people to do that for you.
The tutorials can be a bit too brief for my liking. More than once I was left scratching my head as I realized a mechanic was not fully explained. For example its impossible to get a quality beyond 10/15 until you have also unlocked light and humidity. It also took me a while to learn employees can do up to five different jobs at once, or how upgrading them to be better at a job will make them ask for a bigger pay-check.
There is the odd interaction that feels superfluous at first. The timing on when to click and release when trimming back your hash to grow quicker, or clicking on customers to sell to them. However, it keeps you engaged beyond mindlessly clicking or waiting (and you will not wait long on the game’s various speed settings). Plus, it encourages you to hire employees later.
When you grow multiple versions of the same strain, the quality averages out with the rest of your stock. Meaning if you plan to grow multiple plants to help speed up working out what nutrition and temperature balance is best, you can risk making a poor quality product that will eat into your finances.
As aforementioned, the exact balance of conditions is also randomized for all but the first two plants you get. Get a pen and paper ready folks, because until you get a lab to research it, you will have to work it out by trial and error one plant at a time (albeit, you can change the conditions between each watering, giving you three chances per plant).
Hiring a gardener ironically makes this much harder, as they continually work no matter what other screen you are in. Chances to experiment quickly go out the window as they plant, water, and trim for you. You soon end up with more spliffs for sale so you cannot keep as laser focused on your garden as you would like. In fact, NPCs in general really put a crack in my bong.
Your employees, politicians and even your competition can all be talked to. Generally, you want them to be happier so they are more likely to do things in your favor. Employees are more willing to do shady things, politicians may do things in your favor, and your competition may even give you their own strain to name a few.
Every conversation goes the same however. You talk to them a few times boosting up their relationship meter, and you may learn something about them. You then ask them about that subject in an ever-swelling list of topics, and that increases the meter as well.
The bar slowly goes down over time, and you cannot spam the various topics too much in one sitting or the NPC starts to get bored and the meter goes down. Truth is, while selling and growing all come to you naturally, its easy to forget to talk to NPCs. There is no dedicated menu like there is for growing, selling, and developing- Nor is there a reminder that an NPC needs attention like with the other mechanics.
Even when you do remember, the conversation is very dry. All dialogue seems to be pulled from an array of sentences. An NPCs design and implied personality do not matter. You will often see the same sentences over and over again. Even with a large number of topics, I did see the same topics crop up repeatedly.
Employees also never come to you unless something is wrong, asking for a pay rise or explaining the competition intimidated them into lowered motivation. You do not become attached to any NPC, turning conversations into a chore. It might as well be a few clicks like with everything else, but you have to go through a dog and pony show about topics and such that do not really mean anything.
This process is the alternative to blackmail and bribery. You can pay off the competition, politicians, and police (not to mention raising an employee’s salary)- or you can hire an NPC to spy on them. If they get some dirt, they can use this to blackmail the individual into doing favours much like with a bribe. As such, if you are going for a “good” run of the game, you have to endure boring NPC conversations.
Gameplay overall is fantastic as a business simulator, and while I have gone on about the conversation system’s flaws, the rest of the management aspects are excellent. Anything the tutorial misses you can soon pick up. It is just a shame talking to people makes you wish you had Snoop’s veggie draw on hand.
While NPCs appear as simple paper dolls with minor articulation, they are designed. The real show-stealer is the games few cut-scenes. While using “motion comic” style techniques (basic editing effects on top of a still image), they are very well drawn and could be seen in a legit comic book.
Environments are basic 3D structures of a city with small people running around, with the secretive grow rooms being dingy and secretive. What does surprise me is just watching the city go buy did make my PC put a little more effort into the fan, despite the 3D models being hardly demanding. I can action-orientated games with far more going on with little issue, so it does make me wonder about optimization.
The soundtrack is stand out and could put the constant “lo-fi hip-hop” livestream on YouTube out of business. Samples from older music mixed in with relaxing beats are always a delight. While it was repetitive at first (around the same three songs), the soundtrack opens up as you progress.
Weedcraft Inc. is not a simple gardening game with a business sim tacked on. The careful monitoring of the quality of you create and who you sell to does affect whether you sink or swim, along with how quickly you grow your business.
Lots of small wheels affect how you progress, even if NPC interaction is spinning in the dirt. If you’re in the business of playing with business, this one is a blaze of glory.
Weedcraft Inc. was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by Devolver Digital. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.