Weedcraft Inc (PC)

**Review copy provided by publisher**

Weedcraft Inc is a game full of interesting ideas that are spread out too thin. Weedcraft doesn’t have enough depth to succeed as a tycoon game—or management sim, if you prefer—and while it wants players to think about the consumption of cannabis in American society, together with the role of politicians in shaping laws around its use, the implementation is so basic that it rarely makes you angry or sad, just apathetic.

Weedcraft Inc is about growing your weed empire. You start by choosing between one of two scenarios, each of which has a low-key story to set the scene. Growing Up is the starter scenario where you play as a guy who just quit his MBA program because his dad died without leaving behind enough money to continue paying tuition. The dad used cannabis to ease his pain near the end, which is our light motivation for setting up a weed business with a little encouragement from our brother Clyde. Growing Up is the easier of the two scenarios and includes all the tutorials to teach you the ropes. Highs and Laws is the second scenario and sees you playing as a man just released from prison after a long stretch for smuggling.

You start off small, renting space in crappy buildings and growing regular strains that you sell illegally to the local vagrants, before slowly expanding until you’re operating from New York hotels, selling legally to epilepsy sufferers, cross-breeding your own strains, and bribing politicians to pass laws reducing the cannabis sales tax.

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Weedcraft’s early hours are tedious and it feels more like a clicker than a management sim. You don’t have much money, so you need to do all the work yourself. This includes regularly watering and trimming each plant, harvesting them, and planting new ones. And once you have some weed, you’ll need to sell it to customers. This work is all performed with clicks or holding down the mouse button for a few seconds. More than once I found myself slumped back in my chair, half-asleep as I moved my mouse from one icon to another occasionally going to the main city map to sell the weed, before returning to the grow room to repeat the process all over again. To be charitable, it could be described as relaxing or meditative. The sort of thing you might mindlessly do under the influence of narcotics, perhaps.

Once you have a bit of money in your pocket, you can hire employees to do all this for you, however, until the employees have been promoted a couple of times, it is much quicker to do the work yourself. You end up debating whether to leave the work to your underlings or help out personally even though it’s really dull. In that respect, Weedcraft perfectly captures the nature of management work.

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Things do thankfully pick up once you have to deal with local law enforcement and competitors. Despite cannabis being legal for medicinal use, you probably won’t be able to afford the medical licenses required to work legitimately. You’ll have to operate outside the law for a bit, avoiding detection or perhaps bribing or sweet-talking your way out of punishment.

Law enforcement becomes increasingly suspicious of you based on your energy consumption and the mysterious smells they notice on their rounds. A cheap way to avoid the cops early on is by limiting your energy use in the first place and buying air purifiers to keep the smell from escaping. A more long term solution is to operate a front business like a tea room or pizzeria. This adds another icon that you need to hold for a few seconds every minute or so.

The flexibility is great. Operating a front business is the easiest way to avoid detection, but then you have to deal with operating it or pay an employee to do it for you, and it takes up a lot of space that could be used for growing or selling. Setting up an efficient grow room with air purifiers and minimal power usage might allow for more optimal weed growth, but it also takes more effort and micro-management. In the starter town of Flint, I placed a front business in every location and had an employee dedicated to keeping them running while those in charge of growing and dealing went to work without worrying about the cops.

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Competitors also keep you on your toes. I was dismayed to learn that not all drug dealers are moral upstanding citizens and I had to deal with a bunch of vandalism, theft, and even manipulation of temperature and humidity settings. You need to compete on price and quality to sell your goods as quickly as possible and you can enter into agreements not to compete or gang up on a rival.

Once you have the town of Flint under your control, you can expand to either Fargo or Boulder, and it’s around this point that Weedcraft is at its best. The second town opens up opportunities to do research which you can use to improve the quality of your strains, and eventually breed new ones.

This is when I went legit. I bought medical licenses for all my properties, got rid of the front businesses, and used them to grow more weed and make more money. With a medical license, you can sell to patients with certain conditions such as epilepsy, cancer, and PTSD, however, you can’t sell to randoms unless you want to also operate illegally. You can do this, but you’re highly encouraged not to because you have to hit income targets from either legal or illegal sales. If you split the revenue then you’re less likely to hit those targets. That didn’t bother me too much. I wanted to be 100% legit and it was incredibly satisfying to watch my empire grow without having to deal with the cops anymore. I could also threaten to call the cops on competitors who were messing with me, and they would usually back down because they didn’t have the right licenses.

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My new legal clientele had different tastes and needs in their cannabis, so it was time to breed some new strains just for them. You do this by combining existing strains that have the desired elements and then playing around with a slot machine for a bit. You can also spend research points to add in mutations such as increased quality or entirely new side effects. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the game. Taking the time to develop a strain of weed that was perfect for one particular client group and then watching them rate it five stars and buy all my stock even as I raised the price was immensely satisfying.

Unfortunately, shortly after this point, Weedcraft falls apart and is easily broken. When playing legit, you only have a handful of client types to sell weed to. Once you’ve developed a perfect strain for each type, you can just sit there and collect money, easily meeting all the challenges set along the way. As a result, the final third of the game was far too easy.

Notifications fly along the top left-hand corner of the screen letting you know that a new competitor has moved into town or decided to spend a bit of money on advertising but none of it really matters. Competitors are largely irrelevant at the late game stage. You might need to repair your stuff occasionally after one of them throws a temper tantrum, but it’s no big deal.

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You can try to keep competitors friendly by regularly engaging in conversation with them, but the system for doing this is incredibly boring and requires too much upkeep. For example, a few times you’re tasked with getting a competitor to gang up against another business with you, and you can do this either by digging up dirt on them or asking for a favor as a friend. To get them on friendly terms you just need to chat to them a couple of times and get them to reveal their interests. It can be done in a minute or two. They don’t really say anything either. It’s just comments along the lines of “I really like talking about that thing.” This isn’t too bad the first time, but imagine doing this regularly for all your competitors across all three cities. I opted to just leave them to it and pay some repair fees every now and again.

You also need to keep employees onside by regularly engaging in this same conversation model, but once again there’s little incentive to do so. I could have probably saved a bit of money on wages if I’d kept employees happy, but it wasn’t worth it. Occasionally an employee would quit out of the blue because I ignored them, but I just hired another.

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The bunch of notifications that I ignored made the screen a little messy, but then I wasn’t a huge fan of the UI to begin with. Weedcraft looks like a PC port of a mobile game, with all those icons that need tapping or holding or dragging and dropping into location. There’s no way to reassign keys and most of the keyboard shortcuts are largely useless, so you play entirely with the mouse. The colorful design is supposed to be approachable and less intimidating than deeper management sims, however, as is often the case, I find making complex games approachable often results in a lack of information when not done carefully.

Perhaps this is the former accountant in me speaking, but I found the lack of a decent profit and loss account to be infuriating. There is a profit statement, but it’s not a true profit. It’s cash flow: money in vs money out. There’s no distinction between recurring revenue costs and fixed expenditures, so if you buy new property it looks like you’ve had a terrible month. There doesn’t seem to be any way to look at the profitability of each strain or individual operations. You can look at each building’s income and expenditure, but that is only really useful if you are growing and selling the same strain in the same place with no other expenditures.

Another annoyance is the amount of individual tweaking required. If you want to upgrade the lighting or change the soil your plants use or change what you’re growing in any location, you have to do it all individually. You can’t just instruct your employees to change what they are growing.

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Weedcraft Inc ends up feeling like one huge missed opportunity. The variety of things you can do make for an excellent back of the box description—or paragraph on the steam store description, I guess—however, the implementation is lacking across the board. Take research as an example. Researching the optimal growing conditions for your weed and discovering new strains could have been interesting. I imagined building a lab, deciding what equipment to put in it and choosing areas of research priority. Instead, you just open a lab and collect research points every minute. Again, the reliance on timers feels like a mobile game.

As an aside, early on, you’re encouraged to perfect the soil conditions, temperature, and humidity for each strain to make the best quality weed possible, however, this is completely infeasible in the early game. There are five different variables to play with and no way to see whether you’ve gone too high or too low with each. Add in the amount of time it takes to see results and you would probably be better off conducting real-life experiments than doing it in the game. I recommend you ignore all this until research points become available. It’s easy to collect more than you’ll ever need.

Then there’s the system of proposing new legislation and getting politicians on your side. You can’t do this at all in the first scenario and it doesn’t open up until mid-way through the second scenario. You can tell Weedcraft wants to say something about the politics around the legalization of cannabis, but its reliance on the same conversations systems I was already bored of using meant I couldn’t get engaged.

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Let’s say you want to request a friendly favor from a politician. You do the same thing you did with competitors. Talk to them a couple of times, move the relationship bar into friendly status and then ask them for a favor. If you want to flat out blackmail them, you do the same thing to gather a bunch of info and then use this information to gather dirt. Gathering dirt is literally just paying $2,000 per piece of information and then waiting for the timer to countdown. This happens while the game is paused, so there’s no need for there to be a timer at all. Once you strike it lucky and get three pieces of dirt you can blackmail them.

To be completely fair, there is another way to get the information without going through the tedium to chatting to them a couple of times, and that’s to get an employee to do it for you. This takes them away from their work and is much slower, so it’s just easier to do it yourself.

Compounding all these problems is the dull and repetitive mission structure. Each map contains similar goals, such as reaching a certain bank balance, selling a certain amount of product, or raising cannabis acceptance with a certain group. These missions quickly repeat. In the advanced scenario, I was asked to influence a group of teachers through a marketing campaign. A few minutes later, I was asked to do the exact same thing again, so I ran the exact same campaigns and got the exact same outcome.

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Even the ending is rather unimaginative. Keeping spoilers to a minimum, at the end of the first scenario, you’re asked to convince a certain person about the benefits of your cannabis and the story does feel like it’s building to something. After that, you’re set another generic “make x amount of money” quest and once you have that amount… it just ends. You can continue in freeplay if you like, but there isn’t much incentive to do so.

I never noticed any impact regarding my choice to be “shady” or “decent,” the terms Weedcraft uses in its morality system. I went the legal route as early as possible, didn’t sabotage any competitors, and completed projects that rewarded the “decent” experience points, and yet I still ended up with nearly as much experience on the shady side as the decent side. You can use your increasing influence to buy new skills such as improved relationships with employees, a helicopter to help you transport goods between cities, or a luxury yacht to keep politicians and police officers on your side.

All these unlocks cost money and it’s sometimes difficult to determine whether that money is worth spending. For example, you can unlock the ability to buy a new humidifier, but to make use of it, you’ll need to upgrade all your grow rooms, then buy the new equipment for each room you need it in, and then somehow determine whether it was money worth spending. You’re unlikely to know this in advance and it would require a separate spreadsheet to figure it all out.

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Weedcraft’s flaws wouldn’t be so obvious if it weren’t spread out over a roughly 25-hour runtime. Neither story is especially interesting and it’s baffling that entire features like dealing with marketing and legislation are withheld until the second campaign. I suspect Weedcraft would have been more interesting with a single narrative that started with us growing cheap weed in a Flint basement to eventually fighting to legalize weed in Washington DC. This wouldn’t entirely negate issues such as having to click on stuff all the time in the early game and the boring interactions with politicians, consumers, and employees, but it would at least mean you don’t have to start from scratch a second time to experience it all and I suspect the pacing would be improved as a result.

It’s always a shame when a game with great features doesn’t quite come together. None of the problems are unfixable. Weedcraft’s interesting features can be refined and improved upon over time and, at only $20, Weedcraft Inc doesn’t require a huge financial outlay. However, it does require a lot of your time and too much of that time is holding down the mouse button and navigating through tedious chat menus. There’s a fun ten hours in Weedcraft Inc; it’s just a shame it took me over twenty hours to experience it.

3/5

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