Weedcraft Inc Review
An average business management game with a unique product
The legalization of drugs – cannabis to be exact – has been a hot topic issue in the Western world for what seems like forever. The War on Drugs, the thousands of people hit with fines and jail time, and the fake medical licenses, it has all been a bit of a mess. Despite the illegal status of weed, it seems that society at large has managed to adapt and bypass most of the rules. And over time, especially in recent years, steps have been taken to make this recreational drug legal. From a few states in the US, to now all of Canada, perhaps we'll finally see the complete legal adoption of this chemical during our lifetimes. But until then, you can get an idea of what it's like to be in the business of growing and selling marijuana with the newly released Weedcraft Inc.
The game offers a choice of two scenarios. Despite this being a management game, there is a slight story and linearity to it. In the first scenario, you are a business school dropout who arrives in his hometown of Flint, Michigan to attend your father's funeral. There you are met with your brother, who wastes no time getting you to the family home basement and letting you know of his genius plan to enter the weed business. From there, you set off on a quest to expand the operation, while completing specific objectives along the way.
Completing main objectives are how you progress through the story, and because of the narrative aspect, the goals are the same even if you start over. The objectives are typical – grow a certain amount of product, make money, construct specific rooms, fulfill customer orders, etc. This means it's not a sandbox management game but rather something like Banished, where you're meant to learn from your mistakes and restart the scenario a few times. Everything stays the same – the objectives, the prices, the factions you meet, the best growing conditions, etc. So once you've figured it out, on subsequent attempts you can breeze past everything and get a stronger start. The downside to this is that the experience drags on – you're replaying the same encounters and objectives, and many hours into the game new mechanics still keep getting introduced. Having to go back through the starting sections becomes tedious.
The game's second scenario eliminates this prolonged start. In this case, you're a recently out of jail ex-dealer who now wants to get back on his feet. But alas, he can't land a job and so must return to the weed trade - however, in Denver, things are now legal and so he must adapt and overcome a different set of obstacles. In this second scenario you're given access to all the tools from the start, but the scenario and objectives are notably more difficult.
Getting into the business, things start off simple enough. In your grow room screen, there is a set number of spots where you can place items – initially, the plant pots. You choose the strain of marijuana and the soil. After that, you can interact with each plant every so often by watering and training/trimming it. It's not exactly engaging mechanics, more like busywork you'd find in a mobile game. Once the plant is matured, you collect it and just plant another in its place. With product in hand, you go into the city view, where you establish a selling location, and wait for buyers to show up. Once again, you hold down the mouse button to make a sale. Rinse and repeat.
Weedcraft Inc provides the tools to help you escape the mundane, and gradually (and for a very long while) introduces new mechanics and things to worry about. For example, when it comes to the plants, you will keep unlocking new strains to buy. You'll also unlock new soil/grow medium items, which affect your production numbers and speed, but these also cost more and attract police attention. You'll also need to discover the best nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) value by trial and error so that with each watering, the quality of the yield increases. The grow rooms themselves are also something to manage – you can expand the room for more space, and purchase better lamps, fans, and air humidifiers to control the temperature and humidity, again finding what works best for your plants via trial and error. But once you've got the best design figured out, it's reproducible on subsequent campaign attempts. The first few times though, you'll spend a ton of time and money finding what works best, and likely get too far behind financially to recover.
With some product in stock, you need to get it to your customers. The city screen lets you see the few properties available for rent, and what rooms can be built in each. You can create more grow rooms, dealer rooms to sell out of, front business rooms to reduce police attention, and more. Management of space becomes pretty crucial as well, as you're limited by how many strains of the product you can sell in any one location. Just like in your grow room, you must deal with limited physical space and make tough choices. All of these mechanics are quite typical of the management genre and are well adapted to the setting.
The final element standing between you and success is people interaction. To help eliminate the busywork from your plate, you can hire employees that come with three potential skill areas – selling, growing, and interpersonal. Over time, you can slowly grow their skills in the three areas, and of course they will want more pay. Having employees is critical if you want to get away from the repetitive growing and selling gameplay. However, for a very long time it's still faster to do everything yourself, which is annoying when there are bills to pay. You can chat with each person to learn more about them, improve your relationship, ask them to do something for you, or even blackmail them. Having a good relationship means you can deny a raise or ask them to perform shady tasks. The conversation options are exactly the same whoever you talk to.
So your business is growing, but you're not the only one on the market. Dealing with competition is key to surviving, and it becomes another roadblock. Gangs will harass you, demand payments, try to steal your employees, and so on. You can talk to the leaders just like you do to your employees, and make requests like borrowing/buying a new strain (or you can try stealing it, too). The competition sells at the same places you do, and the only way to drive them out after a while is to outsell them. You can do so by both lowering your prices, and providing higher quality product. You also need to match the demands of the customers at each location, who each have a preference rating of the products being sold, and you always thrive to become the top choice of each group. The customers – be they legal license holders or street thugs – have a price ceiling and strain preferences.
The police are the final key factor. The police chief has a general awareness meter that grows depending on in how many locations you are using and how much you're selling. There are also heat meters specific to each location, which are affected by your activities. This can be reduced by having a front business, but of course they cost money to setup and you're giving up a room that could be used for something else. Further, a specific officer looks after a few locations, so you can establish individual relationships with them as well, in hopes of one day calling in a favor.
All of these mechanics form a complex web of management aspects, and for much of the game you'll be fighting upstream. And it can all come to a head with random events. These events can really derail your progress – for example, you have no way to predict the correct course of action when cops show up at the door - which can result in your employees getting arrested, your goods confiscated, and so on. Your competition could cause you trouble, and your own workers may just decide to leave or bring unnecessary heat. The random events will often put you in a bind financially, and possibly force you to downsize, having to return to the dull clicking to grow the plants manually. Depending on events and their impact, you may as well restart from a previous save, as you may never climb out of the financial hole without selling your possessions. There is a bank loan you can take, but it's just a band aid.
There are even more things to consider. Later on, you can setup research rooms and create entirely new strains with randomized effects to help appeal to a wider customer base. You'll also unlock new cities, where you'll have to setup a base of operations from scratch. Your inventory doesn't magically carry over, and you can hire more employees and setup transportation runs, including buying cars, and so on. You further have a personal character tree where you can buy perks to improve your business. To say that Weedcraft Inc is full of mechanics is an understatement, but it feels overdesigned, stuffed to the brim with things to do and most of them aren't fun.
Despite its potentially interesting setting, the game also doesn't really delve into the dynamics of this societal issue. Sure, you can read about the different groups of customers, why they want/need to buy your product, and their backgrounds. It's an okay way to provide a perspective, but you could also just play the game without ever reading these bios that are hidden away in menus. Outside of a basic Shady/Decent moral system, Weedcraft Inc offers no insight into the legalization debate. As a player, your goal is just to make money and complete objectives, to be a successful drug business. You could replace weed with another product and tweak a few contextual gameplay elements, and it'd be a very similar experience in the end.
With so many things going on, having a very well designed menu system is key, but the navigation in Weedcraft Inc never feels too comfortable. The menu layouts take a while to get used to, and those that you aren't frequently using can be hard to find again. Some annoyances exist too, like the loading screen between your grow rooms and the city view. Another example is not being able to see how competitive your products are at a location if they are not in stock, leaving you to wait until later to make adjustments to prices.
The visual presentation is okay, with the game featuring just a few city and room screens, which are mostly static - not unlike many mobile games. The slightly cartoony art style fits that similar mobile feel as well. Perhaps the best part of the presentation, by far, is the music, featuring very setting appropriate percussive beats and occasional vocals. Too bad even that begins to grow repetitive after many hours.
Weedcraft Inc feels overdesigned, given its somewhat limited scope and actual interaction elements. You let things happen to you and try to survive, rather than actually grow a successful business as in other management games. That's the nature of the business of course, but it doesn't create a very fun atmosphere for a video game. Everything is geared to give you trouble – the competition, the cops, the customers, and even your own demanding employees. There's never respite, never a time to enjoy your success or see things humming along with minimal interference. Perhaps that's exactly the goal for Weedcraft Inc, to show that being an illegal dealer isn't that great, but as a game it's not an overly fun experience.