It’s a small wonder that no-one has thought of this before. A tycoon game based on the marijuana growing and selling business, what could be more appropriate for the tycoon genre? The current situation, in the West at least, of the legalisation of cannabis is sheer chaos. Technically it’s still illegal, certainly in Britain, yet I can’t count the number of times I’ve wondered down the street in the middle of the afternoon, only to encounter someone walking in the opposite direction tooting publicly on a particularly prominent joint. The situation is even more confusing in the US, where some states have legalised the recreational use of cannabis, others allow it for medical use, and others have not. You can even travel from one legalised state to the other with weed in your purse and still be arrested, as you’ve crossed a federal border, and heaven forbid you’re a Canadian who admits they work in the industry!
It’s clearly a chaotic situation, and as several members of Vile Monarch stated during my visit to their development studio in the heart of Warsaw, Tycoon games are all about attempting to control chaos. It makes weed the perfect theme for their latest offering.
Upon booting up the game, the player is given the unexpected choice to decide which character they want to play as and which story they want to experience. Most tycoon games are about the macro view and little else, the player is an omnipotent being overseeing the busy work of their tiny drones below. Here you are both the deity and a person directly involved in running their business. It’s a subtle change, but an important one. Your character can interact and converse with their employees, rivals and even the neighbourhood beat cop. It’s a refreshing addition and has provided Vile Monarch the opportunity to wrap tycoon elements within a compelling narrative, your character now has motivations and intentions that provide emotional depth to proceedings.
It’s also a decision that has allowed Vile Monarch to give their game a charming comic book aesthetic. The weird and wonderful cast of characters you meet are all brilliantly conceived, each one brought to life by a chunky hand-drawn art-style. It is also a game that is unexpectedly funny. The benefit of being able to interact with characters is that they can hit you with some killer lines of dialogue.
As with all the best Tycoon game, things start off deceptively simple. For Weedcraft Inc that means you find yourself in your dad’s basement with a couple of poorly Marijuana plants. Though you’ll soon hire staff to do the gardening for you, for now you’ll need to be hands on and assist them in their growth. A click of the mouse will douse a plants with water, a lengthier click will trim its leaves so it grows back stronger. The process is handled in an almost rhythm action manner as you help tease your plants to fruition.
My initial impression was that they were growing so slowly that the game must have been set at ‘real life plant growing speed’, that was until I discovered proceedings could be sped up significantly thanks to a handy fast forward button. The tutorial is lacking in important details at this moment in the time, but the team assured me this will be polished up over the next few months of development.
Once your weed has been harvested, you need to sell it. Each campaign map has a number of suitable loctations, from the obvious night clubs and shopping malls, to the unexpected. Before playing this game I had no idea that drug dealers could have such a roaring trade at the local church! Once you’ve set up your dealership it’s a case of pricing your product to appeal to your prospective customer base. At this early stage my product quality was so poor only vagrants were interested, but as the game continued, my options when it come to growing and selling weed varied greatly.
Humidity and temperature can be altered in your growth room with the purchase of dehumidifiers, fans and heat lamps. Different types of soil can be planted and its potassium, nitrate and phosphorus levels can be all be altered to grow the best quality of weed. Things became even more complex with the introduction of different species of weed, all of which required different conditions for optimum growth. You’ll also have to consider all of the different customer types in your plans, they’ll have different demands when it comes to species, quality and price. One other thing I discovered whilst playing the game: I missed a calling by not being a drug dealer because I am amazing at it!
Soon my product was selling like hot cakes baked with marijuana. The problem was that all this success, and the suspicious smell emanating from my basement, led to an unexpected visit from the local fuzz. It’s in these moments of chaos that Vile Monarch give you a vast array of options to regain control. Do you create a front for your business to reduce police attention? Perhaps a flower shop, restaurant or even a video game development studio? They certainly emit smells strong enough to hide your secret operation. Maybe you should make a very generous donation to the police retirement fund instead? It could be that befriending the local officer through conversation and asking him to avoid searching your premises might be most effective? Or you could always send one of your cronies out to spy on him, gain some solicitous information and blackmail the poor unwitting cop into submission.
More options become available as your character levels up and unlocks new abilities. These are based around legal and illegal activities, though the team go to pains to point out the legality has nothing to do with morality. After all, perhaps you are using your illegal drug selling abilities to provide PTSD patients with the weed that they need to survive daily life? Or maybe you’ve used your skills to legalise marijuana, just so you can sell it for ever more ludicrous profit margins without having to worry about the police?
It is the vast array of options that bedazzles me most about Weedcraft Inc. Despite a strong narrative drive this is still primarily a sandbox simulation that allows you to experiment with the world. The player is left to decide how best to overcome the problems that faces them, from a rival undercutting their product to an employee demanding a pay rise. this is a game that let’s the player figure out their own path, rather than holding their hand to a prescribed destination.
By the time your operation has expanded to cover multiple districts, you’ll have your work cut out for you controlling all of the emerging chaos. Thankfully the game’s front end is clear with pop up notifications making it a simple task to traverse the many elements of your business. Just be sure to remember to slow time down every now and again and take a breath.
When first hearing about Weedcraft Inc, I was tempted to write the game off as a cash grab, as an attempt to make a quick buck from a controversial topic, but this is anything but. Weedcraft Inc is a deep and multi-layered tycoon game that takes its theme seriously, whilst also not forgetting to let the player have fun. Ultimately Vile Monarch are treating us as adults, and who could ask for more than that?
Thanks to Vile Monarch, Devolver Digital and Indigo Pearl for organising travel and accommodation to Warsaw. Weedcraft Inc will be released on PC in 2019.