The mobile game space is overcrowded on all sides with over-the-top high-performance titles better played on consoles and dreary rehashes of the Candy Crush craze. Miracle Merchant is different, offering a smart and strategic solo card game with a unique and colorful style that’s both charming and better looking than most of the competition. This potion-mixing title is endless fun, with a good dollop of challenge thrown in, and it’s an Editors’ Choice forboard games on Android.
Offline Imagination for One
Miracle Merchant is available on iPhone and Android. It looks and plays great on both platforms. The only difference is how much the game costs, or rather, how you pay for it. iPhone players pay $1.99 up front, while the game is free with ads and limitations on Android. Would-be Android alchemists can unlock features in the game and remove ads with a $1.99 in-app purchase. It’s well worth the cost, and I highly advise skeptical players to simply fork over the money from the start, if they’re playing the Android game.
The game is the fourth from developer Arnold Rauers and Tiny Touch Tales. Like Rauers’ Card Crawl and Card Thief, Miracle Merchant is a solitaire game with fantasy touches. Careful observers will notice some homages to other games in Miracle Merchant.
As with those games, Miracle Merchant requires no internet connection to play. That’s great, especially for someone who spends several hours a day riding Manhattan’s A train. The only time you need a data connection is to upload your achievements or share screenshots with the built-in tool. The game is vertically oriented, with your phone in portrait mode, and can easily be played one-handed. This makes it easy to pick up and play a round (they’re short already), whenever and wherever you are.
The biggest difference between this and Rauers’ previous games is the art style, which is bold, charming, and colorful. Previous games were stylish, but had a paper cut-out quality to them. That’s not a complaint, but the bright colors and heavy lines of Miracle Merchant feel far more playful. The designs of the characters is also a treat; each patron and shopkeeper is unique and bursting with charm. Whether it’s the red-broccoli-antlered potion master or the strange, hooded figure covered in birds, someone in this game will really stand out for you.
Note that because this is a solitaire game, there’s no pass-and-play or online play. You can compete with friends and strangers for highscores, but that’s it. That’s too bad, as mobile devices have become a haven for multiplayer boardgames. But Miracle Merchant more than makes up for its solitary nature with sheer style.
You start with four decks of 13 cards each, in blue, green, yellow, and red. Each deck has different themed art. The green deck, for example, has vibrantly colored plant imagery, while the red deck has bold images of flames and fire. Color is key to the game, and it’s reflected in each of its facets.
The patrons are as varied as the cards. Everyone will come pay you a visit, from a small child, barely able to see over the counter, to an angular yellow fellow with a dagger and wristwatch. They each have unique needs, displayed in speech bubbles next to their faces. The larger of the two bubbles is the ingredient that must be included for the potion to be accepted. The smaller is their favorite ingredient, and they’ll pay double for each favorite ingredient card you include.
And so you get to work, playing cards from the decks to the mixing table in order to produce the perfect (or at least, acceptable) potion for your patrons. The cards interact in interesting ways, gaining bonuses for being played next to like cards, or even different combinations of cards. You can throw random cards on the table and still do fine, but bigger and more exciting potions come from methodical, strategic play. Order and position matter much more than you’d first expect.
When you place your fourth card, the set combines together into a potion. The exact kind of potion depends on what cards you play, in which configuration, and how many points it was all worth. Bland potions are white and uninteresting, while high-scoring potions are served in surprising vessels, such as massive jars, animal horns, and exotic plants. After playing for quite some time, I got a feel as to the kind of potion would be produced, but the exact potion is always a bit of a surprise.
Your potions are saved, along with the recipes, elsewhere in the app, and you can browse your collection when you’re not in a game. There are many specific potions to collect, and the figuring out all the combinations is a little like collecting all the deaths in Survive! Mola Mola.
One of the wrinkles of the game is provided by the evil cards. These are black, decked with skulls, and reduce the value of any potion they’re added to. However, they are sometimes required and can sometimes be combined to offset their negative effects. Each of the four colored decks has three evil cards in it, and little pentacles next to the decks let you know how many are left.
Customer Service Is Key
The game ends when you’ve used up all your decks, and that creates one of the game’s greatest challenges. As with traditional solitaire, you may end up in a situation where you simply cannot win. In this case, you may run out of ingredient cards and be unable to fulfill a patron’s request. When this happens, the game simply ends. None of the potions you made that round, no matter how rare, will be recorded.
This sudden death gameplay is incredibly frustrating, but also in line with other games from Tiny Touch Tales and Arnold Rauers. That said, I prefer board games where you compete by score or efficiency. In Lost Cities, for example, you always complete the game, but you might not have the best score. You don’t get that satisfaction in Miracle Merchant.
The only other way to lose in Miracle Merchant is by delivering a potion to a patron with a total score of zero or less. This sounds like it would be easy to avoid, but the many ways that cards interact with each other to generate your final score can make the mental math a bit of a chore. I don’t think this is actually a problem, in fact, it’s the most challenging part of the game.
The developers could, however, include a more in-depth tutorial that goes into greater detail about the scoring system. It took weeks of playing before I noticed that a potion’s score was calculated as cards were played and not all at once at the end. That matters, because playing two cards next each other can create a bonus, and then another bonus earned by playing a card between the first two. Nuances like this can easily be overlooked.
I knew that Miracle Merchant was going to be trouble the minute I saw it. The bright colors and distinctive, charming designs are a breath of fresh air among games that are tending toward the dull and samey. The game is very simple—basically color matching—but offers a depth of strategy. As a player, you can ramp up at your own pace, starting out with basic potion making and eventually be crafting massive magical concoctions. Miracle Merchant will punish you, to be sure, but no one ever said that magical small business ownership would be easy.
For its fun, addictive play and charming design, Miracle Merchant is an Editors’ Choice for mobile games.