Marijuana. The Devil’s Lettuce. Sweet Mary-Jane. All words for the same thing rolled up and smoked as a jazz cigarette. In Weedcraft Inc, you’re not a smoker, but an entrepreneur tasked with making sure your floral-smelling empire expands beyond its rinky-dink beginnings.
Weedcraft is a management sim, and a fairly complex one at that. While it seems a bit sparse in scope at first, you’ll be experimenting with temperature, humidity, and mineralized soil before you know it. At the same time, you have to make sure your electricity output isn’t suspicious to the keen-nosed authorities hellbent on sending your delinquent bottom to a cold jail cell. Unless you’re willing to bribe them, of course.
When you boot up Weedcraft, you’re treated to a soundtrack composed of percussive hip-hop beats and instrumental vocals. Next thing you know, you’re Johnny, failed MBA student who has turned to drug dealing. In order to make ends meet, you need to sell astronomical amounts of weed. At the start you’re only selling a couple of grams at a time, but you’ll be shifting top-quality greenery for tens of thousands of dollars a pop before you know it.
Weedcraft’s management sim systems are designed quite well. As your business expands, you start to spend less time growing weed and more time managing employees, all of whom have three stats: growing, selling, and interpersonal skills. These workers can grow weed for you, sell it on the streets, or run a front business designed to make your operation inconspicuous. As you progress through the game and go national, they can run weed from cities where it’s legal to cities where it isn’t–for a small fee, of course. At the same time, they can slip up and get arrested, at which point you’ll need to decide what to tell the cops. Maybe you’ll play dumb and let them take the hit for you; maybe you’ll lie on their behalf, saving their skin and earning their gratitude (until they ask for a raise two days later). Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll go down with them, your empire of dirt collapsing inwards on top of you. Although this sounds interesting in theory, there’s not much to it in execution. You assign your employees jobs by dragging their portraits into a little box and then just leave them be. Every couple of minutes they’ll ask for a raise, even if you’re going under, and every other day they’ll mention that they were threatened by a rival gang member, which decreases their motivation to work for you. Because they only come to you to discuss money or threats, there’s no real sense of building a relationship with them. The management sim mechanics in Weedcraft are clean and intuitive, but not in any special or new way.
You’ve got your own list of perks, too, which are separated into two strands: decent and shady. These can provide you with bonuses when you’re bargaining with employees over wages or assist you in convincing a cop that there’s no smell coming out your chimney. You unlock these very gradually throughout the game, but their effects are usually significant enough to make even slow progression worthwhile, as the benefits they provide can have an astronomical impact on day-to-day dealing. You can headhunt the best growers in town, or get better at convincing rivals that you’re genuinely trying to help them before you bring them down.
A lot of Weedcraft’s core play comes down to property management. You need to pay leases, rent, utilities, wages, and materials on a monthly basis. As you progress through the game, employees notice the rate at which your empire is expanding and ask for raises. Properties in new cities are fancier than the ones in the small town you started out in, and people are used to more experimental strains of weed that cost a lot more money to cultivate. The prospective employees you’ll come across are usually a little more skilled too, and they know it. While you may have gotten away with paying an ex-con $250 a month for holding the fort in your front business in Michigan, hiring someone to sell weed outside a church in Colorado can amount to as much as $750 a month, and that’s before they start making demands.
After a while in Weedcraft, you’ll stop selling outside diners and flea markets and start to take larger orders, reflecting the way empires are built on weed on the silver screen. These will come from people who are coordinating events, celebrities, and politicians who don’t want to be seen at a dispensary or in a shady alley. Naturally, these gigs pay a lot more than the minor deals you were doing when you started out. They’re also harder to work up to though, and clients are a lot pickier. If you want to avoid bankruptcy and prison, you’ll have to be crafty in your attempts to balance the legal and the illegal, and the minor and the major. In theory, larger orders should work swimmingly. In execution though, they’re a bit deceptive, offering more bang for your buck in the short term, but also drastically undercutting the prices of your day-to-day sales. I got several consecutive game overs from neglecting my clients at the burger joint to grow 800g of top-quality Grandaddy’s Purple. Because you’re micromanaging employees instead of growing your own weed at this point in the game, getting high-quality pot mostly boils down to good RNG. And if you consider buying a basement to set up your own personal operation, you’ll miss out on employee prompts, rival threats, and police warnings. It’s just not really worth it, and that’s an issue. If these people want to buy your best strains in bulk, they should offer something more enticing than market value to make it worth your while.
Weedcraft also has another game mode in which you start off as a 50-year-old man who has just been released from prison. Formerly a junior brand manager, you’ll end up meeting with your old friend Matty after deciding that legal weed is a business you’re well-equipped to take on. In this mode you’ll start off with a decent amount of capital, including a hefty amount of weed to sell straight away. However, this is much more advanced and will involve you sycophantically dismembering the competition. This mode is a lot more difficult, and the assets you’re gifted at the start are deceptive. Here you’ll probably need to take out a loan just to get by, which you’ll need to repay within 30 months at 8% interest. This might seem like a long time, but weed takes a long time to grow, so naturally there’s a fast-forward setting that powers through months in minutes. Bankruptcy is never too far away so long as there are competitors desperately seeking to undercut you for an inch of your territory. This mode is a lot more engaging than the other one because it makes use of the game’s full systematic ensemble. Here you spend more time combining strains in a laboratory to create the next big thing than you do on the streets, which gives you an insight into where the easier mode will end up about 10 hours in.
Visually, Weedcraft finds style in simplicity. As with most management sims, the overall area you’re operating within is viewed from a top-down perspective. Cars drive along the roads wrapped around shady neighborhoods, rundown burger joints, and sky-kissing hotels, all of which serve as hubs for operations you wouldn’t want your parents to know about. In your growing rooms you actually get to watch your budding trees bloom, which is very satisfying with fast-forward enabled. These rooms are the most dynamic places in Weedcraft because the progress is meaningful. Most of the time, zooming cars just boil down to background noise designed to convey the passage of time. They become furniture almost immediately, before being interrupted by fleeting conversations with police officers and rival dealers. When these dialogue encounters occur, characters appear on either side of the screen, still portraits with clear, if not caricatured, personalities.
None of the personalities in Weedcraft are remotely nuanced. You’ve got maniacal metalheads, somnolent stoners, and highfalutin hipsters, all of whom are paired with their own preferential strains of weed
Caricature is an important word here. The thing is, none of the personalities in Weedcraft are remotely nuanced. You’ve got maniacal metalheads, somnolent stoners, and highfalutin hipsters, all of whom are paired with their own preferential strains of weed. People known as “vagrants” prefer whatever’s cheapest, whereas a hipster is more than happy to pay above market price if the quality is there. Sometimes, these people will utter a short line after you sell them a bag. Most of these are generic, something along the lines of, “I’ll take the usual, Super Lemon Haze.” And in the case of talking to other dealers, every time you’re met with a prompt to ask them about a certain point of interest, the exchange will literally consist of, “Let me ask you about…” and “Well, what can I say about that!” Here, the ellipses are used to make this generic conversation applicable to every dialogue encounter with potentially major characters in the game. Because of this, none of them ever become particularly intriguing, which is not to say that they even were in the first place. From Los Muertos in Michigan to the health-loving businessman living in an “eco-house” in weed-permitting Colorado, every character you meet is a character you’ve probably seen in a movie 100 times before.
While it’s relatively harmless to write tropey characters like the ones above, some of Weedcraft’s clientele is horribly designed. Alongside the kinds of people you’d expect to find in a game like this, you’ll find people who suffer from cancer, PTSD, and epilepsy, all of whom are accompanied by very unflattering portraits. The cancer patient is doubled over, ghostly pale with bags beneath their eyes, and attached to a drip. The PTSD patient is wide-eyed and open-mouthed with both hands on their head, wearing an expression torn between fear and confusion. People who smoke medicinally in Weedcraft will only buy from registered dispensaries, so you’ll need to get a license to sell before they’ll do business with you, but their representation in the game is extremely distasteful. It may be true that people suffering from illnesses are sometimes prescribed marijuana to help them deal with pain, but to present them in such an appalling way in a game is nothing short of shameful.
This really did sour the game’s initial tongue-in-cheek charm. The beginning of Weedcraft starts to get towards something interesting, presenting itself as an experience capable of playing with the cultural and socioeconomic impacts the devil’s lettuce has had on society since it assimilated into the mainstream. Blending such a polarizing substance with the management sim genre seems ingenious, especially because of how significant property is. In one of the first lines of the game, your younger brother explicitly mentions issues with gentrification, but the problem is that the idea is almost immediately dismissed thereafter. With weed being legal in some US states, but not in others, Weedcraft could be a remarkable way of studying the impacts of the drug in legal and illegal settings alongside each other. You learn about creating artificial climates to support optimal growth, checking soil quality to determine strain strength, and combining seemingly immiscible substances in order to invent something new. At the same time, you’re faced with the case of buying the proper licenses to adhere to legislation and establish a legitimate business. It’s obviously not as in-depth as I imagine the real-life process is, but the fact that it attempts to replicate it even in a minor way gives us a little insight into how these intangible things work. It places you, an ordinary person, in a highly unusual string of circumstances, and allows you to waltz your way through the sale of the most controversial plant on the planet. But it does it in a way that lacks nuance, commentary, and maturity. From terminally-ill patients to hackneyed depictions of dealers, it relies more on stoner symbolism than genuine critique.
Weedcraft is a well-designed management sim with stylish art and catchy music. Generally, it does its job well. Managing things is hectic and engaging, and you can’t afford to take your eye off the ball for too long, lest someone take advantage of your ignorance and kick you out of the market and into prison. However, its characters are stale, its dialogue is boring, and its depiction of ill people is really disgusting. These aren’t minor flaws by any means and they drastically affect play. I felt particularly uncomfortable when I saw the picture of the cancer patient because of how grossly caricatured it was. For these reasons, Weedcraft really shot itself in the foot. For a game that could have engaged in a globally-significant discourse, all Weedcraft really amounted to in terms of cultural and socioeconomic discussion was a jaded look at stoners and the people who sell them drugs in the back alleys of dodgy neighborhoods. In doing so, it fails to say anything meaningful about the human cost of weed and relinquishes the opportunity to grapple with weed’s impact on the zeitgeist. It’s the kind of game Ashton Kutcher would laugh at in Dude Where’s My Car, which means it’s not the kind of game that has anything of merit to say in 2019.