You jump out of bed. There’s no time for a shower, no time for breakfast either. You pick something up along the way. New, fresh ingredients are needed. The earlier you get up, the better the pickings! A toad, a scorpion, into the cauldron, that must be right. Brilliant, a speed potion. Can’t remember, you must write it down. You know what, you’re going to publish. Everybody should know how great you are. Who is the best Alchemist? You are! Who’s the best Alchemist!? You are!
What do you get for your money?
Quite a lot. But OK, let’s do this! You get a double-sided game board, a theory board, a gamemaster board and an exhibition board. Then, you get all the components to set-up a nice laboratory for every player with their own screens, player boards and result triangles. There are also a number of cards in the box, like 40 ingredient, 22 favour, 18 artifact and 16 bid cards.
Tiles, don’t forget the tiles. There are 6 adventurer tiles, 2 conference tiles, 8 ingredient tiles and 5 grant tiles. What about tokens? Are there any tokens in this game? Yes, they must be here somewhere.
Here they are, in these containers! You have 8 alchemical tokens, 104 result tokens, 36 gold tokens, 44 seal of approval tokens, 6 conflict tokens and a starting player token.
Brilliant. What’s left are two flasks in every player colour, 6 cubes in every player colour, a pad of deduction grids and the rules.
That’s not really all you get, but for the last component you have to do a little more work. You have to take your phone, or tablet, and download an app. Don’t be afraid, you can do it..
How do you play the game?
In this game you take the role of an Alchemist. You mix potions, you test them, drink them, sell them, until have enough information to publish a theory about the nature of your ingredients. Later on you probably find out that the theories of other Alchemists, or even your own, are wrong and so, you publish a critical piece in a local scientific magazine.
I try, although it’s pretty hard, not to go into too much detail here.
At the start of the game the app assigns one of eight unique alchemicals to one of the eight ingredients. Every alchemical has a green, blue and red aspect. An aspect can be large or small and can be positive or negative. When you combine two alchemicals you make a potion with a certain colour and a certain sign.
A specific potion is created by mixing two alchemicals in your bowl. Both ingredients have an aspect with the same colour and sign, one large, the other small. So, if you’ve mixed a green negative potion, a paralysis potion, you know that both ingredient have alchemicals with negative green aspects in it.
You can also create a neutral potion. You do that by combining two ingredients with no matching aspects, all aspects have the same size and colour, but with an opposite sign.
So, eight ingredient, eight alchemicals and a combination of two ingredients gives a very specific result, a potion with a colour and a sign or no colour or sign at all. Keep this in mind and the rest will be easy. *chuckle*
This is the theoretical part, the only thing you have to do next is set up your laboratory, gather your money and a whole world of academic achievement lies at your feet.
Let’s begin. The game takes six round and during these rounds you can do all kinds of smart stuff by placing your cubes on spots on the board. However, before you can do that, you have to choose play order. The starting player begins and must place his flask on the play order track. You can choose to start your day early or late. When you choose to start the day a bit later, you have some time in the morning to do some favours for the local townsmen and they give you something in return. Sometimes, your duty calls, or your books, and there is no reward other than you having dibs on a seat in the library.
The lowest player on the play order track must place his cubes first and the player that is highest, with the fewest rewards, goes last and has the advantage of seeing where everyone else is going.
You can go to the forest and gather some ingredients. You can go and transmute an ingredient and turn your ingredients into gold. You can buy better equipment or artifacts. These give you advantages throughout the game.
So when you are ready, you can start experimenting with your ingredients. A student is at your, and your colleague’s, disposal. He would love to help you, by drinking your concoctions, however if one of the potions turns out to be a negative one, he wants to see some money first if someone asks him again later.
You don’t have to do the experiments on your own, the app will help you. Just place two ingredients onto your display, don’t worry no one else can see, select ‘Test on Student’ in the app, scan the two ingredients with your camera (or select them by hand) and the app will give the result of the experiment. A scorpion and a mandrake root may result in an insanity potion, a negative blue potion. Now the next players have to pay one gold to the students before he drinks another potion. He is crazy, but not that crazy!
You can also test the mixture yourself, but then you also have to face the consequences. Insanity potions make you lose some reputation. Reputation basically means points in this game. A paralysis potion, negative green, makes you go last in play order during he next round. By drinking poison, negative red, you will play with one less cube during the next round. After every experiment you have to discard the ingredients you’ve used.
By doing all these experiments, you can cross off some alchemicals from your deduction grid. When a mushroom and a fern combine to a speed potion, positive green, you at least know that both have a positive green aspect, so you can cross off all alchemicals with a negative green aspect in both the fern column and the mushroom column.
OK, you know how to make wisdom potions, eh? I know someone who is willing to pay a decent price for it. Interested?
Adventurers will travel trough the town and they want to buy your potions, but not all of them. They have their demands, but you can work around that, you are a smart guy. An assassin arrives at your laboratory, he wants poison, a negative red potion. You are willing to sell something to him, but you may not know exactly how to make poison. You can, or really must, give him a guarantee. You can tell him that you now exactly how to make it. You can tell him that you know how to make a negative potion, but don’t know which colour it will be. You can give him the guarantee that you can mix a neutral potion or you can give the guarantee that you can make him a potion. You have no clue at all, it probably has the wrong colour and the wrong sign. Every guarantee has its own price, the better the guarantee, the higher the price the adventurer has to pay you.
You then place two ingredient in your display and, by using the app, show everyone the result. Have you kept your promise (or maybe even more than that)? Then you take the money. When you’ve mixed a neutral potion or a potion with a wrong sign, you lose reputation, even if that was exactly what you’ve promised. As you might have noticed, selling potions will also give you information about the nature of your ingredients.
Figuring out what is what is one thing, but everybody should know about your findings, right? You must write about it, you must publish.
You can write about new theories or endorse a theory of another alchemist. Publishing your writings will cost you some money, but it will give you reputation in return. You publish by paying one gold to the publisher, and one other gold coin to a fellow alchemist when you want to endorse another theory, and announcing that you know which alchemical belongs to a certain ingredient. You take the alchemical token and you place it on that ingredient on the theory board. In addition to that, you have to place a seal in your colour next to this theory, to show that it’s yours or to show that you agree with that theory.
You have seals with five points and three points. When these theories turn out to be correct at the end of the game, you will gain the points on your seal. These points are on the back side of the seal, so it’s a secret. That’s because you also have seals with blue, green and red question marks. When you place a red question mark, you actually say: ‘I’m pretty sure about the green and blue aspect, but the red one can be negative or positive. I just don’t know (yet).’ These seals won’t give you any points, but it may help you not to lose five points when the theory turns out wrong.
Sometimes you just have to publish a theory. During the game there will be two conferences and during these conferences, you will gain reputation when you’ve published and lose some if you have nothing to show. Another reason just to publish something, is the opportunity to win a grant. When you’ve published two or more theories, you might win a grant and this will give you some money and some points. These grants can’t be taken from you. Not even when your theory turns out to be total poppycock.
When you find out that this is the case with a theory of an opponent, you can try to debunk that theory. You then tell the app which aspect of an alchemical belonging to that theory is wrong. For example, Ethan published that a mushroom has an alchemical with a negative green, positive red and a positive blue aspect. You know that actually the mushroom has a negative red aspect. You tell the app that the red aspects is not correct. The app shows the sign and if you’ve proven that the theory is wrong, you gain two points and Ethan loses five points. However, if it turns out that he placed a seal with a red question mark next to the ingredient, he doesn’t lose any points.
At the end of every round, points are awarded to the alchemist with the most published theories. During the sixth round, you can not test potions any more. Instead there’s an exhibition where you can show off all your potion making skills one last time. Points for potions. Make the right potion, providing you still have some ingredients left off course, and you may gain some reputation.
After this last round, the game ends. That’s what ‘last round’ basically means. You add up all your points from artifacts, grants, money and reputation. Then there’s the Big Revelation. Which alchemical belongs to which ingredient? A right theory scores you points depending on the amount of points on your seal. A wrong theory will lose you, when you don’t have a question mark with the correct colour on your seal, four points.
The player with the most points wins Alchemists.
Sorry for the long explanation. I warned you that it was going to be pretty hard not to go into too much detail.
Alchemists is a worker placement game. Well worker placement is really a side dish, deduction is its main course. You can gather information by doing experiments and sell your potions to adventures. There is also an artefact, the periscope, that can help gather information from the experiments of your opponents. You only have to make sure that you interpreted everything the right way. That’s the key.
You keep track of everything on your result pad and your result triangle, both hidden in your secret laboratory. There may be some lighting issues sometimes, but overall it’s pretty easy to keep track of the results.
The worker placement element is pretty simple, pretty straightforward. Except for the ‘Sell potion action’, you can always do something. When it’s your turn you place every cube you own before the next player does the same. You can’t occupy certain action spots, so it very advantageous to be the first player in play order. You actually go last in the placement phase and you can see what every one else does and can act on that.
You might see, when it’s your turn to execute an action, that you can’t exactly do the thing you wanted to do or take, but there’s always something to do. When you test on a student, you might need to pay him a coin first, or when you forage for ingredients, there might be no mandrake root left, or when you want to publish a theory, you find that the alchemical you wanted is taken by the previous player. There’s that, but this is not a brutal game, it’s not a ‘I do this, so you cannot’ kind of game. You have to quickly adjust and take a fern instead of a mandrake root for instance. When it comes to the ‘Test on a student’ action, this may not be entirely the case, because it may be that you haven’t got any money to spare.
Now I think about it, what’s more brutal? Having to change your plans during the placement phase or during the execution phase?
It is definitely a brutal game in terms of keeping track of your results. You cannot make mistakes, it will ruin your game. When you accidentally place a blue negative instead of a blue positive token in your result triangle it can have an effect on the sell potion, publish theory and debunk theory actions and therefore on the end result.
So, you have to know what your are doing from the start of the game. The game takes only six rounds and they are over before you know it. I found that every new player had some difficulty grasping all the concepts in their first game. You have to take into account that your first game really is a learning game. I have seen some disappointed faces when a player thought it was a sure thing, toad plus scorpion results in a blue negative potion. However, it turned out to be a negative green potion. ‘I must have misplaced a token then..’
You probably want to know what I think about the app? Well, I think it works brilliantly. It does all the work for you and it is not a distraction at all. What probably will be a distraction is when you don’t use the app, but a gamemaster instead. Then there’s this guy, doing nothing for two hours, except staring at every move you make. Go away! Go play a game! I’m going to use the app. What was I thinking!?
One tiny complaint about the app: I found that you do need sufficient lighting in your room if you want the camera to recognize the ingredients quickly. I found it easier to just select the ingredients myself.
Do I feel like the guy with the wizards hat on the cover of the box? Oh yes I do. I’m really excited every time I put two ingredients together. What will happen? What can I cross off on my ultimate sheet of wisdom. I want to know the secrets of the world!
Everything makes sense. The different types of adventurers want different potions, the rivalry among the scholars, the fact that you have to pay money after a student tasted a bad potion or the results when you drunk it all yourself. You are a little crazy, but science is your life.
It looks fantastic. The board is beautifully illustrated. The cards, the cardboard components, just everything looks stunning.
And it’s a head tuner too. I know for sure that every time you play this in a public place, and you sit there, laboratory set up, scanning your two ingredients with you mobile phone, people will want to know what you are doing.
Quality of the components:
It’s difficult to say anything about the component quality, because I have a copy from the first print run and something went wrong there. The result triangles are not properly printed, the coloured strips do not match the openings in the triangle. And also, the result tokens do not fit into these openings. This doesn’t ruin the experience, but it is something to take into account when buying this game.
The next print runs should be fine and CGE has promised to sent out replacement tokens. You only have to fill in a form on their website. I have done that, so now I only have to wait.
The other components have a very good quality, so when they’ve fixed the misprints, everything should be more than fine.
Wow, this is a very serious candidate for my personal game of the year. I find it exciting from the beginning until the end. It takes two hours to play, but it feels like a much shorter game. Time flies. I never had the feeling that I had to wait on another player’s turn, I was constantly involved.
You really feel like an Alchemist, or at least like someone who does a lot of experiments. Sometimes you just throw some things into a bowl, just wait and see what happens. At other times you really have good idea what you’re doing and you just have to check if your hunch was right.
The explanation takes a little long and during your first game you might find out half way that you’ve misinterpreted some experiments, but I guarantee you it only gets better after that. Remember, the penny must drop and that might take a whole game.
I recommend Alchemists to every gamer. Just try it. You don’t have to like it, but at least try it.
For me it is a great experience and I’m already looking forward to the next game.
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