Board Game Review: Alchemists

Howdy, everyone!  Took a short blogging break last week, but things are back in full swing now!  Time to start May off with a board game review!

We picked up a game called Alchemists from the Cool Stuff Inc. booth in the dealer hall while we were at MegaCon.  We played it for the first time during our International Tabletop Day celebration the following weekend, though our rules teacher was a bit tipsy.  It was fun, but after the first play through, nobody really felt like they grasped the game too well.  So we sat down this past weekend to play again.


At it’s heart, Alchemists is a logic puzzle and deduction game, with some worker placement elements involved.  It plays 2-4 people, and is a longer game, taking about 2-3 hours to complete.  One of the neat things about this game is that is has a mobile phone app to go along with it, and the app randomizes the elements that make up the different concoctions each game, so every game is different!


A shot of the app screen on my iPhone.

Each player has their own laboratory, and a small sheet of paper with it to take notes as the game progresses.  Within the laboratory, there are slots for results of your experiments.  This takes the place of the grid you normally see associated with those logic puzzles (I sometimes buy them for the airplane), like in the image below.


The same principle is used in the game – you can experiment, combining different ingredients together, and once you know the results, place a circle piece in the grid to represent those results.  For instance, mixing the ingredient on the blue strip (flowers) with the ingredient on the black strip (feathers), might make a red minus potion.  There are multiple ways to make the same type of potion, as you can see by my multiple red minus symbols below.



Each potion is made up of three components – color, valence (positive / negative), and size.  On the piece of paper above, your goal as an alchemist is to figure out the components of various ingredients.  There are eight possible combinations.  To get a potion of a particular type, you must combine ingredients where one of the colors have the same valence on both ingredients, but different sizes.  When you are creating potions via the various actions you can take to do so, the app helps you by reading the ingredient cards you are combining, and gives you a result.




And here is a sample result – a neutral potion, where the components of both ingredients have opposite signs on each color.


So that is the basics of combining ingredients to make potions, and learn about the components of their ingredients.  Now onto the general game play.

Every round, players take turns placing their color markers on a scale which determines placement order, pickup order, and what resources you get for the round.  The person at the top places and picks up their workers first.  But placing your token closer to the bottom means you get more resources.

Once turn order is decided, players take turns placing ALL of their worker cubes on the board, starting with the player whose token was at the bottom and ending with the player whose token was nearest the top of the scale.  The first player to place workers places them at the bottom most open spot for that action.  When you later remove workers, you remove from top to bottom.  So the player who placed their workers last On the board, the scale determining turn order is on the upper right.  (As a side note, we were playing the placement rule wrong for 80% of the game, so the cubes in this photo look a bit off, but at least you get the idea of how the placement works.)


The placement game board has about 8 stations where you can send your workers.  The blue numbers above correspond to the numbers below.

1)  Gather Resources – Placing a cube here allows players to chose one of either the face up resources or a resource from the face down pile.  Players can place up to two cubes here per round.

2)  Transmute – Placing a cube here allows players to turn one of the ingredients from their hand into a gold coin.

3)  Sell Potions – This space requires two player cubes.  The buyer changes every round, and each buyer wants multiple different potions.  He will only buy one of each potion type,  And the seller can declare the quality of the potion prior to mixing ingredients – the higher the potion quality, the more money the buyer pays.  If you make a potion of too low quality, you will lose some reputation (points at the end of the game).  If you make the wrong quality potion, you don’t get any money, but you might learn something about your ingredients.

4)  Buy Trinkets – Placing a cube here lets players buy any of the three available items, which give reputation points at the end of the game and also have some other effect.  In the second game we played, I bought an item that let me keep one of my ingredients (at random) every time I made a potion, which was fantastic.

5)  Debunk Theories – If someone has placed a theory on the theory board about an ingredient, but you have learned enough about the ingredient to know it is wrong, you can use this action to debunk their theory.  Depending on the way they placed their theory ribbons, they may or may not lose points for being debunked, and you gain points for debunking their theory if you are successful.  Here is an example of an empty theory board.  The center tiles are grants that you can get (earning you money and reputation) if you publish theories on at least two of the ingredients listed.  This action uses the mobile app.


6)  Publish Theories – Place workers here to publish a theory about an available ingredient on the theory board.  It costs one gold to publish a new theory, and 2 gold (1 to the bank, 1 to the theory owner) to support an existing theory.  The teardrop shaped theory tokens correspond to the three component diagrams on your paper sheet from one of the pictures above.

7)  Test on a Student – Placing a cube here lets you test a potion on a student.  You can test up to two per round.  Potion testing is free for testers until someone makes a minus sign potion (which makes the student sick).  After that, all testing costs 1 gold to convince the student to do it.  This is a part of the game that requires use of the app.

8)  Test on Yourself – Placing a cube here lets you test a potion on yourself.  There are consequences if you make a minus potion, depending on what color potion you make.  This is a part of the game that requires use of the app.

The objective of the game is to have the highest reputation at the end.  You gain and lose reputation in many ways, but the main method of doing so is by publishing, supporting, and debunking theories.  Also, the final round of the game has some different options for exhibition of potions, rather than testing potions on students or yourself.

I have kept the description of this game to the highest level that seemed reasonable.  If you play it, there are quite a few more rules and details to learn, but this should give you this gist of it.  We played with two different sets of people in the two times we played the game … and both sets of people, the newcomers left the game wanting to play again.  It is neat, well-themed, and fun, but has a fairly steep learning curve.  The mobile app integration is well done and gains it some points in my eyes, and while we do have at least two other games (Mystery Express and Whitechapel) that fall into the “deduction” / “logic puzzle” category, I think this one does the best job.  It is a challenge, and that is what I enjoy about logic puzzles.  I give this game a 9 out of 10 – it’s very well done and lots of fun, but I feel like I have to dock it for having such a steep learning curve.  If you like logic puzzles, you will enjoy this game.  If you don’t enjoy them, I wouldn’t recommend this game title for you.

Oh, monthly reminder to go check and enter this month’s giveaway – which is for Small World!  Cheers!


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