Alchemists is one of the few games that has made a movement towards the modern boardgaming incorporating devices into gameplay. This is a unique deduction game with a greater challenge than one can expect.
There are only six rounds in this game. At the beginning of every round players will determine the play order. Then each player, starting with the last player, will place their action cubes, placing them anywhere on the 8 different action spaces they can choose from (Forage for an Ingredient, Transmutate Ingredient – converting ingredients to money, Sell Potions, Buy Artifacts, Debunk Theory, Publish Theory, Test on a Student, Drink Potion). Then actions are executed clockwise around the game board starting with the first player. Throughout the course of the game, players will collect ingredients, sell potions, and publish theories and as much as possible try to make valid potions in order to deduce which ingredients have which alchemical tokens. There are 8 different ingredients and each of them have a different composition made up of red, blue, and green potions with positives and negatives. The object of the game is to determine and publish theories of the 8 ingredients so that they will have the correct alchemical token on them, thereby gaining reputation points if your theories are correct. The person with the most reputation wins. As easy as it all sounds, there is actually quite some challenging strategies and almost risk guessing and bluffing amongst players.
This game is unique and if one likes to take on a challenge on a game, this is quite the fun way to do it. Out of my entire game collection (about 200+), this is probably the one game that differs from all the others because it uses a device. Given there has already been a new movement in boardgames being played with devices, such as XCOM, Golem Arcana, World of Yo-Ho (from kickstarter), and I’m sure there are some others I probably haven’t heard of yet; and I’m not sure which game was the first to ever use a device. Some people may see this as a positive or a negative thing. Negative because some may feel like it’s taking away from the traditional board gaming and I guess devices almost have a stereotypical notion attached to them that it consumes the average human being (like who are we kidding when we walk out there, what is the average person staring at or fiddling with?… iphones, androids, ipads etc everyone seems to be glued to their little device screens). Or some people may argue, why play e.g. Stone Age on the ipad, when it’s so much better playing it as a real board game. Are the devices going to start taking over the board game world too?
However, I see this as a positive thing because it doesn’t really take away from the game. In fact it adds to it. It actually eliminates the problem of having an outside person be a game master; so instead of having someone who wants to play the game get stuck being a game master (because you can’t be a game master who already knows all the answers, and be a player at the same time), everyone can play. I have a two player game called Game of the Generals (almost like Confusion or Stratego) that requires a third person to be the advocate for each of the two players. It’s a great game but where will we find a third person, who won’t get to play but rather sit there just knowing each of the other players’ pawns and rankings, because he has to determine who wins at rankings when the opponents face each other’s pawns to fight.
So in the case of Alchemists, no one has to sit out and everyone can join in the fun of the game. Problem solved.
The software app is user friendly, and the game currently being played can be synced to everyone’s devices as long as they have the app and the game code. So instead of passing around cellphones to read card ingredients, everyone can have their own card reader.
This a great and fun game that will leave you second guessing yourself throughout the game and at times taking risks or mildly bluffing your way to publishing theories. However, what I’m about to explain in the negative section may contradict it, but if you could just take my word for it, I had fun playing the game regardless. It’s good stress fun. hehe
The components are high in quality with thick boards and chits. The game pieces are translucent plastic and vibrant, and the order markers are shaped like little potion bottles. The artwork is fantastic with all the colorful illustrations especially evident on the game board and the players’ Private Laboratory Section Board Screens. There was a misprint on the first run of Alchemists where the Results Triangle was a little off in the alignment from the background colored strips, but it was later fixed for the new print runs. Nevertheless, it was a minor detail, and despite that, the overally quality was still top notch. The box however is just a box for storage, no inserts. The game contents pretty much occupy the entire box.
I find the learning curve for this game can be a little more difficult than most games I’ve played. It’s not so much how the rulebook was written, but I think it was just a lot of things to digest (either that or I must be really dumb). I think it’s a lot easier to learn this game from someone who has played this game several times and have them teach it to you as you play along, which is what I had someone do after I had read through the rulebook a couple of times but still couldn’t wrap my head around the rules. Not only can the rules be a little daunting but the deduction itself can be difficult since there are only six rounds to this game, so you feel like there’s never enough rounds… you always just want one more, so you can make a few more tests. So many mixing of potions and ingredients, I think I just started to have mixed feelings over this game. I think the game is fun, but I find myself getting frustrated too because I always feel short of publishing theories, and there’s always pressure from the conference tiles (if you dont have the required minimum of published theories by the end of a certain round you lose reputation points etc) Also the more reputation points you score (when you pass a certain point – Green zone, Blue zone, Red zone – from the repuation score track) you are expected to lose more reputation points EVERY time you lose reputation points. So it’s like piling up of losing points the further you get into the game. I like a challenge but this is one that feels a little twisted. The deduction part of the game is already hard to come by, and then with six rounds squeezing every possible action you can do, it’s almost as if you can’t even mess up in a round otherwise you set yourself up for failure.
Don’t get me wrong, the game still has enough fun in it regardless of its level of difficulty, but there’s always that little teensy weensy voice inside me screaming “Gaaaaaah”…. “just one more!”
And it’s always a gamble trying to figure out which ingredients to combine on your turn so you can get the best results to put down on your deduction grid paper.
I find that I prefer to play this game with more players, rather than just two. It still is fun with two, but I feel that it tightens the game up a little more than what it already is. And with two players I find that there were only two spaces we used on the player order space (it was either grabbing two ingredients or, grabbing one ingredient and one favor card because those seemed the best choices all the time). We were just alternating spaces depending on who had the first player marker. With more players it seems it opens up the gameboard for example another spot is open for the Selling Action Space and there would be more variety in the order spaces, so I don’t always feel like I’m choosing the same slot every other round.
There is definitely replay value in the fact that your deduction results will always be different in each game. However, I do wish there were more artifact cards to add more variety or even conference cards, perhaps even more ingredient cards; I found that we kept shuffling a lot because the ingredient deck would run out quickly. But that’s just a minor complaint. There is still enough play in order to keep you guessing every game.
Overall, this a great game that offers you a unique gameplay in deduction and using devices and even though it is a little on the heavier side of most games I’ve played, I think with multiple plays, the rules will stick in more.