English language edition
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The most talented Adepts of the mystical arts come from around the world to compete. They fill their cauldrons with exotic and rare ingredients, all creating new potions in the quest for fame and honor. In addition to demonstrating their talents by replicating their fellow competitors' potions, each has a secret agenda: to promote the use of the component their school of magic prizes most highly! The person who brings the most fame to his or her school -- and for themselves -- will win the title of Supreme Adept!
I must say I've never played a board game quite like Alchemist. It's one of those rare games that seems full of contradictions. On the one hand it's a simple game, as you'll be up and running with a quick run through of the instructions, yet figuring out how to win, is quite a different story.
The theme revolves around each player representing a particular school of magic. Each player competes to create new potions and copy potions of their opponents, all while trying to promote a secret ingredient that their school thinks is best. Sounds simple enough, right? Oh, but wait!
Before going into the workings of the actual game, I must say that the publishers really went out of their way to create the right atmosphere for the game, by using such beautiful artwork on the game board. It's all very dark and mysterious and yet adds to the feeling of the theme perfectly. I hope other publishers are quick to follow suit.
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
1) Beautifully illustrated game board depicting 10 magic
160) Ingredient cubes that come in five colors (grey, blue, green, orange and yellow)
10) Potion Value Tiles - Valued 1 - 10.
30) Seal Stones (6 each in 5 colors)
5) School Ingredient Cards with nice artwork
5) Player Screens (nicely done)
5) Scoring Chips
1) Oracle Bag (Cloth bag for you mere mortals)
The distribution of cubes in the game will vary depending on the number of players. There's an extra rule for a 2 player game, that states that the starting player must always create a potion and assign a value of 5 or greater to it on their first turn, but all the other rules remain the same.
Each player is secretly dealt 1 School Ingredient Card. This will be the ingredient you'll be trying to get used the most during the game, in order to score bonus points at the end.
Each player receives 6 Seal Stone cubes. One of theses will be placed on the starting space of the scoring track that circles the board. The others will remain visible in front of your player screen and will be used each time you create a new potion, to indicate who created it. Once these are gone, you will no longer be able to create any new potions.
Each player starts out with 12 secret ingredient cubes behind their player screens. Lastly, every player receives a scoring chip with the number 50 on one side of it and 100 on the other. These are to indicate the additional points that should be added to your score at the end of the game, for when you may have gone completely around the scoring track.
The remaining ingredient cubes are put off to the side of the board to form the Ingredient Reserve.
On your turn, you have 1 of 3 choices you can make.
1) Create A Potion
2) Copy A Potion
3) Take Ingredient(s)
CREATE A POTION:
One must first pick an unused cauldron and decide on the number of ingredients (1-5) and the colors of them. There are three rules you must follow when creating a new potion.
1) You may not copy an existing potion or recipe as they call it.
2) You may not use the same colored ingredient more than twice in the same recipe.
3) You may not use an ingredient in a recipe that the recipe itself will produce.
Note that each cauldron will produce 2 different colored ingredients, when used to create a recipe and thus neither of these colors may be used in the recipe itself.
Once you've placed your ingredient cubes in the cauldron, you now must assign a value (1-10) by taking any one of the available Potion Value Tiles that are left and placing it above the cauldron, to indicate how much this new potion is worth. You move your Seal Stone the number of spaces indicated by the just placed Potion Value Tile. It's important to note that you only score for a created potion when it's created and never again. Your opponents however are free to copy it whenever they like, provided they have the proper ingredients and score each time they do.
COPY A POTION:
To copy a potion, you must first select a cauldron with a recipe that you DID NOT create and have the proper number and colors of ingredient cubes to duplicate it. Because you're copying another player's recipe, you must also choose any 1 of the ingredient used in the recipe and give it to the player who actually created it. They then take that cube and hide it behind their player screen, while you discard any remaining cubes from the game and score the number of point indicated by the recipe you just copied.
If you choose not to create or copy a recipe on your turn, you must take ingredients instead. You have the option of secretly taking 2 random cubes from the Oracle Bag or a single cube from the ingredient reserve at the side of the board.
END OF THE GAME:
The game ends on any give round when everyone has taken their turn and there are 2 or fewer types of ingredients left in the Ingredient Reserve.
SCORING THE GAME:
All the player screens are removed and each player gets to move 1 space on the scoring track for every two cubes they have remaining. Now the School Ingredient Cards are revealed and the player with the least remaining ingredient (thus used most in the game) receives bonus points depending on the number of players. The player with the most points wins.
THOUGHTS ON THE GAME:
You have to admit that "Alchemist" is definitely different. You start off with tons of choices and then the choices quickly begin to narrow as the game continues. I have to imagine you'll find yourself scratching your head, wondering what to do next during your first several games. I've only played the 2 player game and have to imagine that with 3-5 players the game might seem more random as the number of players increase. I have to believe that players will either love or hate this game depending on how much brain power they like to use during a game. Personally I love all the different and interesting choices that come up. Earlier, I had said that "Alchemist" is a game of contradictions and here are some of the reasons why. It's almost a filler game and yet it's not. It's simple to play and difficult to play well. Many of the choices you have to make seem like contradictions. The more recipes you create the more you can score. Yet the more recipes you create limits the available recipes you can make later in the game. You get to choose how much you'd like to score for every recipe you create but give your opponents the opportunity to score the same thing and possibility even more. The questions go on and on. Do you make a recipe simple or complicated. How many points should you give a recipe. Should you take a single cube from the reserve and get the color you want or take a chance and take two from the bag at random. Should I use a cauldron that produces colors I need or one that produces colors I'd like my opponent to use. Personally I love scratching my head and with "Alchemist" there's plenty opportunity to do just that. Probably the most important thing of all, is that "Alchemist" is a game you can keep going back to and seeing a little something different in it each time. Now that's Magic!
Note: This review first appeared in Counter magazine.
I had heard absolutely nothing about this Carlo Rossi game, and was surprised to find it on my doorstep in a parcel from Mayfair Games. The impressive cover artwork and theme intrigued me, and I was interested to see what clever concoction lie within.
The theme certainly is familiar: a group of Adepts competing in a contest of Alchemists, each hoping to concoct and replicate the most valuable potions. I’ve seen this theme in numerous other games, but I guess it is an intriguing one as it continues to resurface.
The large board depicts ten cauldrons, upon which can be placed 1 – 5 ingredients each. Each cauldron also depicts two ingredients that will be produced when the potion is made. A scoring track rings the board. A large assortment of five different ingredients, represented by, of course, wooden cubes, is sorted, and a mixture is placed into a cloth bag. Each player draws an initial supply of twelve cubes, and depending upon the number of players, a few will remain in the bag. This assortment of ingredients is hidden behind the players’ privacy screen. Each player also receives five seal stones, which they will use to mark the potions they create. In addition, each player receives a secret “school ingredient” card, which depicts one unique ingredient. Players will attempt to use this ingredient frequently, and cause their fellow competitors to use the ingredient as well. Bonus points are awarded at the end of the game to the players whose ingredients were used the most in the making and replication of potions. Finally, potion tiles with values 1 – 10 are arranged by the board, and the contest begins.
A player has three options on his turn:
When a player creates a potion, he receives the two ingredients
it produces from the general supply and earns points equal to
the value of the potion. One would think that the obvious choice
would be choosing the highest valued potion tile remaining so
that these points can be earned. However, a player may never
replicate his own potion, so those points will never again be
scored by the potion’s creator. So perhaps a lower value is
appropriate? Choosing a lower-value tile, however, will not be
very enticing for others to make, and you want others to
replicate your potion as you will receive one of the ingredients
they use when making it. Plus, if you made a potion using your
secret school ingredient, you want others to make that potion so
that ingredient will be used and depleted. Choosing the value
tile is, indeed, a tough decision.
The game continues in this fashion until there are only two or fewer ingredients remaining in the general supply. At this point, each player receives one victory point for every two ingredients they have remaining. All of these ingredients are returned to the general supply, and the ingredients with the fewest remaining will earn points for the players holding the matching school ingredient card. The amount earned varies from 3 – 12, depending upon the number of players. The player with the greatest accumulation of points wins the contest.
Alchemist is not a difficult game to learn, but I find it difficult to wrap my head around the strategies. Players must try to create potions using their secret ingredient so as to entice others to use those ingredients in replicating the recipe. At the same time, a player must receive a steady supply of ingredients so he can continue to replicate other potions, thereby earning points. Which ingredients are needed can be obvious, but obtaining them can be tricky. I’ve seen some folks create only one potion during the game and do well, concentrating on replicating opponents’ potions. However, I’ve also seen this tactic fail, so I’m not sure if it is the path to pursue or not. There seems to be a few strategies to pursue, but I’m suspicious that ultimate victory is really dependent upon simply getting lucky and having players use your secret ingredients. Getting a needed ingredient or two for free from players who replicate your recipes can also prove extremely beneficial.
What dooms the game for me, however, is that it simply lacks spark. I find it rather unexciting and dull. It doesn’t seem to have the breadth or variety that I seek in games. This sentiment was shared by my wife, who initially enjoyed the game, but made the comment that she enjoyed it less and less with each subsequent play. Alchemist is a game that doesn’t appear to have stamina, and is destined to suffer the same fate as the “science” of alchemy.
When I opened the box of Alchemist (Mayfair Games, 2007 – Carlo A. Rossi), I was greeted with the site of 160 wooden cubes, amongst other components. The instructions listed the names of these cubes as ingredient parts (gray bird legs, blue mushrooms, green dragon blood, orange troll eyes, and yellow spiders), and some creepy looking hands are printed on the game board; but I still had a sneaking suspicion that this would be another “mechanics first – theme somewhere else” style. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when I had heard that the game was somewhat unique in style.
After playing it, I can certainly attest to the fact that the game feels like few others that I have played, and it’s unique and rather simple. I simply didn’t like it, however, as I felt that the mechanics sounded incredibly more interesting on paper than they did in practice. The game starts out with a decent number of options; but after a few turns, they seem to stagnate, giving a player fewer choices and occasionally putting someone in the annoying position of helping another player to get a few scraps for themselves. Alchemist has an interesting beginning and middle, while the end tends to go much slower. The game was unanimously panned in my group, as we found it fairly boring.
Each player is an “Adept”, fighting to be the “Supreme Adept” (woohoo!) in the world of Alchemy. Each player receives a player shield, a school ingredient card (matching one of the five colors), five “seal” stones in their color, and twelve random ingredient cubes drawn from a bag. Each player places a marker on a scoring track, and piles of “50” and “100” chips are placed near the board, along with ten potion value tiles (numbered “1” through “10”) and piles of ingredients sorted by color. The number of ingredients in the bag and in “reserve” (next to the board) is determined by the number of players (2 through 5). One player is chosen to go first (the person who most recently used a recipe, etc.)
On a players turn, they may take one of three actions. First, they may either take one ingredient of their choice from the reserve or two random ingredients from the bag, if any remain. Otherwise, they may either create or copy a potion. On the board are ten cauldrons, showing the ten different combinations of the five colors. A player picks an empty one, when creating, and plays one to five ingredients to create a new recipe. They may not use one of the two colors shown on the cauldron, may not use more than two cubes of the same color, and may not create an identical recipe to one already on another cauldron. The player then picks one of the remaining values on the side and places it on the recipe as well as one of their seal discs. They receive the amount of points equal to the value, as well as one ingredient of each of the two colors on the potion. Players may only create a maximum of five potions during the game. A player may copy a potion that another player created (not one that they have created), by playing the correct ingredients - discarding them from the game, with the exception of one - which goes to the potion designer. They also score the points for the potion and take the two ingredients it creates.
After taking an action, play passes to the next player, and so on. This continues until there are two or fewer types of ingredients left in the reserve. The round finishes, and then players reveal their stashes. They receive one point for every two cubes, then place all ingredients from behind their shields into the reserves. The player with the least ingredients in their school remaining scores bonus points (depending on the number of players), then the second least, etc. The player with the most points is declared the winner!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: First of all, the box is sharp looking - if a little dark, and combined with the board, brings a gloomy atmosphere to the game (that hand just creeps me out!) The components are fine, with wooden cubes (shocking!) and wooden discs. Everything is easy to maneuver around, and the game includes some "50" and "100" markers for when you pass the scoring track (you will!) As for the atmosphere and theme - well, it's a nice attempt, and I can't say it adds anything to game play.
2.) Rules: The game is only four pages of rules, which are clearly explained with color illustrations. I missed a small reference to a major rule in our first game, because the examples weren’t as clear as they might have been; but later games were easier to understand. Really, the game is quite simple to explain, although new people will have a bit of trouble understanding how the game ties together.
3.)Tactics: “I have no idea what to do” is a comment I often hear from players, and it certainly is warranted. It’s confusing to know exactly what kind of recipe to create, which potion to make, and which value to give it. These kinds of things come from practice, and playing the game more than once. After several playings, I still am not sure what the best strategy is. Is it okay to make an easy potion with a high value? What ingredients should you use? These aren’t awfully hard decisions, but it is possible that a player will feel like they are in deep water – not knowing which way to swing.
4.) Mistakes: The rules note that a player cannot use potion recipes that they create, as creating many potions limits the number of potions a player may score with later. This is a huge deal and probably should be highlighted and bolded. Many new players see an easy way to make points here, but you can really stifle your progress if there aren’t enough other potions to create from other players (this is especially dangerous in a two-player game.) Players can also set up a nice production loop for other players if they aren’t careful – where the potions produce the ingredients necessary to make other lucrative potions, etc. This can be devastating, and a player can only sit there and watch helplessly. Players must be careful not to doom themselves – about two-thirds into the game they’ll notice, but it will be too late.
5.) Game play: At the beginning of the game, players have a neat amount of choices – dive into the bag for random resources (this doesn’t last very long, and I’m surprised at how few cubes are actually in the bag), start new potions or set themselves up for a nice “factory” action. However, there comes a point, when about eight or nine of the potions are created, where the game suddenly reaches a downhill feel. Most games get more exciting as they go along, this one kind of dies down towards the end, something I’m really not fond of.
6.) Secret School: You know, for as much of a deal as this is – it often dictates how people create their potions, etc. – it just doesn’t really pay out in the end. Some points are scored, but even the top amount of points (“12” in a four or five player game) isn’t really that much (especially when second place gets “8” or “9”). I’ve yet to see it affect a game – in fact I’ve yet to see a game in which there was any doubt after the game was over about who had won.
7.) Fun Factor: I’ve written a lot of negative problems I’ve had with the game, and these really overpower the interesting and unique mechanics. I want a game that has at least a little tension about it, and this one seems fairly settled much before the game is over. It’s absolutely no fun when you know you are losing and can’t do anything about it. After multiple plays, a gamer can learn to do the game well; but I don’t think most people will be interested enough to care at that point.
The game is short, around forty-five minutes, so it’s not excruciating to play; and I think there are a few who will find enjoyment from the interesting, abstract mechanics. But the harshness on mistakes by newcomers, the lack of options near the end, and the lack of theme just push me towards not being overly enthusiastic about playing it again. I’m going to have to pass on a recommendation for Alchemist. No gold here!
“Real men play board games”