Alchemists: A Review

There’s a nice touch in this picture- the student is trying to jump out the window!

I made my friends play Alchemists with me. We headed to 401 Games in Toronto, went into their nice new board game space, and opened the box. It was filled with fantastic little bits, colourful tiles and many, many tokens. I downloaded the App (!) and started to read the rules so that I could explain the game.

Holy moly this game’s complicated. It’s not something you’re going to whip out and be playing in ten minutes. You’re going to have to sit with it for a while in order to grasp some of the intricacies. It’s also a long game. We played it for two hours and only really figured out the whole picture at the end. We skipped the end of game exhibition because we had glossed over it in the rules. To be honest, we had to watch a video explanation to get the basic rules down pat. This is all to say, that Alchemists is not for the faint of heart.

Part of the problem here is that the while the app is doing the heavy lifting, there’s a LOT of heaviness to lift, and it can’t lift it all. You’re going to have to lift some of the heavy stuff as well. This game is huge, this game is complex, and this game is probably great- but you’re going to have to put in some time to get there.

This board is SO colourful!

In Alchemists, you’re going to play as a student of Alchemy at a university of Alchemy, publishing papers, coming up with theories, and brewing potions. You go around the board placing tokens which translate into actions that you can take on your turn. Then you’ll all go around and take those actions in order. These actions include foraging for supplies, selling potions to travelling adventurers, publishing theories and making a student drink a potion. If you’re desperate, YOU can drink a potion, but most of the time you have no idea what you’re drinking, and these things can HURT!

The real meat of the game, the real crux, comes from trying to figure out which ingredient does what. You’re going to combine a frog and a flower, use the app to take a picture of the cards, and then the app is going to tell you what potion you made. It can be one of a number of potions. The kicker here is that only YOU know what went in to making the potion, but everyone gets to see what kind of potion you were able to make. So you made a speed potion, but only you know that you made it with a chicken and a soul. You know something that everyone else does not know, and you can exploit that knowledge. As you combine chickens with some other ingredients, you get to the point where you figure out the exact alchemical makeup of a chicken. Once you know this, you can then publish a paper on the noble chicken, and tell everyone what you think a chicken is made of, alchemically speaking of course. If you’re right, you get a lot of victory points at the end of the game.

Of course, you can publish papers when you’re only halfway to the right answer. You know that chickens could be one of either two alchemical makeups, so you just pick one and publish the paper and bluff your academic knowledge! SCIENCE! Alchemists is a race to brew potions and publish papers and become the smartest player at the table.

This race is complicated, though- very complicated

What’s neat about the game is that the publishing of papers can act as a springboard for other players- they don’t know what a chicken does, but they know what a frog does, and your paper lets them finally make that wisdom potion and sell it to the travelling barbarian. By giving away this information, you’re not only helping yourself, but you’re helping the other players. You can also debunk papers that you think are wrong- it’s just like real academia- you’ll make your name on disproving your friend’s frog theory!

There’s a lot of game here. I think there’s a lot of replay value here as well, as the app randomizes the ingredients for every game, so you’ll probably never end up playing the same game twice. It’s a neat feature, but I wish the game were a bit smaller, a bit easier to get into, a bit more inviting. It’s going to attract a lot of people to buy it, and then not actually play it, I fear. So here’s my advice, if the above sounds like fun, and you know that you have friends who actually will be into this kind of game- they like Euro games and want to play something MORE complicated but more rewarding- then go ahead and buy this game. Your group is going to really like it. If you’re mostly gaming with people who like easier games, you should probably skip this one.

Interested in buying Alchemists? You can purchase it now from 401 Games – Alchemists!!

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