A 2-4 Player Boardgame designed for CGE by Matúš Kotry. Excellent artwork by David Cochard.
This is a game about spell-casting and creating spells. The way it does this is similar to many other spell creation games but for now it is unique because the ingredients of the spells are mixed in a media app .To play this game enjoyably you will need access to a mobile phone or tablet (or other media) even though it says in the rules that you can play without such a device. Downloading the app is free and fast. Once up and running it can be a fun way or a fast way to keep and remember game results. When you run the app at the start of the game, you are given a key code which is only for the game you are about to play. This means that each game will have different results.
You only need one device between the players but having more than one, as long as you put in the same game code, helps move the game along a little faster. Each player has their own shield to keep their resources/ingredients behind in secret. This shield has an additional piece that sits separately on top held loosely in place by a couple of cut-out hooks. In this separate piece is a letter-box style slit which creates a hinged shelf facing towards the player – when setting up you should be very careful not to tear this shelf off – and it is on this shelf players place the two ingredient cards for the spell they are casting; each spell always consist of two different cards.
By using the app on the phone the player can “grab” the card illustrations on the screen which transfers it to two blank card shapes. Once there and confirmed the player is given the result of the combination of the two ingredients. We played like this for over half our first game with the app sometimes grabbing the illustrations immediately and other times taking ages to grab them. As we were all getting a little frustrated at this Grant decided to read through the rules again, and this time found a part that we had missed – there is another part of the app that allows you to tap the screen and select the two resources from the mini illustrations. This sped the game up amazingly and I urge you to use it, but only after you have had a bit of fun with the camera-grab gimmick.
When you cast a spell you are shown the colour of it and whether it is a Plus, a Minus or Neutral. The code for your current game ensures that every time you cast a spell it will achieve the same results per pair of ingredients; so if you for example, combine a Feather and a Bird’s Foot and it produces a Green Positive spell, then in this game every pair of cards, Feather & Bird’s Foot will produce a Green Positive spell. In another game with a new code it is almost certain that these two ingredients will cast a different spell.
ALCHEMISTS is one of those frustrating games where you can do so many actions in your turn but of course it is never enough. The Turn order chart is a clever and well thought out mechanic. You can pay 1 coin and take the top slot, ensuring you will go first, or you can place your marker onto another rung where you may gain either or both Ingredient and Character cards, but may cause you to play last and thus have less chance of being able to freely take your chosen actions.
There are several actions available to players in their turn and each of these has two or more columns of 4 boxes underneath it. The player going last in Turn is the first player to choose their actions. They place their action markers on the last (lowest) box under their chosen actions. When all players have positioned their markers then the each player takes their turn, going through the actions one at a time in the order determined by the markers in the columns, completing one action fully before moving onto the next. All players declare all their actions before any action takes place.
When a player completes a spell they collect a round counter to represent the colour and polarity (plus, minus, neutral) of the completed result. These counters are placed in a card pyramid which is filled with rows of punched holes. The spell counters are placed in the hole that corresponds to the combined ingredients. As new spells are made and more counters positioned on this standing pyramid – it sits in a sort of sleeve behind the player’s shield – it soon becomes apparent what spell will be created when combining certain ingredients, simply by cross indexing on the pyramid. When you are sure or at least pretty sure as to the colour or/and polarity of each ingredient you can make a claim a Theory. To make the first claim you select one of the special tiles that show the plus ad minus possibilities – each of these is different – and place it on the Theory board under your colour ID marker. Other players can claim the same Theory but only the first (correct) player gains the reputation and thus the VPs
The Components are of great quality and include:
A double-sided game board theory board exhibition board 4 laboratory screens
4 results triangles 4 player boards 6 adventurer tiles 2 conference tiles 5 grant tiles
8 alchemical tokens 104 result tokens 36 gold piece tokens
44 seal of approval tokens (set of 11 in each color) 6 conflict tokens starting player token
8 ingredient tiles gamemaster board 40 ingredient cards 22 favor cards 18 artifact cards
16 bid cards 8 plastic beaker figures (2 in each color) 24 plastic cubes (6 in each color)
a pad of deduction grids containers for tokens rulebook
As I mentioned, the components are very good quality, but if you have one of the earlier editions of the game, as I have, the counters for the Pyramid are exactly the same size as the holes, maybe even a micro-millimetre larger, because they do not fit particularly well, though they can be sort of fixed in place. As the pyramid board is set at an angle the counters can fall out and often do, which can mean you forgetting which hole they have fallen from. If this happens then your game is over. However, I have been informed recently that there is a new set of boards and counters available which alleviate this problem. Contact CGE if you need the re-prints.
I also said earlier that the game is playable if you do not have a phone or device capable of downloading and installing the app. This is true, but it basically means that one player has to actually be the app – they have to check every spell cards against a chart and thus they cannot join in the play because they now know every combination – bit boring for that player.
Games play for six rounds and take between 60 - 90 minutes depending on whether you use the camera grab part of the app or the selection method for making your spells, and of course how quickly the players can decide what actions they wish to take each turn. Actions are claimed by using special markers and some actions cost more than one action and many actions can be taken more than once.
ALCHEMISTS is a very clever and enjoyable game, the only pity about it is that it is only playable by four players.