Board game reviews, strategy tips & session reports
Alchemists is a board game of deduction with some worker placement and resource management. Can you figure out what alchemical sign relates to each ingredient?
In Alchemists you need to publish theories about eight different ingredients. Publishing theories gets you reputation that is converted to VPs at the end of the game. If you publish incorrect theories they can be debunked and you might lose reputation. You mix ingredients to create potions that help you deduce information you can publish as theories.
The way you gain information about ingredients is by mixing two of them and analyzing the resulting potion. You mix a potion by placing two ingredient cards behind your player screen and scanning them with your phone or tablet. The app will show you the resulting potion. Each potion has a different polarity, positive or negative, and color, blue, red or green. The result helps you know the polarity of one of the three colors for two ingredients. If you mix ingredients with each color having exact opposite polarities it creates a neutral potion, or water. This may help you gain valuable information depending what other information you have on those ingredients.
You start the game with three action cubes. After the first round you get from four to six action cubes depending on the number of players. First player rotates clock-wise throughout the game. You determine turn order by placing your marker on the turn order track. You get less ingredients or favors the closer you place your marker to the first position.
There are eight actions on the board that are resolved sequentially. The first lets you gain a new ingredient card from a face-up selection or randomly from the top of the deck. You can take the transmute action to discard an ingredient for one gold. The next space lets you sell potions to adventurers for gold. You can buy artifacts for gold on the next action space. These usually get you VPs and give you other advantages. If you think someone has published a theory that is wrong, the next space lets you debunk that theory.
You can publish theory a new theory or endorse an already published theory too. Publishing costs one gold and endorsing costs more. When you publish or endorse a theory you place a token on the theory board. You have tokens with points or tokens with a color and a question mark. The tokens with points score you those VP at the end of the game if the theory is correct. Tokens with a color and question mark let you publish but hedge against not knowing the polarity of one of the colors. At certain points you must have a certain number of theories published or endorsed. And these tokens help with that. You can also get grants for publishing or endorsing different sets of ingredients. Grants instantly get you gold and are worth VP at the end of the game.
The final two spots are for testing ingredients. The first lets you test on a student. If the resulting potion has a negative polarity anyone testing with the student after you must pay one gold. When you drink a potion, negative ones will just affect you the next round. You might go last, lose an action cube or lose one reputation.
Favor cards represent the people of the town owing you and helping you out. Each favor card gives you a small advantage.
The game is six rounds long and in the last round the testing spaces are covered by exhibition spaces. You place action cubes here if you want to mix specific potions. But you’ll need to have the ingredients and mix the correct potion to gain a reputation point.
After the sixth round your reputation points are converted to VPs. You also gain points for having gold, grants, favor cards and might gain some from artifacts. Then you reveal the correct alchemical sign for each ingredient and check the player tokens used to publish or endorse their theories. If the theory or endorsement is correct and you used a token with points on it you gain those points. If the theory is wrong and you used a token with points or hedged against the wrong color, you lose 4 VPs. The player with the most VPs wins.
Alchemists is a fun deduction game with worker placement elements and a learning curve. Gaining information is not all there is to it. You will have a hard time winning if you ignore the worker placement and resource management aspects of the game.
The components for this game are excellent. The art looks great. And everything from the cards to the rules adds to the theme. The rules are well written with plenty of examples and laugh out loud funny.
There is some buzz around this game since is uses an app to randomize the ingredients and run tests. The app is integrated very well with the game but not necessary. You can use the game master board but it requires someone to not play and just officiate.
Alchemists has a few different paths to victory. You must publish or endorse a few theories but you can still win if you are behind in the deduction game. The artifacts can provide a decent amount of VPs so don’t overlook those. And the end of game exhibition can gain you VPs that based on other players’ theories. Some players don’t like that you can win the game without knowing as much as another player, but that makes this game more dynamic. You can hedge and guess to gain grants and even debunk your own theories for points. There is a timing and rhythm to the game, that if you pay attention to, you’ll do better.
There is an apprentice and master mode. The difference is the number of ingredients you start the game with and the way debunking works. You need to have the proper ingredients and be specific when debunking in master mode. This can help alleviate the disparity in skill level when you play with a new player.
You should be aware of the learning curve in this game. It will take a play or so to grasp and non-gamers might not enjoy it at all. There is also a lot of bookkeeping and one small mistake there can potentially ruin your game.
If you are looking for a fun game of deduction with multiple paths to victory, pick up the Alchemists. If you do not have a smartphone or tablet you might want to hold off.
Score and synopsis: (Click here for an explanation of these review categories.)
Strategy 4 out of 6
Luck 3 out of 6
Player Interaction 4 out of 6
Replay Value 5 out of 6
Complexity 5 out of 6
Fun 5 out of 6
Overall 5 out of 6