Posted by: gschloesser | July 13, 2011

Alchemist

Design by:  Carlo Rossi 
P
ublisher:  Amigo / Mayfair
3 – 5 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

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 have 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: 

1)      Create a new potion.  To do this, the player places one-to-five ingredients on an empty cauldron, and then chooses one of the potion value tiles to place upon it.  There are a few rules that must be observed when creating a new potion:

a.       The potion must be unique.
b.      No ingredient may be used more than twice.
c.       An ingredient may not be used if it is also produced by that recipe.

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.

2)      Replicate an existing potion.  The player must choose a potion that he did not create, and present the exact ingredients the potion contains.  He must give one of these ingredients to the potion’s creator, with the remaining ingredients being removed from the game.  The player earns the potion’s value in points, and takes the two ingredients that the potion produces.  Again, there is an incentive to replicate potions that use your secret ingredient, as this will remove those ingredients from the game. 

3)      Taking Ingredients.  A player may either take one ingredient of his choice from the general supply, or two ingredients at random from the bag — as long as they last.  Taking ingredients should really only be done sparingly, as the opportunity to earn points that turn is lost. 

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 have seen some folks create only one potion during the game and do well, concentrating on replicating opponents’ potions.  However, I have 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 am 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.

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Responses

  1. I enjoyed my one 4 player game. Trying to get others to get rid of your secret ingredient does not seem to be the only strategy. Getting others to make your potions and give you cubes is good also. (7/10)


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