Today we announced the launch of our Board Game review section on our website and are eager to kick this off and look at Matus Kotry’s Alchemists (published by Czech Games Edition). When I first heard about Alchemists, it came across as overly ambitious and I was not sure if it could deliver. It’s a deduction game played in the style of a worker placement. In addition to this, it pulls in a smartphone as a helper. As I said, it’s ambitious.
In Alchemists, you and up to 3 other’s take the roles of Alchemists and throughout each game will deduct from the 8 ingredients in front of you. This is done by choosing two ingredients that are in your hand and using your smartphone to decipher what type of potion these two ingredients make when combined. With each successful mix, you’ll make one of six potions (or nothing at all). You’ll then take your sheet and begin to understand what is in and what is not in an ingredient. Overtime you’ll publish theories that declare what makes up an ingredient to earn reputation points. Your reputation, as well as other factors, will determine how many Victory points you’ll receive at the end of the game (highest player wins).
Finding out what each ingredient is made of is a chunk of the game but, there’s an entire worker placement game that wraps everything up into one tidy and complex package. Each round, players will determine the order of each turn by placing their marker somewhere on an Order Space. To level out the playing field of who goes first and who goes last is that the earlier you go means the less resources you’ll get and going later will give you more resources (i.e. another ingredient card). Once the order is determined the last player will declare their actions by placing all of their markers on the board. Because everyone knows what this player is going to do, it may impact the decisions of players that will take their turn first. So if you’re going first then you can decipher other people’s strategy and thwart it! Hopefully if you go last (but place your pieces first) you will work in either a bluffing strategy or a good Plan B.
Let’s create a small example to explain this further. Let’s say that Player B is going last and places a worker on “foraging an ingredient” (they really need a mushroom) and they’re also going to test a couple potions on a student. Player A wants to grab an ingredient and wants to test out a couple potions as well. Once the pieces are played, Player A goes first and grabs an ingredient–oh no they grabbed the mushroom that was placed face up. Now Player B grabs an ingredient but no longer can grab the mushroom–oh well. Alright, it’s potion testing time! Player A uses two ingredients and creates a Wisdom potion. Now Player A gets to test another potion. If Player A knows how to make a bad potion, such as paralysis, this will make the student very unhappy and will now charge a gold coin to drink a potion. If Player B has no coins then they just wasted a couple of actions because they will be unable to pay the student! Everything with Alchemists has this complex level of strategy and I absolutely love how a game can be turned around with a few wise bluffs and a good solid strategy.
Covering everything on Alchemists’ board is impossible. I would have to do a two hour video to go over everything thoroughly. Having said that, this is an overall easy game to grasp. On the board you can pick up new ingredients, sell ingredients, mix ingredients, sell potions and publish/debunk theories…. The great thing about having so much to do is that there’s a lot that can go into your strategy. This brings in the not so great thing: there’s a lot of strategy here which can make each game last longer than wanted.
A game’s length will fall into different camps going by what your personal preference is. For me, each game lasted around the 3 hour mark, which is longer than I have time for. I wish there was a short mode because finding the time to sit down with a couple of friends for X-amount of time is not a viable option in my life. Sure, we’ve tried a few tweaks such as cutting the amount of worker placement pieces in half as well as cutting the amount of rounds in half…the shortened experience isn’t the same. Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t complain that I have an awesome game siting on my shelf that will always be ready when the planets line up and my friends and myself have a few hours of downtime.
The last thing that I want to mention is the quality build of the game. The board pieces tie in the alchemy theme very well and I absolutely love the artwork. This also helps understand the layout of the board since everything is clearly marked. The iPhone component is nothing less than superb. Scanning ingredients is very easy and the app never faults with what it’s scanning (as long as you’re not in a super bright environment). And since each game is completely random, anyone with a smartphone can plug in the game-code which means that you can use multiple iPhones. Now, you can use this without an iPhone, but since the iPhone does all of the boring stuff, there’s no reason to not use it.
The Bottom Line: Alchemist is the epitome of what we are specifically looking for. Not only is it an amazing and engaging game, it also takes advantage of smartphones to enhance the experience.