(2014 - Czech Games Edition)
Deduction is a familiar mechanic found in gaming today, most prevalent in games such as Mr. Jack, Letters from Whitechapel/Scotland Yard, and a common element in many traitor-style games such as Shadows Over Camelot and Battlestar Galactica. With Alchemists, first-time designer Matus Kotry has arranged deduction as a base foundation, but incorporated other mechanics such as hand management and action selection as a means to earn Victory Points, all surrounded by a theme that anyone whose ever desired taking Severus Snape's potion-making course at Hogwarts would adore.
In Alchemists, players are competing with each other to prove they are the best Master Alchemists across the Wizarding World. Everyone knows that a Master Alchemist can brew any potion known to man, but what sets them apart from each other are the discovery of new potions and alchemical theories. Using a card reader app specifically designed for the game (components come in the box for those who wish not to use the app or don't have access to a tablet/smartphone), players will attempt to mix combinations of eight different ingredients in order to deduce which of the eight alchemical properties match them.
During each Round, players will place action markers on eight possible action locations in town. These can provide the player new ingredients, allow the player to purchase artifacts, test potions, and publish/debunk theories. By publishing theories with their newfound knowledge, players can earn new grants for their study. Players will also earn or lose reputation based on how well their theories have panned out, as well as how their overall skill is viewed amongst the rest of the community, including traveling adventurers. This overall reputation is converted to Victory Points and added to other Victory Points the players has earned throughout the game. The alchemist with the most at the end of the game is crowned the Master of all Alchemist and will earn tenure for his remaining days.
- Alchemists game board
- Apprentice player boards
- Player screen, Deduction board, and Deduction pad
- Theory board
- Exhibition board
- Game Master board (for optional use)
- Ingredient tiles (for optional use)
- Ingredient cards
- Artifact cards
- Favor cards
- Adventurer tiles
- Academic Conference tiles
- Grant tiles
- Conflict markers
- Result markers
- Alchemical markers
- Action markers (a set in each player color)
- Flask markers (two in each player color)
- Bid cards (a set in each player color)
- Seal markers (a set in each player color)
- Start player marker
- Gold coins
A game of Alchemists includes various boards and moving components. During this explanation of setup, I will briefly cover how to set up each board to begin play using the basic ruleset. I'll begin with the main game board (seen above), where players will use an action selection mechanic to choose which actions they wish to perform on their turn. Each section of the main game board houses a different action area.
At the beginning of the game, the Ingredient cards are shuffled together to create a draw deck and placed face-down on the lower right section of the main game board. Ingredient cards are used by players to mix and experiment with making various potions. The top five cards are drawn and placed face up in the spaces adjacent to the draw deck. These ingredients will be available to players at the beginning of the game. After the Ingredient cards have been placed on the main game board, each player will draw three cards from the draw deck to start with.
Next, players will separate the Artifact cards into three draw decks based on whether they have a "I", "II" or "III" on the back of the card. Each Artifact card has a cost in the upper left hand corner of the card, and an amount of Victory Points the player will earn at the end of the game in the upper right hand corner. Artifact cards can contain effects that may be immediate one-time use effects, or they may be ongoing throughout the game. At the beginning of the game, three Artifact cards are drawn from each draw deck. The "I" cards are placed face up in the three corresponding spaces on the main game board.
The three "II" and three "III" cards are placed face next to the game board to show that they will come into play later in the game. All non-drawn Artifact cards are removed from the game.
The Favor cards are then shuffled together to create its own draw deck and placed face-down on the space to the right of the "I" Artifact cards. Favor cards will give players some type of bonus during a particular phase of the Round. Depending on the space of the turn order track in which a player has chosen, he may be able to draw a number of these Favor cards (and/or Ingredient cards) when he places his Flask marker there. At the beginning of the game, each player draws two Favor cards from the draw deck, chooses one to keep, and discards the other.
Throughout the game, players can attempt to sell their newly crafted potions to the various adventurers roaming through town. Each Adventurer tile lists the alchemicals that the adventurer is looking for. Through a process of deduction, players will experiment with the various ingredients to make a potion with these alchemicals to sell to the adventurers. Adventurers will reward (or can even punish) a player based on how well they've sold them what they want. At the beginning of the game, all Adventurer tiles are shuffled face-down, then one is randomly removed from the game. The stack is then placed onto the Adventurer section of the main game board and the top Adventurer tile is turned face-up (the rest below it are kept face down).
Two Conference tiles are placed in between these Adventurer tiles and are resolved during the end of certain Rounds. I'll give more of an explanation on how these work later. For now, just know that the first Conference tile goes in between the 2nd and 3rd Adventurer, and the other goes in between the 4th and 5th Adventurer.
A player personal board requires no setup at the beginning of the game, although each player will receive two gold coins which are kept on this board during the game. As players successfully craft potions, they will display this information here as well as the number of grants they have completed.
The player's personal laboratory will hide all other information from his opposing alchemists. The laboratory contains a deduction board used to mark the results from testing different mixtures of ingredients when attempting to make potions. It also includes a player screen where players will keep their Ingredient cards, Favor cards, Seal markers, etc hidden from view.
The Theory board contains books, each with a different ingredient in the game. Players will attempt to publish theories based on the alchemical make-up of each ingredient. A set of Grant markers are placed as seen above on the Theory board, in between the surrounding books. Each of the outer Grants correspond with the three closest books (with ingredient icons matching). The Grant marker in the center corresponds with the theories to it north, south, east, and west (again, depicted by its matching ingredients). As players publish, endorse, and/or debunk theories, they may gain or lose reputation amongst the community in their alchemical abilities.
At the beginning of the game, a Flask marker of each player is set at the #10 space on the reputation track that goes around the Theory board. Reputation directly correlates to Victory Points, and is the main way players will earn these points at the end of the game. A set of Alchemical markers and Conflict markers are also set near the Theory board to begin the game.
Along with the two Ingredient cards, Favor card, and two Gold coins, each player receives a set of Seal markers, and Bid cards, Flask markers, and Action markers matching their player color. All remaining components including Gold coins and Results markers are placed on the main game board. A player is chosen and receives the Start Player marker.
Note that the remaining board (the Exhibition board) is not used until the very end of the game, so it is set to the side for now. There is no initial setup for it. Also, make sure that all players have access to the Alchemists card reader app. The publisher has included a Game Master board and Ingredient tiles for optional use if players do not have access to the app or wish not to use it. However, for the purposes of this review, we'll use the card reader as intended. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
A game of Alchemists consists of six Rounds. Each Round is comprised of a Turn Order phase, an Action phase, and a Cleanup phase. At the end of the game, players will convert earned reputation into Victory Points, as well as collect Victory Points for certain collected Artifacts and Grants they own. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the game wins.
I. Turn Order Phase
At the beginning of each Round, players will get to choose which order they take turns in for the upcoming Round. Thematically, during each Round, players will wake up in the morning and head into to town. The town (main game board) consists of various alchemical shoppes and vendors (the action spaces). If your a fan of Harry Potter, think Diagon Alley. The earlier a player goes in turn order, the earlier he gets to resolve actions on an action space. A player going later in turn order will have a lower priority, but will earn other rewards for choosing to go later.
On a player's turn, he will place one of his Flask markers on an empty turn order space. Rewards are listed on the right side of the space and consists of drawing Ingredient cards, Favor cards, or in some cases both. As you can see above, only the top two spaces of the turn order track offer nothing as a reward, however the player is compensated by being able to resolve actions before the players below him. The top space will actually cost a player 1 gold coin to go there. The very bottom space can not be chosen during this phase. It is only used when a player accidently drinks a paralysis potion, which I'll go over later.
II. Action Phase
Once all players have selected a space on the turn order track, they will use action markers to declare which actions they wish to take during the Round, in reverse turn order. This may seem backwards, but declaring actions is not that same as resolving actions. Since all actions are declared before they are resolved, players that are higher in turn order get to see what actions the other players are going to take first, and can use this knowledge as a strategical advantage.
For instance, turn order has been established as seen in the above picture. When resolving actions on an action space, the Blue player will go first, the Green player next, then followed by the Red and Yellow players. However, when placing their action markers on the board to declare which actions they will be taking, the Yellow player will place all of his markers on the board, then the Red player, followed by the Green and Blue players. The Blue player will have full knowledge of what all opposing players are going to do this Round before deciding what he should do himself.
When it is a player's turn to declare actions, he will declare all actions he wishes to take this Round at once by placing his action markers on the various actions spaces on the main game board. Each of the eight action spaces (shoppes and vendors) have individual rows for each player to place their actions markers on. The ownership of each row is defined by the current player turn order. Therefore, using the example above, during this specific Round, all of the top rows would be for the Blue player, 2nd row for the Green player, 3rd row for the Red player, and bottom row for the Yellow player. This helps all players remember which players have priority when resolving actions on the same action space.
After players have placed all of their action markers, action spaces are resolved as if we were walking through the town itself. Players begin at the bottom right action space of the game board (the Forest) and work their way through town clockwise around the board. If you want to think of it thematically, the earlier a player chose to get up in the morning (choosing turn order), the earlier they got in line at a particular shoppe (get to resolve the action first). After all actions have been resolved from an action space, the next adjacent space is resolved, and so on. The 3rd, 5th, and 6th action spaces (Sell Potion, Publish a Theory, and Debunk a Theory) are not available the very 1st Round of the game. Let take a look at all of the action spaces and see what they do. We'll take a look at them in the same order they'll resolve in during a Round:
1.) The Forest - Foraging Ingredients
If players have decided to forage for ingredients in the forest, they will be allowed to either take a face up Ingredient card or draw an Ingredient card from the top of the draw deck for each action marker they've placed here (a max of 2 per player). Since the Ingredient cards here do not refill until the end of the Round, players that have priority at this action space will have a better selection to choose from.
2.) The Transmutation Alchemist - Transmute Ingredients
As you enter town, the first place you'll walk by after exiting the Forest is an area full of tents and vendors. One of these vendors is the Transmutation Alchemist who can turn any ingredient into a gold coin. The player taking an action here will simply discard one of his Ingredient cards and gain 1 Gold coin. Note that a player only has to place one action marker here to transmute an ingredient, however if he wishes to do this action twice, he would have had to place a total of three action makers (one for the 1st action and an additional two for the 2nd).
3.) The Adventurer Quarters - Sell a Potion
The next location is the Adventurer Quarters, where as previously discussed, players can sell their potions to different adventurers. Before I talk about how to sell a potion, it's important to first learn how to mix a potion.
Mixing a potion requires the card reader app and will have the player take a picture of two different Ingredient cards that he owns. Each individual Ingredient is made up of a set three alchemical aspects (red, blue, and green), and each of these can be positive ("+") or negative ("-").
The player is essentially mixing the two ingredients together and the card reader will let them know what type of potion that the combination has made. For instance, when scanning the mushroom and the fern together, I’ve received an Insanity potion (seen below).
I will place a Result marker representing this Insanity potion on my player board (in this case, a blue “-“ marker).
There are six different possible potions that a mixture of two ingredients can make:
- A red potion with a "+" symbol is considered a Healing potion.
- A red potion with a "-" symbol is considered a Poison potion.
- A blue potion with a "+" symbol is considered a Wisdom potion.
- A blue potion with a "-" symbol is considered an Insanity potion.
- A green potion with a "+" symbol is considered a Speed potion.
- A green potion with a "-" symbol is considered a Paralysis potion.
As alchemists however, we are not just blindly attempting to make potions. We are studying and experimenting to find the alchemical properties of each of the eight ingredients. There are eight different alchemicals in the game, and each will match up to one of the eight ingredients (this is randomly done by the game’s app at the beginning of each game). Throughout the game, players will attempt to deduce which alchemical matches which ingredient. You’ll notice that with each alchemical, some aspects have a larger circle than others, and each has either a “+” or “-”value.
When a certain potion is created, we can deduce its alchemical properties by it’s color and value combination. A potion can only be created when a large circle with the same color/value aspect matches a small circle’s color/value aspect from another alchemical. For instance, if we take a look at the two alchemicals above, we know that this combination would make a speed potion. That’s because the large green “+” aspect from one of the alchemicals matches the small green “+” from the other alchemical. As discussed before, a green “+” potion represents a speed potion.
Since we are only given information about the potion made when mixing the two ingredients, the game forces players to deduce the alchemicals that correspond to each ingredient. Using the mushroom/feather example from above, we were told that this mixture created an Insanity potion (blue "-"). If we haven’t received any prior information from mixing other ingredients before this, we would have to conclude that only four of the alchemicals could have been used to make this potion (seen above). All other alchemicals would be ruled out because they don’t have matching large and small blue “-” values.
Players will use the deduction board behind their player screen to help deduce the alchemical makeup of each ingredient. Since we know that the mixture of the mushroom and fern produced an Insanity potion, we can place a blue “-” marker on the space of the deduction board that matches the two ingredients together to help remind us that this combination produces. Since we’ve also ruled out four of the eight alchemicals that can correspond to these two ingredients, we can mark that information on our deduction pad, by placing an X on each of the alchemicals we know are not related to the ingredient, in this case all alchemicals that include blue “+”.
It is possible to receive a neutral potion. This happens when the alchemicals from mixing two ingredients to not produce any match (for instance, the two alchemicals seen above). Each alchemical has one other alchemical that when mixed with, will produce a neutral potion. Therefore, if you already have knowledge of one ingredient’s alchemical and you receive a neutral potion, it can be easy to deduce the alchemical of the other.
Now that we’re more familiar with how potion mixing works, let’s get back to selling our potions to adventurers. If you remember during setup, each Adventurer tile list three types of potions the adventurer is interesting in purchasing. When deciding to take a action here, the player will need to place two of his action markers on the section to the right of the Adventurer tiles. You’ll notice that there are four player areas to place action markers but only three potions per Adventurer. This means that it’s possible if everyone has gone here, that one of the players will not be able to sell a potion when this location is resolved.
However, being last in turn order does not necessarily mean that he gets last priority when selling potions. If you remember at the beginning of the game, each player was given a set of Bid cards. Before the Adventurers Quarters are resolved, each player chooses one of their Bid cards to play face down, then all are revealed at the same time. Each Bid card gives two sets of information. The number shows the amount of discount you are willing to give the adventurer to give you priority over your competition, while the number of smiley faces listed on the left side of the card represents how happy you’ve made the adventurer with your proposition. Turn order for this particular location is then reordered based on the number of smiley faces listed on the player’s Bid card. If two players have played Bid cards with the same number of smiley faces, their priority in relation to each other, stays the same.
It’s also possible to gain extra smiley faces if you, as an Alchemist have received high enough notoriety and reputation throughout the game. The track around the Theory board represents a player’s current level of reputation. Once players have reached certain spaces of the reputation track, they gain bonus smiley faces when resolving their bids. For instance, a player with 18+ reputation points will gain an extra smiley face.
Player A (blue), Player C (red), and Player D (yellow) have decided to sell a potion this Round. The original turn order is seen above. However, the following Bid cards have been played by each player. Therefore, a new turn order is determined, as seen below. Player C (red) will now go first, followed by Player D (yellow) and Player A (blue).
When resolving a sale, the player will remove the two action markers he placed on this location, place one of them on an available space below the adventurer that shows which potion he wishes to sell, and the other on one of the four quality spaces on the section to the right.
While only one action marker can be placed on each adventurer potion space, any number of player action markers can be placed on the quality spaces. These quality spaces represent guarantees that the player are making to the adventurer. If the player can make a potion that at least meets the guarantee he has made, he will gain the amount of gold coins shown next to the quality space:
- The top quality space represents a perfect potion. The color and symbol are an exact match. Following through with this guarantee will provide the player 4 gold coins.
- The 2nd quality space represents an acceptable potion. Players making this guarantee will earn 3 gold coins if they’ve at least got the symbol correct, even if the color was wrong.
- The 3rd quality space represents a neutral potion. This potion isn’t necessarily what the adventurer wanted, but you can guarantee him that it won’t harm him. If you remember, each ingredient has one other ingredient that when mixed with it will make a neutral potion. Players making this guarantee will earn 2 gold coins if they’ve at least provided the adventurer with a neutral potion.
- The final quality space represents an unstable potion. Players making this guarantee will earn a gold coin no matter what. An unstable potion is one that contains the wrong sign, and the correct color can not be determined.
Players must decide which guarantee to place their action marker on. If they mix a potion that is of lower quality than the guarantee they’ve made, they receive nothing. If they mix a potion that is of higher quality than the guarantee they’ve made, they only receive the amount of coins for the guarantee they made. Make sure to keep Bid card discounts in mind. If a player has played the -1 discount, he will gain 1 less coin for each guarantee, however he cannot place his action marker on the unstable potion quality space since a player can not make a guarantee that would earn him 0 coins or less.
After the player has selected the quality space and made his guarantee, he will select two of his ingredients cards, scan them with the card reader by selecting the “Sell Potion” button, then select the potion they are attempting to make (matching the one asked for the adventurer). By clicking “Confirm”, the card reader will only show you the quality icon for how close you were to making the desired potion. If the player has made a neutral potion or an unstable potion, they will automatically lose a point of reputation. As with the smiley faces, players can lose additional reputation based on their current position on the reputation track. They may also charge more or be required to charge less for their guarantees based on this position.
For instance, one of the potions the adventurer is asking for is a speed potion (green, “+“). Lets say that Player A has selected to guarantee at least an acceptable potion. He is telling the adventurer that he will at least provide a potion that contains the “+” sign, even if the color is not green. The adventurer will pay 3 gold coins for this guarantee. Player A is currently at 15 points of reputation, therefore he does not receive an additional coin. This will be received once he reaches 18+ reputation points.
Player A decides to mix a bird claw and a mushroom. After scanning these ingredient cards and selecting confirm, the card reader presents him with an acceptable potion. Player A is awarded the 3 coins for following through with his guarantee. But what other information can Player A gain from this?
Well he can take the following result marker and place it on his deduction board. He knows that the mixture of a bird’s claw and a mushroom makes a “+” potion, but one that is not green. Therefore he knows that this combination makes either a healing potion (red, “+”) or a wisdom potion (blue, “+”).
However, aha! Player A had previously discovered that mixing a mushroom and fern produced a blue “-” potion. Therefore, he knows that the mushroom ingredient can not contain a blue “+” aspect. He has now further deduced that combining the mushroom and bird’s claw would produce a red “+” potion.
He has now narrowed down the alchemical of the mushroom ingredient to the following two. They are the only alchemicals with a blue “-” and a red “+”.
4.) The Artifact Dealer - Buy Artifacts
When player’s visit the Artifact Dealer, they must place an action marker at this location. It is possible for a player to come here twice, though he’ll need to place two action markers here for his second trip. As mentioned before, once purchased, Artifacts will remain with the player for the rest of the game. Some will contain ongoing effects, some immediate effects, and some are used once per Round. Some Artifacts will earn players a number of Victory Points at the end of the game, as listed on the card. Let’s take a look at some of these Artifacts and what they can provide:
- On the left, the Robe of Respect will cost a player 4 coins to purchase, however does not contribute any Victory Points at the end of the game. During the game, when a player would earn reputation points, the Robe of Respect will gain him +1 extra.
- In the middle, the Witch’s Trunk will cost a player 3 coins to purchase and immediately asks the player to draw 7 ingredient cards when acquired. However, the player will no longer gain ingredients as a turn order award when placing his flask marker on a turn order space. The Witch’s Trunk will provide 2 Victory Points at the end of the game.
- On the right, the Magic Mirror will cost a player 4 coins to purchase. It has no in-game effects, however it will be worth 1 Victory Point for every 5 points of reputation the player has at the end of the game.
5.) The Publishing House - Publish a Theory
Although the next location in Round order is the Library, which allows players to attempt to debunk a theory, I’ll go over the Publishing House location first, as it’s important to first learn what goes into publishing a theory before we can learn what is required to debunk one.
Publishing theories will take place on the Theory board. If you'll remember, each ingredient is made up of a particular alchemical (set of a red, green, and blue aspect). Player's are attempting to deduce which alchemical matches which ingredient. When a player thinks they may have found the answer, they can publish their theory and gain reputation amongst the community, and can also be awarded grants for further research. Players can also endorse other player's theories if they feel that they are correct. The Theory board contains a theory book for each of the eight ingredients in the game.
When a player decides that they wish to publish a theory, they will pay 1 gold coin for the Publishing House's fee and place one of the available Alchemical markers in front of the Ingredient. This shows that they are presenting the theory that this Ingredient matches the chosen Alchemical. It's important to note that once an Alchemical marker is placed in front of an Ingredient, the only way to remove it is to debunk the theory (the action I'll explain next). Therefore, when publishing a theory, players are limited to the Alchemical markers available that have not otherwise been placed in front of an Ingredient.
After choosing the Alchemical, the player will place one of their Seal markers face-down on an available space on that Ingredient's theory book. If you'll remember at the beginning of the game, each player was given a set of these Seal markers. Each Seal marker is different and basically shows how confident you feel that your theory is correct. By placing it face down, it keeps this information hidden from the other players.
- A seal marker with a gold star will earn the player 5 Victory Points at the end of the game if the theory is correct, but will deduct Victory Points if it is incorrect, based on whether the theory was debunked or revealed as incorrect at the end of the game.
- A seal marker with a silver star will earn the player 3 Victory Points at the end of the game if the theory is correct, but will also deduct Victory Points if it is incorrect, based on whether the theory was debunked or revealed as incorrect at the end of the game.
- A seal with a "?" colored circle will not earn the player any Victory Points at the end of the game. The player is essentially stating that he believes the aspect's value matching that color on the listed alchemical is wrong.
So for instance, if the Alchemical placed in front of the Ingredient shows a blue "+", and Player B thinks that Ingredient contains a blue "-" instead, he could place a Seal marker with a blue "?" to state so. When a theory is debunked, or at the end of the game when the correct Ingredient/Alchemical combinations are revealed, players can lose points if they've incorrectly placed "?" Seal markers. So while they don't gain a player Victory Points at the end of the game, it's still important to place them correctly.
No matter what Seal marker a player places when publishing a theory (and it's placed secretly anyways, so who would know), the player publishing the theory gains 1 point of reputation. Only the 1st player that places a Seal marker on an empty book space is considered the player publishing the theory. However, other players can endorse this theory when taking their action by placing one of their Seal markers in one of the two available spaces beneath the publishing player's marker. Each player can only have one Seal marker per theory book, so you can't endorse your own theory or endorse another player's theory twice. When endorsing a theory, the player must pay the Publishing House 1 gold coin (publishing theories is a business, you know!), and must pay the publishing player 1 gold coin, and another gold coin to a previous endorsing player if applicable. No reputation is awarded for players that endorse a theory.
For example, Player C has decided to endorse Player A's published theory that this particular Alchemical matches the Toad ingredient. Player B had already endorsed this theory on a previous turn. Therefore, after placing his chosen Seal marker, he'll need to pay a total of 3 gold coins; 1 to the Publishing House, 1 to Player A as the publishing player, and 1 to Player B as a previous endorser. As you can see, if can be very beneficial to be the first player to publish a theory, even if you don't necessarily know if it's right. That's the importance of the "?" Seal markers.
When player's have published and/or endorsed multiple theories, its possible for them to gain Grants. At the beginning of the game, Grant tiles were placed on the Theory board. Each Grant tile is connected to multiple theory books as represented on the tile itself. The first time a player has published and/or endorsed two of the theories represented on a particular Grant tile, he will receive that grant. Receiving a Grant awards the player with 2 gold coins and either 1-2 Victory Points at the end of the game. After a player has received their first Grant, all additional Grants will be earned after the player has published and/or endorse three of the theories represented on the Grant tile.
Player A has published a theory on the Frog ingredient and endorsed Player D's theory on the Feather ingredient. Since he has yet to receive a Grant, publishing/endorsing two of the three listed theories on the nearby Grant tile will earn him this Grant. He receives two gold coins and will receive the 2 shown Victory Points on the tile at the end of the game. From here on out, he'll be required to publish/endorse three of the shown theories on a Grant tile to be awarded it.
6.) The Archives - Debunk a Theory
As mentioned before, the action of debunking a theory will actually resolve first before moving on the next location where players can publish a theory. Each player can place 1 action marker at the Archives to take a debunking action, with a max of two actions per player. For the purposes of this review, we'll be taking a look at the basic debunk theory action. This consists of simply using the card reader to prove that one of the aspects (red, green, blue) in the alchemical of a published theory is incorrect. There is a master variant that players can use that takes this a step further, essentially requiring the debunking player to prove with an experiment why the aspect is wrong. It isn't good enough for the card reader to tell you it's wrong. Since we are learning the basics of how the game works, I figured I wouldn't get into the master variant portion of debunking. But do know that it is there if you choose to want to use that route.
When a player is performing a debunk action, he will use the card reader and select the "Debunk Theory" button. This will take the player to a screen that shows the eight different ingredients and the blue, green, and red aspects. The player will select the Ingredient that is part of the theory they are trying to debunk, and the colored aspect that they are trying to show is wrong. The card reader will then present the correct value of that colored aspect ("+" or "-") tied to the Ingredient. If the card reader shows the same value as the aspect listed on the Alchemical marker of the published theory, the player has failed to debunk the theory and loses 1 reputation point.
However, if the value shown on the card reader is opposite of what is part of the theory, then the player is rewarded 2 reputation points. The Alchemical would now be removed from the theory since it's been debunked, and would now be available for players to use on other Ingredients when publishing a theory. This is basically why the debunking location is resolved before the publishing location. Once a theory has been debunked, the Seal markers are revealed to show if any players would lose reputation based on what they had placed there.
- If a player had a starred Seal marker on a theory when it was debunked, he loses 5 points of reputation.
- If a player had a Seal marker with a colored "?" that did not match the one used to debunk the theory, he loses 5 points of reputation.
- If a player had a Seal marker with a colored "?" that matched the colored aspect used to debunk the theory, that player loses no reputation.
For instance, Player A has chosen to debunk the bird claw theory seen above. Player B originally published this theory and Player D endorsed it. Player A however is positive that the bird claw contains a red "+" aspect from other information he's gathered during the game, rather than the red "-" shown in the alchemical that Player B published. Therefore, he selects the bird claw and the red aspect on the card reader, and the card reader presents a red "+".
Player A has successfully debunked this theory and receives 2 reputation points. The alchemical is removed from the bird claw book and can be used when publishing another theory. Both Player B and Player D's Seal markers are revealed. Player B had placed a red "?" marker when he published the theory (what a trickster!). Therefore he would lose no reputation. Player D had placed a starred marker on the theory when endorsing it. Therefore, he would lose 5 points of reputation.
It's important to note that a particular Seal marker can only be used one time during the game. When a Seal marker is removed from a debunked theory, it is removed from the game. Therefore, it is very important to decide when to use your starred Seal markers and when to use the "?" ones. They will not be returned to you. Whether debunking the theory was successful or not, the card reader has now given players more information to add to their deduction board. In the example used above, players now know (if they didn't before) that the bird's claw contains a red "+" aspect. If the player was successful in debunking the theory, he is allowed to immediately take his publish theory action if he has an action marker already placed at the Publishing House. He can either publish a new theory on the same theory book he just debunked, or he can publish a new theory using the alchemical he just debunked.
7.) The University - Test Potions on a Student
After players have visited the Archives and Publishing House, they will move on to the University. Since potion-making can be very dangerous, and ignorant apprentices' not yet obtaining the highest of intelligence, alchemists can visit the University to test their potions on their apprentice students. Each Round, a Student will make himself available to test potions for the players. The student is always full of enthusiasm before trying the 1st potion each Round. However, if he drinks one of the negative potions (poison, paralysis, or insanity), he'll become less so and players will need to pay him to drink and test potions. Therefore, turn order at the space (as with most spaces) can be quite important.
When a player has decided to test a potion on a student, he will scan the two Ingredient cards in his hand that he wishes to mix, then click the "Test on Student" button on the card reader app. The card reader will display what type of potion you have made. The type of potion is made knowledgeable to all players, however the Ingredients used are only known to the player doing to test. The player can then place the appropriate markers on his deduction board based on what he has found out. Since he has made this new potion, he will place a result marker on his player board to represent the potion made. If a negative potion was made, all other tests done on the student this Round require a payment of 1 gold coin.
If player can not pay a gold coin, or if they choose not to, they can discard their action markers and place them in the space seen above on the main game board. This actually goes for any action space. If at any point the player decides to not resolve the action, he can choose instead to remove his action marker from the space and place it here. There are certain times players will be blocked from taking their desired action (as with selling potions to the adventurers), or may change their mind altogether on taking the action. This can be helpful in these cases.
8.) The Study - Test Potions on Yourself
If players don't want to worry about having to possible pay a student to do their dirty work, they can retire to their study and test the potion on themselves. Testing potions on yourself works the same exact way as testing them on a student as far as mixing two ingredients with the card reader app. However in this case, drinking a negative potion will have an actual effect on the player. Drinking a positive potion will not effect the player in any way, other than it being nice that nothing bad happens to you.
- If the player drank a poison potion (red "-"), the action marker you used to take this action is placed in the hospital space on the main game board. It will remain there during the next Round, therefore the player will have 1 less action marker to use.
- If the player drank a paralysis potion (green "-"), his turn order marker is moved to the bottom space on the turn order track. This is the only way a turn order marker can be placed on this spot. The player will still draw an Ingredient card and Favor card as is listed on this space when the new turn order is chosen, but he will be required to go last during the next Round.
- If the player drank an insanity potion (blue "-"), the player will lose 1 point of reputation. Depending on where the player's current reputation is on the reputation track, he could potentially lose additional reputation whenever he loses a point.
III. Cleanup Phase
After all action locations have been visited and all player have resolved their actions, the Round has ended and a few steps need to be taken before the next Round begins:
- Any remaining Ingredients still in the Forest area are discarded, and five new Ingredients cards are drawn and placed.
- Players will remove their Flask markers from the turn order track, except for players who recently drank a paralysis potion. Their markers are kept on the last space of the track for the upcoming Round.
- Action markers that were discarded and placed on the unused area are taken back by their players. For every two discarded markers a player has here, he will draw 1 Favor card from the draw deck. Any action makers that have been placed in the hospital because the player drank a poison potion are now moved to the unused area. These will not be available until the Round after the upcoming Round.
- Players will review the Theory board. The player with the most placed Seal makers currently on the board receives 1 point of reputation.
- A new Adventurer is revealed from the draw deck and placed on the Adventurer Quarters action space. Remember at the beginning of the game, Conference tile were placed in between some of these Adventurer tiles.
If drawing a new Adventurer would reveal one of these Conference tiles, the Conference tile is placed in the space on the main game board directly to the right of the Study action space (the last action space that is resolved each Round). This means that at the end of the upcoming Round, players will resolve the Conference tile after all actions have been taken.
Each Conference tile list a number of required publications/endorsements. If a player has placed a number of his Seal markers that meets this requirement, he will receive 1 reputation point. If he has not, he will lost the number of reputation points listed on the Conference tile. For instance, taking a look at the tile above, we see that if a player does not currently have a Seal marker on the Theory board (either as publications or endorsements), he would lose 1 point of Reputation.
After the Conference is over, all current Artifact cards are removed from the main game board, and the next level's Artifact cards are placed. This means that after the 1st Conference, Level 2 Artifacts will be available. Level 3 Artifacts will be available after the 2nd Conference.
- The Start Player marker is now placed to the player on the left, and a new Round begins.
End-Game Conditions & Scoring
The 6th and final Round in Alchemists works a little bit differently that the previous five. The Exhibition board is placed on the main game board so that it covers the University (test potion on a student) and Study (test potion on yourself) action spaces.
This is a new action location that I'll call the Exhibition Hall, and is only used in the final Round. Here, players can choose to exhibit potions in front of their other alchemists to brag about how excellent they are in their craft. At the beginning of the final Round, players will click on the "Final Round" button of the card reader app.
Each player has a row containing four available action spaces at the Exhibition Hall. This means that a player can exhibit up to four of the six possible potions types. When a player is taking a turn, he will remove one of his action markers from his row and place it on an available potion space. The player can never exhibit the same potion twice. That's just being arrogant.
Once placed, the player will then choose two Ingredient cards from his hand and use the card reader to scan them. Click the "Exhibit Potion" button. The card reader will present the potion made by mixing these two ingredients and the following happens:
- If the potion mixed was not the potion you claimed you were going to exhibit, your action cube is moved to the space towards the bottom of the board with a "thumbs down" icon. You also lose 1 reputation point.
- If the potion mixed matches the potion you claimed you were going to exhibit, your action cube is moved to the space right underneath the corresponding potion with a "thumbs up" icon. If this space has not been taken by anyone else, the player will gain 1 reputation point for being the first to exhibit this potion. If the space is already taken, the action marker is moved to the "thumbs up" space below the potion's column. The player does not score a reputation point if he was not the first player to exhibit the potion, however...
- If a player has exhibited both values of a colored potion during this Round (the "+" and "-"), then he will score 2 points of reputation for mastering that aspect's color.
For instance, Player B has previously exhibited an insanity potion (blue "-") on a previous turn at the Exhibition Hall, however was not rewarded a reputation point since Player A had already exhibited this potion.
For his next turn, he places an action marker on the Wisdom potion (blue "+") space. By mixing his feather and flower Ingredient cards together, he has successfully exhibited a Wisdom potion. Since he was the first to do so, he receives 1 reputation point. He also receives an additional 2 reputation points since he exhibited both the Wisdom (blue "+") and Insanity (blue "-") potions.
After the final Round has been completed, players will total their Victory Points in the following ways:
- The player's reputation total on the reputation track is immediately converted to Victory Points.
- Add Victory Points listed on the player's Artifact cards.
- Add Victory Points listed on the player's collected Grants.
- Players can exchange each Favor card left over for 2 gold coins a piece.
- Players can purchase a Victory Point for every 3 gold coins they have.
- Players will now click on the "Show Answers" button on the card reader.
This will present which alchemical correctly matches which ingredient. Players will gain or lose Victory Points based on their remaining Seal Makers on the Theory board, resolving each Theory book individually. If the alchemical/ingredient combination on the Theory board matches the one displayed on the card reader, the players who've placed starred Seal markers on that book will score 3 (silver stars) and 5 (gold stars) Victory Points respectively.
If the published Theory does not match the alchemical/ingredient combination listed on the card reader, all players with Seal markers on that book will lose 4 Victory Points except in the following case. If only one of the alchemical aspects on the theory book is the wrong value (the other two match the color/value combination listed on the card reader), and the player has placed a "?" Seal marker that matches that aspect's color, he will not lose the 4 Victory Points for this seal.
After all Victory Points are totaled together, the player with the most is considered the best Alchemist in all the land, and declared the winner!
Although published and released less than a year ago, Alchemists is already included amongst the top 100 games of all time at BGG.com, and for good reason. It all revolves around brilliant design, beginning with the implementation of the card reader app. One advantage to the digital version of most board games over their physical counterpart (other than the price point) is how the digital version streamlines the majority of upkeep. By implementing this aspect into the physical version of Alchemists, players gain all the advantage of the digital streamlined upkeep, while simultaneously using this method to keep all players in the dark as to which alchemicals match up to which ingredient. I’m not usually a fan of requiring additional apps to physical games, but this is one that not only works, I wouldn’t ever want to try it without it.
It’s also refreshing to see a theme used properly, not only as an attraction to players, but when used as a way to explain the mechanics and the elements of the game themselves. The idea of mixing potions to deduce the alchemical properties of each ingredient is something I don’t think I’ve ever come across in board gaming. The game takes it a step further however. You’ll use this knowledge to publish and debunk theories, obtain grants to further your studies, and gain/lose reputation amongst the surrounding Wizarding community. Randomly test a potion on a student, but it will probably cost you money. Randomly test it on yourself to save money, but possibly harm yourself in the process. Sell potions to local adventurers with guarantees based on your potion-making knowledge. The theme is interwoven throughout the game, and is a large part of why it succeeds.
Since there are many moving parts and boards, it can take a few play-throughs to really grasp everything that is going on. The largest hurdle understanding what exactly you are attempting to deduce, and how to use the knowledge the card reader is giving you. In my plays, some players have picked it up faster than others. It can be a bit discouraging for those that have a harder time with the alchemical/ingredient aspect of the game, especially when others seems to pick it up so quickly. The game is so unique and different, it can take some time to get over that initial barrier of understanding. Usually players will have that “Aha!!” moment when everything falls into place. And the game is set up in a way where everything feeds off of everything else. No action space feels wasted. You’ll always feel like you need to complete more actions than you have action markers to use. Think of the game as one huge engine. Every part is important, and until players can understand all the moving parts, it’ll take some time to learn how to manipulate the engine to their advantage.
Every now and again, a game comes along that provides a uniqueness and freshness that reminds us what it was like to play a board game for the first time. Alchemists is that type of game. Nominated for four 2014 Golden Geek Awards, and a 2014 Meeples’ Choice Award, Alchemists is certainly not one to be missed. It’s a game of strategy and deduction that hits on all marks, and one that we’ll be all discussing for quite a while.
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