Editor’s Note: My full review of Alchemist will be published in Counter magazine. What follows is an abbreviated version.
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’ve 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. In addition to a starting supply of twelve ingredients, 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.
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 – from 1 – 10 – 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.
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.
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. Victory points are received for remaining ingredients, and bonus points are earned for players holding the proper school ingredient cards. 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. Valuing a potion can also be a difficult decision. Which ingredients are needed can be obvious, but obtaining them can be tricky. There seems to be a few strategies to pursue, but I’m suspicious that ultimate victory is really dependent upon simply getting lucky and having players use your secret ingredients.
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.
I struck out to an early lead, and held it for about half of the game. However, much to my horror, my secret ingredient had only been used in two potions, one of which I created. This meant that it was going to be used very infrequently, and I would have no chance at the end game victory points. Sheila was able to consistently replicate potions, and also managed to create three of her own. She held off Bo at the end to claim the victory.
Finals: Sheila 67, Bo 63, Jim 59, Gail 58, Greg 54
Ratings: Bo 6, Greg 5.5, Gail 5.5, Jim 5
Gail: “I like it less and less each time I play.”
Sheila: “It is difficult to spot a strategy. Mainly, you are just hoping others use your secret ingredient.”
Bo: “I wouldn’t buy it.”