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Terra Mystica» Forums » Strategy

Subject: Why are the Alchemists Bad? rss

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Brandon Roy
United States
Pennsylvania
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Its always baffled me why the alchemists are bad. It seems like they should be a strong faction because of their gold advantage, their strong early game power influx and advantages for digging.

I always seem to do pretty well with them yet somehow they are the lowest rated faction on Snellman.
 
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Steve Haas
United States
Mountain View
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I mean, the lazy answer to this question is: they're poorly rated because, on average, people who play them win less often than people who play other factions.

The more nuanced answer thus requires an explanation of why they win less, and the answer to that is... complicated. One could easily spend pages discussing all the subtlety and nuance of it. But I think the short version is: their SH, while good, is not strong enough to make them a good faction by itself, and their only other ability - to convert vps into coins - while powerful, is very hard to use effectively - it requires quite a bit of practice and experience to get to the point where it reliably generates more VP than you spend on using it.

Ultimately: once Alchemists get everything going - their SH out, advanced digging, probably some shipping as well, and some favors and turn/bonus scoring to convert all that econ to points - they're as strong a faction as any. And if the game lasted 7 or 8 rounds, they'd be powerhouses. But since the game ends in 6 rounds, there's only barely enough time to get the full economic engine going and still have time to score with it, and so many people who play them get the balance wrong and thus wind up with an inferior result.
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Ryan Feathers
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Madison
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First off welcome to BGG!

Second off, the Alchemists aren't actually that bad. Yes, the faction rankings have them as one of the worst, but that's among all players. It turns out that the Alchemists tend to lose a lot of games in the hands of poor to even good players. It seems only great players actually manage to figure out their full potential and start to perform better than average with them. The stats back this up--among players rated quite highly, Alchemists fare pretty well.

So the real question is what causes the Alchemists to be so tricky to play that lots of beginners fail with them?

I'm not entirely sure. But here are some of the ways I've seen players fare poorly with Alchemists

--Focus on just generating a lot of coins to make use of their 2 coins per VP ability. (Hint, this is a terrible way to try to score points)
--Quickly rush Stronghold and digging upgrades, gutting worker economy. Never manages to build enough dwellings quickly enough to get worker economy running well.
--Build lots of stuff but fails to get many points for it. If you fail to get bonus tiles providing passing VP's, and fail to get favor tiles granting VP's, you simply don't have enough ways to score.
--Compared to many other top factions (Darklings, Engineers, Witches, Cultists) the Alchemists have no faction scoring available. So whereas Witches often get 15 extra VP's from towns, Darklings often get 16+ from priest digging, Engineers in some games get lots of Bridge points, and Cultists can get 7 VPs for their Stronghold, Alchemists have no such advantages. Even worse, their ability is to give up VP's for resources. So again, it's very hard to make sure you can effectively turn all those extra resources into even more VP's than other factions.


It turns out that all of this is really hard. CTKShadow wrote the definitive guide to how to play Alchemists well, and frankly it's very tough and fairly niche--you essentially need a game where the round bonuses include several Dwelling/Trading Post rounds late. You need at least 3 and preferably all 4 bonus income tiles that have passing VP's. You'd prefer not to have some of the other bonus tiles that are providing coins as that makes your opponents a bit more coin starved which is good for you since you can generate coins as needed. You'll likely need to be making three towns, getting max passing VP's in at least rounds 4-6, earning 18 VP from network, and even all that might not be enough by the end.


So the short version is simply that Alchemists tend to only thrive in niche set ups, struggle to score enough compared to other factions, and often are stuck in a fairly set track for how they can play. They are the exact opposite of the Darklings who are remarkably flexible in what sorts of games they can thrive in. (Which is the final issue for Alchemists--because Darklings are so good and versatile they are the best 1st faction pick, so if you want to play Alchemists you often have to take them from the 1st seat.)
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C TK
Canada
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The guide that was referenced can be found here. I wouldn't exactly call it "definitive", but it outlines the method I consider to be the most consistent path to victory for them.

In fact they can do even better with more aggressive strategies, but that is contingent on a strong dose of luck - for example, if you can manage to start round 1 with bon6(4VP for SH/SA and 2 workers), build your SH, then take act6 (two spades) and build two more dwellings, then on round 2 build a temple and take fav11 (earth 1 favour tile), you can get amazing scores with them (see here and especially here). But in practical play any faction that gets everything perfect for the first two rounds can get amazing scores, and in most cases you can expect that your opponents will block enough of those pieces that you'll have a much tougher start.

So anyway, as near as I can tell, Alchemists, like Yetis, mostly "suffer" from excess flexibility, complexity, and a different relative value of various resources compared with most other factions. Truisms for every other faction, like the importance of leech and coins, need to be re-evaluated when playing the Alchemists - for example, you should almost never need to take more than 2 for 1 leech as Alchemists, at least not after the first round. Likewise, where most factions have a surplus of workers, this is almost impossible for Alchemists. And just in general, Alchemists value many of the bonus tiles and favour tiles in very different ways than most other factions.

So the TL:DR is that Alchemists have more options (more complexity) and play quite differently than many other factions even at a fundamental level (eg. value of leech), and it's their increased difficulty that is the reason why they perform poorly (which is not the same as being "bad", necessarily).
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Brandon Roy
United States
Pennsylvania
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Interesting. In my games I had been rarely using the gold to VP conversion and relying on the gold from the stronghold which worked but at a lower level of opponents. I'm exited to try out CTK's strategy which seems much more effective
 
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