It’s like Iron Chef meets Harry Potter in this game from designer Carlo A. Rossi that pits up to five players in a battle for which apprentice’s magic potions will reign supreme. May the best ingredient win!
|Alchemist||Mayfair Games||Board Game|
In The Box
Based on our first exposure to Carlo A. Rossi with Road Rally USA, we were expecting an equally elaborate production. Alchemist initially seemed simple in comparison, but ended up showing at least as much strategic depth.
The first element you’ll notice when unboxing the game is a large and beautifully illustrated game board. The center of the board is where the action takes place, but we loved the small design touches around the edge that make it feel like you’re playing on some ancient wizard’s table. Other nice illustrations are found on the five player screens, in colors that match wooden seal stones used to mark the recipes you create, and to keep track of victory points during the game.
The idea of creating spells in a game called Alchemist brings to mind the pursuit of legendary alchemists who tried (in vain) to turn base metals into silver or gold. You won’t do any such transformations, but in a way you do end up turning the game’s five basic ingredients into victory. Small wooden cubes in five colors represent the ingredients available for use, creatively portrayed as Bird Legs (gray), Mushrooms (blue), Dragon’s Blood (green), Troll Eyes (orange), and Spiders (yellow). Each ingredient has one small tile that will be secretly passed to a player, and you’ll also find cardboard tiles for scoring and valuing potions. A nice cloth bag lets you store ingredient cubes between games and draw them during play.
How It Plays
During setup you’ll draw random ingredients and take a tile that corresponds to one of the colors used in the game. This stash ends up hidden behind screens so other players don’t know which ingredients you’re hoarding.
Drawing from the bag is one of the few random elements in the game. Winning requires a strategic approach to creating and copying recipes that will score points and move one of your seal stones along a track that rings the board. The rules for making recipes are interesting, because they limit you in terms of which ingredients can be used and combined. Recipes you make are a one-time scoring proposition for you, but can be copied on each turn by other players as long as they can provide the required ingredients. Throw in the fact that you can score a bonus at the end of game if your secret ingredient has been the most widely used, and you start to appreciate the huge range of strategic considerations here.
There’s no easy way to handicap Alchemist for a mixed group, but young players can enjoy the game and win often enough by focusing on making high-value recipes and staying in the lead on the scoring track. More strategic approaches involve watching what recipes are created and copied, and which ingredients each opponent seems most eager to promote. Underneath the theme of cooking up magical potions, Alchemist turns out to be an economic game with a twist. Unlike most games where you raise money or score points by selling goods, you have the additional layer here of knowing that your actions may be helping your opponents.
The unpredictable mix of ingredients and potions each time you play keeps Alchemist interesting. What seems at first like a wide-open field of options narrows down quickly, so it’s important to create recipes that get your ingredient into circulation.
I love the board and I find it interesting how the more players you have the harder it gets not to help someone. You have to be really careful when planning and making potions to be sure your ingredients get used up before the end of the game.