Alchemists is a worker placement & deduction game, published by Czech Games Edition, with a super fun theme wrapped around it. But beware, it's not for the easily puzzled. Let me tell you a little more…
Set-Up and Gameplay
You are playing as apprentice alchemists who are learning the secrets of the trade. This is achieved by conducting experiments, mixing ingredients and publishing your theories so that you can ascend the reputation track and grab those much needed victory points.
Alchemists has a moderate amount of set-up, but it isn’t overly lengthy once you’ve done it a few times. The only slightly fiddly part is setting up your personal player board, or ‘laboratory’, where you must insert the cardboard pieces together and align it with your deduction grid. All players must have downloaded the app prior to playing, and once you have it on your phone or tablet you can simply open it and get started.
Alchemists is played across six rounds. Each round the players decide their actions in advance by placing cubes on action spaces on the board, then each action space is resolved in order of player. An integral part of the gameplay is gaining knowledge by mixing ingredients and ‘testing’ the results, by using the app to scan the ingredients cards.
As they are randomised each game the results differ every time. You log the results in your laboratory and can also test on students (again this is conducted on the app) to determine if a potion is negative, positive or neutral. You then use this information to publish theories on the shared theory board. This will get you get climbing the reputation track, and this is ultimately where your points lie.
Players can also earn money by selling potions off to adventurers, and buy artefacts and favours to help them along the way. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
Components & Artwork
One of the things I liked about Alchemists is the amount of components you get in the game. There are an abundance of tiles, coins, tokens, cubes and potion bottles, and all of these are of a really lovely quality. You also get a large and sturdy main player board, plus a theory board and individual player laboratories, with a stack of deduction grid sheets.
It’s worth mentioning that the laboratory boards need to be assembled each time you play and if not done correctly and carefully they will suffer some minor wear and tear. For all you get within the game the box isn’t ludicrously over-sized (although it is rather heavy).
The artwork is vivid, detailed, sweet and often entertaining, and I love that the more you look at the board the more funny and cute things you spot. The rule book is also a very well written and amusing read!
Final Thoughts on Alchemists
Don’t be fooled by the appearance, Alchemists is a tough one to master and is not a game for those just beginning their tabletop gaming journey. As a gamer of several years I have played many times over the last 12 months and I’ve only just started to figure out what to do.... and what not to do!
The worker placement side of the game will be familiar territory to some players but it’s the deduction/puzzle aspect that really gets your brain leaking. I have found that as victory really boils down the reputation points, you will need to publish theories quickly and not take too much time experimenting and trying to know absolutely everything.
Piggy backing off of your opponent by endorsing their theories is a great strategy for those that are lagging behind, and if you are one of those players that figures it out pretty swiftly then you can always debunk another player’s theory. Alchemists is a big game with much to learn and a lot going on, and it will take repeated plays to get to grips with it. But it’s worth persisting with, it’s a delightful game, a masterfully designed game and a very fun game with lots to enjoy.
The use of the app is very necessary to the game, and whilst it can be played without it would be needlessly complicated. If you are a tabletop gamer who thinks that games can do without a techy aspect then you may not like Alchemists.
If you’re a gamer who dislikes that feeling of not getting to grips with a purchase immediately you may also not get along with it. But if you’re looking for a fun and frivolous challenge, that combines standard board game playing with something a little bit different, this may be just the right game for you.