Alchemists Board Game Review

Put on your pointy hat, don your robes, and get the cauldron boiling. Because this game review will be for Alchemists, published by Czech Games Edition (CGE).

Players: 2-4

Game Time: 90-120min

Complexity: Medium

Age: 13+

Release Year: 2014

Alchemists is a deduction game and a worker placement game that will have you and your friends brewing up alchemical potions and publishing theories in order to gain world renown, endgame points and the odd gold piece or two. Czech Games Edition has also released an expansion titled Alchemists: The King’s Golem which introduces a new logic puzzle along with a wide variety of “new rewards and consequences.”

1. Fun

The first thing that sets Alchemists apart from similar games is the fact that the Alchemists board game has a companion app that can be downloaded and used on almost any smartphone. The app serves the function of mixing the ingredients found on the ingredient cards and providing the resulting potion.

Players can also choose not to use the app and have an extra player act as a gamemaster of sorts to serve the function of the app. If players choose to not use the app, gameplay may slow down depending on the number of players. Having and using the app on a smartphone is a small price to pay considering how much faster it makes gameplay. In addition to that, the app also eliminates the possible human error that a gamemaster might cause. 

The gameplay of the alchemists board game consists of mixing ingredients in order to sell potions. When a player goes about publishing theories, another player can debunk that theory. The Alchemical tiles each have three colored aspects. Each with its own attributes.

Red Positive has healing as an attribute. Red Negative has a poison attribute. Green Positive has a speed attribute. While a Green Negative will have a paralysis attribute. Lastly, the Blue Positive has a wisdom attribute. And finally, the Blue Negative has an insanity attribute. In some cases a Neutral potion is the result. The players can then mark each result on their result triangles to help them in their deductions towards the end of the game.

When mixing ingredients and making potions, the players can choose to either test the potion on themselves or choose to test the potion on a student. However, players must be very careful with what they test on their students. Because if the student gets sick from a negative potion, they will no longer be willing to test the potion without being paid first with a gold piece. 

The player’s usage of the gold pieces in the game will have to be quite frugal due to the fact that there are limited ways to  acquire gold pieces. If a player finds themselves in need of a gold piece, they can choose to transmute an ingredient that they have in their hand. This will give them one gold piece. Alternatively players can take a risk and sell potions to the specific adventurer that is on the board in that round of gameplay. In order to do that, the players will have to sell a potion that that specific adventurer wants. This will be displayed on the adventurer tiles. Players will then get the opportunity to produce that exact potion in order to earn the gold that the adventurer will offer. Alternatively the players can make a smaller guarantee to the adventurer for less coin. But it is important to be careful. If the players end up mixing the wrong potion for the adventurer, the player will lose reputation. Losing too much reputation may unfortunately have dire consequences for the player at the end of the game when the points are tallied up.

In order for a player to publish a theory they need to play the deduction game element in order to guess what alchemical combination is each of the ingredients on the theory board

As players continue to publish theories on a separate theory board, they will earn victory points and reputation that will be tallied up at the end of the game to decide who wins.

There are also two versions of the Alchemists board game; the Master variant and the Apprentice variant. Naturally the Master variant is going to be more complicated and it is going to be harder to play. So, for the first game it is best to play the Apprentice variant.

2. Replayability

The replayability of the Alchemists board game is high. Given the fact that players will have to be playing a heavy deduction game for a playing time of 90 to 120 minutes, one might not be too keen to break out a new game to play again. Nevertheless this game is very replayable, despite the slightly tedious task of setting up the game to play.   

One of the components of this board game is a set of printed out notes that serve the function of a deduction grid. When a gamer uses the app to mix two ingredients together, they will get a result that they are then able to mark down on one of these deduction grids. This will help players towards the end of the game to publish theories in order to score victory points. There are only a handful of these deduction grids in the box. Once a gamer has used one, it cannot be used again. Eventually they will run out. An easy solution is to use a pencil and eraser. Alternatively if the players are able, they can scan and reprint the deduction grid.

It is also worth noting that there are well over 40 thousand different combinations of alchemical symbols that are matched with ingredients. Which means when replaying after the first game, it is highly unlikely that you will get the same ingredient and alchemical symbol combination any time soon.

3. Player Interaction

The number of players playing changes the gameplay considerably. Having just the minimal two players means that the gameplay will feel slow, relaxed, and less competitive. If there are only two people playing, then there is more space for the worker placement mechanic.

However when the number of players goes up to three or four, the gameplay starts to get more competitive. It feels as if there are higher stakes when playing with a group of four. Having a larger group to play with also lends itself well to the players trying to get into each other’s heads to sabotage each other.  If there are four players it becomes easier, and even a vital part of the game, to play the deduction part of the game by paying attention to the way the other players at the table are playing the game. Another thing that makes a larger number of players more interesting is that the worker placement mechanic gets more cramped. There are more action cubes on the board at any given time with four players than with only two. This leads to players having to play a more intricate and competitive type of game. The players will need to be more aggressive with their gameplay. Collecting enough gold pieces to buy artefacts will also give some players advantages and benefits over the other players. With a larger number of players, the turn order mechanic becomes a vital part of getting ahead of the other players in the game.

An added rule that makes things a bit more difficult is the rule that after a certain number of rounds all the players are required to publish a theory. Which can be great if your deduction skills are on point. Unfortunately if you haven’t deduced any of the alchemical symbols for any ingredients, then you will have to publish anyway, take your best guess, and hope that you were correct. If a player thinks that another player is correct with their theory that they have published, they can endorse the other plate by paying them one gold piece. If that theory proves to be correct at the end of the game then they both earn the relevant points

At the end of the game there is a new mechanic that is introduced; The exhibition round. During the final round of gameplay the exhibition board gets put on the tabletop and the players will be able to go head to head one last time to brew some extra potion and gain some last minute points.

4. Quality

The quality of the game is good. The materials used are generic cardboard and plastic. A nice and simple plastic gets used for every player token. Whereas the rest of the tiles are good quality cardboard. The ingredient cards, player boards, adventurer tiles, artefact cards, conference tiles, conflict tokens, favor cards, and every gold piece are all made from good quality material. This game will last if it is looked after well enough.

It is worth noting that there are a large number of game pieces. From tokens, to cards, to tiles, there are a lot of game pieces. So players will have to make sure not to lose any as the years go on. Upon the opening of the box for the first time one will notice that there are a large number of little bags to keep all the playing pieces in. and the boards are stacked on top of each other. It would be nicer if there was an insert of some sorts to organize everything in the box. But that is only if you’re trying to be nit picky about it. 

5. Art & Style

The art in this board game is really well done. The art on the ingredient cards really stands out. The adventurer tiles are also well done. Each adventurer with its own unique look and style. The whole art and style dynamic is both whimsical and magical. Which is perfect for the kind of game that you are playing. There are a number of artefact cards as well that have beautiful art. Apart from the main board of the game, there is a theory board where players publish their theories, an exhibition board, and four player boards. The player boards really do give the feel of having a mini alchemy lab set up in front of you. The main board is where the worker placement mechanic gets played. The way that the main playing board is set up and laid out can be confusing in the beginning. Because there is a lot going on.

But what really stands out is how well the Alchemists board game rulebook is illustrated and written. The rule book is written in an immersive style that in spite of how complex the rules are, it is still a fun read. The rule book is written with instructions and information from the point of view of an in-game alchemist talking to the players and giving instructions on how to be an alchemist. There are however a large number of game pieces and tokens to keep track of.

6. Our Rating

The Alchemists board game will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good old logic puzzle.  Having to use your deduction skills along with the thrill of testing potions that may or may not have nasty consequences is a real treat. With that said there is quite a bit of a complex learning curve new players might experience on their first game. At first, trying to memorize the lengthy set of rules may feel like a chore. Luckily the rulebook is incredibly well written  and provides a lot of immersion for this fun game

The immersion of this board game is its strong point. Where the learning curve of the rules makes things difficult, the immersion makes up for that. When playing Alchemists, it becomes incredibly easy to feel immersed in the game. Players having to work in their little labs on their player board, testing, mixing ingredients and deducing becomes quite fun. Becoming absorbed in your alchemical work till you reach those aha/ eureka moments where you have discovered an alchemical symbol for an ingredient is what makes this such a great game.

With that said, a logic puzzle or game of deduction may not be everyone’s cup of tea. The game itself can take a while to learn. The gameplay and rules that the players need to remember definitely puts it towards the upper end of medium difficulty. The vast amount of game pieces that players need to keep track of and all together when setting up, playing , and clearing up the game is another down point. To people who aren’t used to a game with a higher learning curve, it may seem overwhelming.  

Even though it is perfectly fine to play the game with only two players, the gameplay really takes a turn for higher stakes the higher the number of players that there are.

Czech Games Edition and the lead designer Matúš Kotry really did a good job on this game. So, for us it is a solid 7out of 10 for its immersive experience and overall wonderful gameplay. This is the kind of board game you will want to put on your wishlist. There really isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t buy Alchemists board game.