Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Golden Gaming

I mentioned in my 2014 series that I was then only talking about games from that year that I had actually gotten to play. Funny then that come 2015 I should get to play what for me at least has become the best 2014 had to offer, and it only came around toward the end of the year at that. I am talking of Alchemists, and as the name might suggest, this game is absolute gold.

This is a clever little game, as clever as any game I have played in a long time. The first quirky thing about it is that unless you want a dedicated GM to run it for you, one person will require the Alchemists app. This is downloadable from the Google Play store for free, and though you could run without it using a GM, I highly recommend using the app. But to explain how the app works, I need first explain the premise of the game.

Every player is a budding alchemist, trying to figure out the alchemical formula for eight different ingredients. Each formula is represented by three symbols, each one red, green or blue and with a plus or minus symbol attached. There is basic math involved here in that you are always looking a positive when you combine elements, such two matching colours with the same symbol with create a potion, but a negative result will yield nothing (or soup if every symbol is opposite). The trick is that nobody knows what formula is attached the what ingredient, and so we test.  Whether you want to feed the concoction to the student or try it yourself, this is where the app comes in, as it uses your phone's camera to grab the images of the two ingredients you are testing in secret and tells you the result; everyone will know in the end what you have made, but only you will know how to make it.

The mechanics of the game are basic worker placement with a little bit of resource management as you try and make sure you have picked the right ingredients for your experiments and having enough left over for any opportunities that might arise. Each round starts with a bid for player order which simply equates to how early you get up in the morning. The earlier you get up the sooner you will act but the less bonus cards you will draw, so it balances in a way. You also secure favours from the villagers and played at the right time can give you an edge, be it automatically going first or getting more worker. And it wouldn't a game called alchemists unless you could transmute something, and there is a an action just for that.

It is a game of secrecy and deduction, and as with any world of science, a huge deal of bragging and showing off. This is represented in game by placing theories on the formula of an ingredient in order to claim grants, and debunking those that others put down. There can be a bluffing element added also in a bid to get others to endorse theories that you have made. At the end of every second round a convention will come to town to see who has the most theories and the final convention will include and exhibition where each alchemist can mix potions to show that they know best. Exacerbate all of this madness with magical artifacts that can be bought throughout the game and a range of adventurers showing up at the shops looking for potions, and you have a game that is as fun and whacky as it is clever and cunning.


As I mentioned at the start of the column, the app mechanics are a unique little gem with Alchemists. My question for today is what games do you like that have a quirk or mechanic that you find out of the ordinary?


Also in news, Tabled is coming to Facebook, so keep an eye out there and please be sure to like and subscribe to the page once it opens for more reviews and some competitions. Until then however, you have been Tabled.

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