Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ars Alchimia (Tasty Minstrel Games)

One of my favorite Japanese manga/anime was Fullmetal Alchemist. The story was solid and the idea of alchemy has always been an interesting to me, even if I don't put any merit in it whatsoever. Recently, Tasty Minstrel Games released a game called Ars AlchimiaArs Alchimia is a game for 3-4 players, ages 10+. It takes approximately 100 minutes to play and retails for $40. In this game, you and your fellow overseers work at an alchemy factory. Your job is to take orders, gather resources, and transmute them. Sounds simple, but efficiency is key! Let's get to the setup:
1. Give each player a player board, one resource cube of each color, and nine workers and the point marker of their player color.
2. Place the resource cubes on their respective starting positions on your player board.
3. Place the remaining workers to the side. (Note: You can never have more than 20.)
4. Prepare the board by shuffling the order cards, shuffling the locations, shuffling the assistants, and shuffling the forges.
Game Play - The game is played over four rounds (years) with three steps in each round:
1. Start of round - Determine player order. Gain as many workers as your Factory card says. Pay the upkeep of any assistants from the previous round. If you don't want to pay, return them to the bottom of the deck.
2. Main step - Take turns placing your workers on the board. (Note: When placing workers, you must place the # of workers +1 already there.) These spots on the board consist of gathering resources, taking orders, employing assistants, and transmuting materials into items.
3. End of Round - The round ends when all players have passed due to running out of workers or not wanting to place anymore. Once everyone has passed, return all workers in play to their owners. Refresh any assistants. Shuffle the face up cards on the board by type. Then, refill the board with cards, as was done in setup.
When playing through this game, you realize that it has a lot of elements of a traditional worker placement. You deploy workers to gather resources. You use those resources to make items, which are worth points. However, there are slight differences in this game than more traditional worker-placement games. The first difference is worker escalation, or going to the same place someone else did, but using more workers than someone else used. This means that no space is entirely blocked off, and it also means that you can mess with someone by going to a spot before they can and sending a lot of workers. The second difference is a die. At some locations, you can roll a die. If you get the number on the die required, then you gain an additional resource/benefit. This can be mitigated by the amount of workers you send to a place, but it still adds a random element to the game, which can be fun or frustrating depending on your luck of the die.

The game itself is tiny in nature in terms of box, components, and footprint, which is nice for someone with a lot of games and not a lot of shelf space. Since the game saw its origins in Japan, this makes absolute sense. The artwork is also a Japanese anime/manga, which I like. The components are basic in nature (standard pawns and cubes), which is a drawback compared to some of the more recent games, but the colors are at least unique, bright and vibrant, making them pop on a somewhat busy board! I also like that you can have up to 20 workers in the game. Now, granted, you won't be taking 20 actions per round, but you feel a lot less limited in what you can do when you see that army of pawns! The last element I really like about the game is the shifting places to visit. This creates a nice in game dynamic and need to be on your toes at all times. It also adds a great replay value, because even though you will see the same cards in different games, it won't always be in the same order.

It's no surprise if you have read any of my other reviews, but I love worker placement games. This was a very fun game and had unique twist on worker placement, which you must have to differentiate yourself from the myriad of other worker placement games. If you are looking for a compact worker placement game, that packs a punch, I highly recommend Ars Alchimia.

This game was provided to me for free by Tasty Minstrel Games in exchange for an honest review.