Saturday, 28 March 2015

Better Living Through (Al)Chemistry

Contrary to popular belief, science is not always an exact... science. For instance, the reason saccharin was discovered as a sweetener was because the chemist working on it accidentally got it over his hands, which then transferred to his sandwich. The lucky* chemist was then surprised when on eating his lunch the sandwich was a good deal sweeter than it had any right to be.

Being a good science lackey he then tasted everything on his bench, until on finding the culprit he figured he would test it was safe by taking a dose and waiting 24 hours.

Which, you know, is just sensible.

In a mad scientist, not to worry about poisoning kind of way.

A similar thing happened with LSD too when it was inadvertently absorbed through the hands. But with more colours and flying pigs.

Which leads you to some conclusions.

1) Never shake hands with a Chemist
2) Never trust a Chemist who asks you to just try something, it's safe honestly, it's been rigorously tested
3) Chemistry in some ways can still be a very medieval stick it in your mouth and see what it does type of activity.

And so it goes in the game Alchemists, which this week made a visit to the Ribs for some substance ingesting, random ingredient picking science. Old school style.
Alchemists - Mastermind for the Euro generation.

Alchemists is a light euro action selection type game who's main thrust revolves around deducing what ingredients do what. Or to put it another way, it's like a modern Euro take on the classic 70's family game Mastermind. Or the even older Cluedo.

Up to four players get to select actions from the board ranging from picking ingredients to drinking ( testing ) a potion. Crucial to scoring points is to figure out what each of the eight ingredients provide alchemically, and you do that by mixing any two ingredients together to get a potion and drinking it ( in the very best of Chemist Experimental Procedure ) - the result of which tells you some things about the ingredients. Rather humorously you can either get your poor suffering assistant to drink it - no bad effects should the potion turn out to be less than human compatible - or you can drink it yourself... if you're desperate.

After all the testing and observing, unless you have some kind of eidetic blind chess level of intellect, you mark down your results in a grid, which helps you to deduce what thing does what.

The more information you have about what does what, the more sure you can be of producing a certain type of potion - used to gain money when selling potions to adventurers, and also to score points in the final round - and also be more sure of what any ingredient provides.
The all important secret results grid of your potion drinking

Scoring points from your discoveries revolves around the concept of publishing your findings. For a gold coin you can publish a theory that Some ingredient provides Whatever alchemical goodness. This is a case of matching one of the eight ingredients to one of the eight available alchemical wotsits.

Publishing your work earns you reputation - victory points - and if you publish enough, reputation points per turn, and the chance to pick up a science grant of yet more reputation and cash.

The other wrinkle here is that published work doesn't necessarily have to be correct. You can publish any old tosh. Just to get your hands on a grant. Or some early points. But note, being found out - debunked - can cost you a serious penalty whilst handing a bonus to your debunker - and by game end your dubious statements will be revealed to be rubbish. Grants however, once awarded, stay awarded. Regardless of whether you are the academic equivalent of Beaker from the Muppets or the next Alchemical Linus Pauling.

The timing of publishing and debunking and any grants received provides the balance to whether spouting tosh pays off or not, plus a somewhat clever mechanism in allowing you to hedge your bets, know you are speaking rubbish, and secretly declare that you don't have much faith in your statement.

So how does it play ? The deduction part of the game is the meat and potatoes. The action selection is just an ordered way to get at the deduction. There isn't a whole lot of - or indeed hardly any - typical euro engine building and optimisation here, it's just about timing of scoring and getting your deductions done.

Which on the face of it is rather thin. However it is a fun experience - it's quite different from much of the board game field, and the added ( necessary ) gimmick of using your mobile phone to test results on adds a lot to an otherwise mechanically sparse game.

We played with four alchemists, which sees your action pool reduced to four a turn ( from a possible six ), which really makes figuring out ingredients a time pressured endeavour. Of course you can glean some information from others debunking, and the addition of a periscope or otherwise can allow you to snoop on others results, or make for more efficient resource gathering.

Smash Up. Reclining luxuriously on sofas.
AKA avoiding the camera
I enjoyed it a lot, Ben suffered an aneurysm about half way through and almost gave up figuring out potions, whilst Richard IV managed to cock up his results and get things spectacularly wrong and Ewan played a strong game of having the most bling equipment. Turn order was absolutely crucial - I was in a position at the end to score a truck load of points, but because I was beaten into last place turn order I could only sit back and watch everyone make dubious statements, wrong theories and generally miss out. Ewan won, I came second, and Rich and Ben challenged for Worst Alchemist of the Year.

Dead of Winter. Martin oversees the survivors.
Whilst all this alchemical nonsense was going on elsewhere Tragedy Looper was brought to table again, this time with Owein filling the shoes of the diabolical mastermind. When I checked in with them for the last time there was much shaking of the heads for the good guys, and a rather smug Owein gloating in the corner. I'm not sure who won this, but judging from that I would say Owein.

Camel Up galloped a few laps a table over, whilst Smash Up also did some smashing up on the comfy sofa seating table.

Downstairs Dead of Winter got another play, the colonists were doing a fantastic job, hardly any zombies, almost no helpless survivors ( were they even playing right ??? ), but morale was teetering on giving out entirely. They ended with a survivor victory and no traitors.

Hamsterolle. Wonky tables for pro level difficulty.
Mad King Ludwig was also on offer downstairs - this is proving to be really popular at the Ribs with an often eager player group waiting to bust it out. Fletch had a turn with this this week, and gave it a thumbs up and another confirmed report that it was indeed very similar to Suburbia, but nothing like as number crunching.

An ended Five Tribes. Guillame shows off his winning score.
Lastly James played Five Tribes for a final time before he sold it to Ben, Guillame winning this with a typical Euro stomping emphatic win - he's rather good at the Euro efficiency malarkey. They then followed up with the novelty acts of Hamsterolle and Loopin' Louie.

Other fillers were to be had. Guillotine made another show - Guillotine is racking up some fairly consistent plays.
Tragedy Looper. Tragically Owein is winning.
*Lucky - Lucky that he didn't a) die from cross contamination and the lesser point that b) also discovered something useful. One can only imagine that evolutionary pressures play a much greater role in selecting more assiduous scientists for say the role of Infectious Disease Researcher, which is perhaps why you don't hear about nearly so many "lucky" infectious disease scientists. The very worrying thought occurs that all scientists are like this, and that shaking hands with anyone in the scientific community is a good deal more hazard filled than people commonly believe.


Hal said...

Owein didn't win in the end! His Serial Killer got a bit stab happy too early and gave himself away, so we knew who to stay away from.

Minitrue said...

Ah ha, his smugness must have been purely from the sociopathic thrill of knifing people then.

Good job good guys !