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Review: Dominion: Alchemy

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Alchemy: where magic begins to approach science. What is the difference between  Chemistry and Alchemy? Well, with alchemy you can see the future, enchant inanimate objects to do your bidding, and possess your enemies to control their every move.

And that’s exactly what Dominion: Alchemy adds to the game.

How It Plays:

Dominion: Alchemy is actually the 3rd expansion for Dominion, and the first small-box expansion.

If you haven’t played Dominion or heard of it or this is otherwise new to you, please read our review of the base game, Dominion.  Then read Intrigue.

Alchemy adds 12  new Kingdom cards to the mix, and a new treasure card that is not part of the “kingdom” supply – the Potion.

Yes. The potion.
Yes. The potion.

The Potion card is the center of this expansion; it provides no extra coinage, but most Alchemy cards require a potion as part of the cost.  So, for example, the Alchemist card can be bought for 3 Treasure and 1 Potion.

Alchemy cards requiring potions are often very powerful, given that they require purchase of the expensive (4 cost) potions that are otherwise useless in your deck for, say, buying victory cards.

In addition to cards requiring a Potion as part of the cost, some Alchemy cards give you bonuses in relation to potions.  Alchemist is +2 Cards and +1 action, and if you have a Potion in play you get to put Alchemist on top of your deck at the end of your turn instead of discarding it. Apprentice lets you trash a card and draw 1 card per coin cost of the trashed card, and 2 extra cards if there was a Potion in the cost.

Other than the new rules regarding potions, Alchemy otherwise mixes with other Dominion sets and plays by the standard A-B-C Dominion rules.

Hey look more cards that do.. stuff...
Hey look more cards that do.. stuff…

Powerful Magic, or Smoke and Mirrors?

Alchemy is probably the most “controversial” Dominion expansion. I put the word “controversial” in quotes because any controversy about whether or not someone can enjoy and product meant for entertainment purposes only is really the most boring controversy ever.

But, there are those who think Alchemy is the worst thing to happen to Dominion, and those who love it.

If you’ve heard anything about Alchemy, it’s probably a complaint about how the Potions don’t mix well with other sets. I will agree that the whole Potion thing doesn’t mix extremely well, but I don’t think that’s a major flaw.

The fact is, there are plenty of cards in Dominion and its expansions that are only useful in specific situations.  Sometimes you will buy them, sometimes you will ignore them. A potion, at the very least, is a treasure and so using it doesn’t take up an Action.  Some would say you need at least 3 Alchemy cards in the mix to make the Potion worth it; fine, that’s no big deal. If you want to choose 3 Alchemy cards first, you can do that. Most of the digital Dominion randomizers allow you to set minimums, so it’s not hard to generate a random set of Kingdom cards with enough Alchemy.

These I would buy a potion for even if they stood alone
These I would buy a potion for even if they stood alone

But I don’t think that’s the real problem with Alchemy. Honestly I’ve played sets with 1 Alchemy card in the Kingdom, and I bought a potion for it and used it and did well with it. It just depends on the setup, like any other card.

In my opinion, the real issue with Alchemy is that most of the actions are complex and slow the game way down while players wait for each other to resolve their actions.

Take Golem, for example. Golem is a great card – you get to search your deck for the first 2 non-Golem action cards you find and play them. That card can turn a really terrible hand into a fantastic hand.

But you have to search your deck. In a game that is meant to be played quickly, someone stopping to search through their entire deck for specific cards can grind the game to a halt.

For example, count up every card in your deck and discard pile. Don't bother keeping track because the amount is different based on your hand size and how many cards you have in play.
For example, count up every card in your deck and discard pile. Don’t bother keeping track because the amount is different based on your hand size and how many cards you have in play.

Possession is another really cool card. It lets you basically take an extra turn after yours, using the next player’s cards. You get to keep what you gain, and you potentially steal a great hand from your opponent (they get to keep all their cards, even if you trash some of them, but they all get discarded). Pretty fun if you’re the one possessing, but again… grinds the game to a halt.  When you play Possession you haven’t had a chance to study the hand you’re about to play so you have to make all your decisions during the turn.  Then the next player has to look at a brand new hand and figure out a new plan, and all of this adds up.

There are plenty of cards that start to stack up. Alchemist (that card you can put back on your deck with a Potion) is great, but when you start stacking them up you end up having a lot of turns in a row where you draw many, many cards and figure out how to play them.

The other main issue is how potion costs can get confusing when it comes to trash-and-upgrade cards. It’s not terribly complex, but it gets a little confusing when you have to remember what can and can’t get upgraded into a potion-costing card, and what a potion-costing card can get upgraded into.

At least you don't have to count up your deck, I guess
At least you don’t have to count up your deck, I guess

Oh, and a word of warning- Alchemy does not mix well with Guilds, especially Possession. Possession lets you control the next player’s hand (they still get a normal turn when you’re done), which before guilds meant playing a few cards and buying something you get to keep yourself. With Guilds, it could mean spending a sweet stash of coins your opponent was saving up, even if spending them doesn’t get you anything particularly useful. It’s a nasty side effect whose only counter is to just not accumulate coins when Possession is in play… but then why use Guilds at all? It’s probably best to keep those two separate.

There’s something important, though, in the way I described the cards above.  Grab a pen and a notebook, kids and mark this down. Did you notice how those cards let you do really cool things? Yes, the actual actions you undertake when you play Alchemy cards are pretty fun.  They let you explore new ways of building a deck and using the cards in it.  They’re exciting and interesting and go way beyond “draw X cards.” So, it’s no wonder that Alchemy has its fans. It’s just too bad that so many of them slow the game down.  It’s all right when you play 2-player, but with a larger group those wait times will get tedious.

Some fun attacks. Possession is technically not labelled "Attack" but man can it mess with someone.
Some fun attacks. Possession is technically not labelled “Attack” but man can it mess with someone.

Alchemy is definitely the least essential of all the Dominion expansions. The cards let you do cool things, but they slow the game down and add some tedious elements to what should be a fast-moving game, and many won’t appreciate the limited-use potion treasure card.  It doesn’t mix very well with other non-base expansions (the core set and Intrigue work fine). Yet there is still plenty to explore with Alchemy, and if you don’t mind the slower pace you’ll definitely get your money’s worth with the cards in this set.

 

Summary

  • Rating 7.5
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Summary

Pros

  • New, powerful cards add new strategic branches
  • The Potion as a new type of resource adds a different sort
7.5 Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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