*Originally posted on the Monkey in the Cage Website on October, 4 2012
Every now and then you’ve got some time to kill with your buddies. For me I like to have small, easily accessible, (and better yet quick!) games at the ready for such an occasion. Not to mention that rare perfect moment when your plane gets delayed and you find yourself talking with a few gamers who recognized your RPG book and suddenly an opportunity to play something has arisen! For me the game I often have at hand is Chaos and Alchemy. If you haven’t heard of it don’t feel too bad because its new on the gaming scene, but after I give you the lowdown I encourage you to check this perfect time killer out and you’ll be turning lead into gold in no time!
Created by Michael Iachini, also known in the online community as Michael the Online DM, Chaos and Alchemy is a fast paced game for 2 to 5 players that combines two loves of mine, cards and dice. The object of the game is for each player to take on the mantle of “Alchemist” and turn lead into gold for the King, and, by amassing 10 points, the Alchemist has earned power and prestige for their services to the kingdom and a winner will be decided. To do this, each Alchemist will be conducting experiments and filling their laboratories with gear suited to the task. All the while they will jealously guard what they’ve learned from the other players around the table and perhaps dabble in a bit of mischief by disrupting those others labs.
The cards in the game are broken down into only a handful of categories:
- Innovation Cards – The most common cards and the means of earning points towards a win by hanging around in your laboratory.
- Action and Action(Rival) Cards – One-use tools to provide you with a quick benefit from drawing more cards or stealing from another.
- Reaction Cards – Cards to help protect your precious lab equipment from those other nasty Alchemists. (Honestly they should just play fair!)
- Misfortune Cards – Cards that disrupt your rivals (well… I mean they are doing it too right?)
Essentially, you have a very simple core mechanic with this game. You roll a few dice, known as the “Experiment” dice, and match those to a die in the middle of the table, the “Fortune” die. Successes are determined by rolling either a tie or higher than the Fortune die’s target number, while failures are anything rolled lower. Once you determine successes and failures you can play\draw cards with the successes and will need to discard anything left over with your failures. After that core mechanic the chaos ensues.
The rules of the game change based on what cards come into play in your lab and what other cards end up affecting those cards and the various players around the table. Once you get playing and start recognizing the capabilities of the various cards, players will notice that innumerable options are available for strategy in any given game. In fact, my favorite aspect of this game’s mechanics revolve around the fact that there are so many ways to go about winning because there are no more than two copies of each card in the deck, so the chances of a similar hand game-to-game is slim. Not to mention the constant changes to the Fortune die based on cards, or matching sets on the experiment dice (when matching sets occur the Online DM encourages screaming CHAOS!).
I’ve given a brief, incomplete, rundown of the rules but I want to talk a little bit about the design of this game. Considering its small print run and the fact that this is Michael’s first game, there was no holding him back from making a truly gorgeous product. The box is sturdy and small enough for easy travel, and I should know as it has been a traveling companion on roughly 6 business trips now.
On the cover you’ll be given your first taste of my favorite part of this game, the artwork. Michael really seems to have wanted his first game to shine, and shine it does. The cover illustration, as seen above, was done by Chris Rallis, with Logo work by Bree Heiss, and I find myself being drawn into whatever it is that holds that Alchemist’s gaze. The cards themselves are handled with expert care by Andres Canals, J. Embleton, Jane Falkenberg, Lana Gjovig, LochaBWS, J.J. Mason, and Beth Sobel. Each card maintains that air of mystery set forth by Rallis’ cover art and the images really lend to the game’s atmosphere. I’m not sure I can accurately state how much I love the art in this game.
Now, full disclosure. I was a play tester for Chaos and Alchemy, so it naturally holds a special place in my heart. Take note though that being a play tester did not grant me any special perks when it came time to put my money where my mouth is (though I know Michael likely wishes he could have afforded to hand us all a game) and I was the third person to pre-order this game because I loved it plenty and I paid full price. I would obviously encourage everyone to buy the game but I understand that you may wish to check things out a little beyond just my word alone. Well Michael has done something special for those who may wish to try a game or two before buying. If you go to his website right now you can download both the Rules PDF and a PDF version of the cards. Not to mention any number of other items to assist anyone who either owns the game or is interested in learning more, there is even a page dedicated to the artwork. The only thing not provided are free dice, somehow I think our readers already have a few spare d6’s lying around though.
So there you have it, you really don’t have much of an excuse not to at least try the game. If you like it, give an indie game designer some props with a positive rating on BoardGameGeek, or better yet put a little coin back in the man’s pocket and purchase it here. That way he can afford to bring us some more gaming gems in the future!