Full disclosure: A preview copy of Animalchemists was provided by CardLords. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
So soon after Gen Con, I know, but there are Kickstarters to launch. Two, this week, which is kind of interesting; I’m surprised they’re launching so close to Gen Con, personally; I feel like I’d almost wait until September to launch something. But also I know literally nothing about Kickstarter marketing, so I’m just kind of rambling to fill space. None of that has anything to do with Animalchemists, so let’s try to stay on task and dig into that.
In Animalchemists, you are, well … those. Masters of your craft, you seek to gather ingredients, brew potions, and combine them to perform fantastic spells and cement your place as the greatest of all. Naturally, your opponents want to do the same, so be careful; as you’d imagine, the potion labeled “Poison” isn’t exactly safe. Will you be able to create your perfect concoction? Or will it all end up blowing up in your (being honest, cute, since, animals) face?
Not much to do here. Give everyone a Character or let them choose one:
Shuffle the Ingredients and make a row of five:
Set out the stacks of Potions in a row below the Ingredients:
Shuffle the Spells, but place the Time Stop spell on the bottom of the deck. Then, reveal five, forming another row below the Potions:
Once you’ve done that, you’re basically done! Look at the bottom card of the Ingredient deck; the player whose Character card favors that resource goes first.
The core game is pretty similar to games we’ve covered in the past like Splendor or Triumphus, which is that kinda-cyclical market game. Your goal is to craft and cast valuable spells while preventing your opponents from doing the same in order to prove your worth as a powerful wizard. You also want to do that in the game. Unlike many games, this game does end immediately when Time Stop is crafted, and the player with the most points wins!
On your turn, you may do one of the following actions:
You may take two ingredients and add them to your hand. Ingredients are kept private. Note that you may take the top card of the Ingredient Deck, if you’d like, in lieu of taking any Ingredient from the row. Unused ingredients in your hand at the end of the game are worth points.
Brewing Potions is much simpler than some other games makes it look; discard the two required ingredients and take the potion from the stack. Potions are single-use and finite, so if you run out of potions in a stack nobody else can get potions of that type. Unused potions are also worth points at the end of the game, though.
Prepare a Spell
You may consume some combination of potions and ingredients to prepare a spell. When you do, take the spell card from the row and place it in front of you. You may immediately cast the spell or hold off and cast the spell later; it’s worth the same number of points either way. Even if you don’t cast the spell, the number of points it’s worth doesn’t change.
You may also do a bonus action on your turn, Cast a Spell, as many times as you’d like. Your Character’s ability counts as a spell, for gameplay purposes, so you may use that exactly once, as well. When you cast a spell, flip it over and resolve its effect. Its point value doesn’t change; it just can only be used once.
End of Game
The game ends immediately after a player prepares the Time Stop spell. No other effects, the game’s just over. Calculate your score:
- Ingredients in Hand: 1 point each
- Unused Potions: 3 points each
- Spells: 5 / 7 / 10 / 15 points each
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not really anything particularly measurable, in my opinion. The thing you’ll most likely notice is that Spells and Potions tend to go faster since there are more players grabbing them. That’s generally bad for Potions (might burn through the whole supply) but good for Spells (gives you more opportunities to gain higher-value spells). Personally, I haven’t found the game to have much of a catch-up mechanic, so I have a slight preference for it at two players since it’s a bit harder to spread points around as aggressively. It’s a very minor preference, though.
- Remember what spells have been taken. A lot of spells require certain combinations of potions, but each combination is unique. If you see a spell with a specific combination get taken, that combination is not coming up again. Remember that so you don’t end up with useless potions stuck in your inventory (even if they’re worth points).
- 5-point spells have pretty good effects, but they’re not particularly valuable. One potion can get you a 5-point spell, but two potions can get you a 15-point spell. That’s, for those of you keeping score at home, strictly more valuable, so try to see if you can lock those down. In the games I’ve played, it’s been a lot harder to catch up once a player has a lot more points, so if you can break away from the pack with high-value spells, you have pretty good odds of being able to take the whole game.
- Remember it takes time to get everything. Generally, from scratch, it’s going to take you 3 turns to get a 5-point spell, 4 turns to get a 10-point spell, and 5 turns to get a 15-point spell (including the turn where you actually claim it). It’s worth thinking about how your points-per-turn engine is going to work out if you do that sort of thing.
- Keep an eye on what your opponents have. Because of that required delay, you can also hold out on certain potions until your opponents actually threaten you. If you want to make the Red-Green potion spell and your opponents do not have red or green potions, you’re actually in pretty good shape. If you see that one of your opponents has a red potion and just crafted a green potion as well, well, it’s time to get that spell on your next turn. Plus, then you saddle them with a bunch of potions that are hopefully less valuable.
- Towards the mid-end of the game, I try to keep one of each ingredient in my hand. I mostly do this so that if Time Stop is suddenly revealed, I can swoop it up on my turn and end the game. That said, Time Stop isn’t especially valuable; it’s only a 2-point bonus on top of your other cards (since five ingredients on their own are worth 5 points). If you feel pretty confident about your lead, it may be worth picking up potions and eschewing the Time Stop spell altogether (especially if you can get another potion out of the deal). I just like having the ability to end the game on my terms.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Fantastic art. I mean, it’s magical animals; if you like animals at all you’re probably going to appreciate this art, especially the Spell cards. They’re really pleasant, and Anastas Ermolina did a really good job. It’s very colorful and upbeat, but set against a nice dark background (my personal favorite, even if it makes it challenging for me to photograph it).
- Plays pretty quickly. I’m not sure where they’re getting 10 minutes from, but, hey, it usually doesn’t take more than 20. I’d clock it right around 15, if you asked me, but … yeah.
- Not too difficult to learn. It’s a pretty simple market game. Spend 1 to buy 2, spend 2 to buy 3. I appreciate games that are pretty simple to learn; makes them easier to get played.
- Portable. I mean, it’s essentially a pretty big stack of cards; it’s not like you can’t just throw it in a bag or quiver and take it on the go. I assume, given how it’s sent to me, it’ll probably come with a deckbox of some kind for easy transport, which I also appreciate.
- The resource economy isn’t that complicated, either. Like I said, 1 -> 2 -> 3. There’s not even the complex part of Splendor where there’s actually engine-building; you just collect more and more of something until you can buy it. And even if you don’t use it; it’s still worth points down the line, which is also very good for you. It’s just worth a whole lot more points if you spend one level on the next level.
- Point values should be printed on the cards in decently large sizes. Put a 1 on Ingredients, a 3 on Potions, even a 0 on the back would be helpful. On the spells themselves, up the font size so that they’re readable from a distance. It’s easy enough to remember, but it’s something that’s easy to forget your first game. Would definitely have helped us.
- Not a ton in the way of a catch-up mechanism. If you’re behind the 8-ball, I don’t see many options for you to get out from there. The game is thankfully quick enough that it’s not a huge deal, but it still matters somewhat; nobody likes to be trapped by one poor decision, and it feels like the game would be improved by having some sort of way for players to catch up to the leader.
- Feels a bit too refined, if such a thing is possible? It’s streamlined, but I worry that there’s not enough variance to keep the game consistently interesting for everyone. It’s possible that there will be things added in the stretch goals to mix it up a bit, and the core game is solid, but I think after playing things like Splendor I’d like to see some engine-building to this rather than a strict market. That said, it does cycle more fluidly and effectively than, say, Triumphus, since you can use the spell cards for something beyond just drawing more ingredients. That makes the game feel a bit more engaging, for me.
Overall: 6.75 / 10
Overall, I think Animalchemists is fun! There are a few things that give me pause, sure, but I think it’s just a bit simpler of a game than what I’m looking for, right now. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but I think for my personal taste it seems to be caught between a light game and a filler game without a real desire to commit to either. This means you’re getting some filler game elements, like portability, quick gameplay, and low complexity, but you’re also getting a game that lasts a bit longer than you’d expect from its weight and cognitive overhead. There are some people who will like that, and that’s totally fine; I think that the art will also help smooth that over a bit, because it’s an absolutely beautiful game. Just, for me, I’d like it to either run faster or have a bit more engine-building or something going on to keep me engaged for longer. It might be that the potions cause the game to run a bit longer, and that’s about where it starts to slow down, for me? Unclear. I made a similar comparison to Triumphus, which has a two-stage market rather than a three-stage market. Its cycle is simpler, but it also moves a bit faster as a result. I didn’t care much for it either, but I think a simpler cycle may help Animalchemists target that filler-level game, if that’s what they’re going for. If not, some extra variability, maybe by way of events or challenges or non-single-use player powers might be things to help bolster the gameplay up to a light strategy level. I’d just like to see it commit one way or another. That said, I have enjoyed playing it, so if you’re looking for a quick game with fantastic art and magical animals, Animalchemists might be up your alley, too!