Review: Guild of Alchemists and University Course
Some time ago, I got a packet of games from Russia that I played and reviewed. The best of those games was Potion Making Practice. It was light, not too terribly random, and didn’t outstay its welcome. It was a great game for those who like the theme of being wizards, and I thought it could have easily been mass marketed with a Harry Potter theme.
University Course. In University Course, it’s time to move away from potion making “practice” and play with the big boys. In this expansion, you get a University deck that stays separate from the base game. On a player’s turn, they can draw from either stack of cards up to their hand limit. The game ends when all cards from both decks have been played.
University Course feels nearly identical to the base game. There are new items to create, sure, including a number of new talismans. But basically the game remains the same. Cards are still played to the Table of Elements. You still attempt to use those elements to build other cards in your hand. The cards from University are generally worth more points – except for the Elixir of Omnitude and Life Powder. They have lower point values, but they do something better. Each can be used to replace an Elixir or Powder required by a greater alchemy recipe, which helps to mitigate some of the luck.
What University Course lacks in new recipes, though, it more than makes up for in spells. There are tons of new spells to be used in this expansion. It includes the Spell of Creation, which lets you build any alchemy recipe for free (though without the points) to the Magic Vortex, which spits all ingredients from completed formulas back on the table. This adds in a new level of randomness that I’m kind of ambivalent about. On the one hand, I like that it gives more options. On the other, it’s just a little too random for my tastes.
Then there’s the Scruple of Conscience. Only one in the deck, but boy is it a pain. You simply give it to an opponent with more points and they lose five points. If that card comes out early, it can ensure a very low scoring game. If it comes out late, it’s basically a Kingmaker card. It adds in a weird level of spite – and one that doesn’t work so well mechanically – to a game that absolutely didn’t need it.
Overall: 2.5 of 5. University Course tries to do a number of interesting things. It adds in a lot of options with the spells, and I love the idea of the “wild cards” that can be used as any ingredient or component. Elementary Granium is a now available to take the place of any missing ingredient. But the expansion effectively doubles the length of the base game. This extends it beyond its welcome and the game can really drag. Especially if that spite card is out there. If you absolutely loved the base game, then this may be worth looking into. Otherwise, pass on it, but keep reading.
Guild of Alchemists. Do not despair, young potion makers! For Guild of Alchemists is here to bring you all things awesome. In Alchemists, another deck of cards is added and players can select cards from that deck as well. However, in addition to bringing new spells and components, it includes long chains to complete a “Magnum Opus” and create one of three philosopher’s stones. A completed opus ends the game early. Otherwise, it ends when both decks are depleted.
Creating a philosopher’s stone is not easy, but it is lucrative. And the most recent stage can’t be stolen from you. You have to make seven different items in succession (though not necessarily back to back) in order to finally claim the philosopher’s stone. This gives the players an interesting goal to work toward, and it feels like an epic quest line.
Best yet, the seven stages require items found in both the base deck and the Alchemists deck. This requires players to go searching through both stacks for the items that they need. Along the way, they will create other items as well. Creating precurser items can cause paranoia as other players may try to steal them away to stop your progress on the opus. But it provides a great source of points and a wonderful and thematic method of directing play.
The spells in the Alchemists Guild are all designed to help you toward your opus. Some very specifically, others are helpful whether you’re working on your opus or not. Other than trying to use someone else’s items to prevent them from building up their opus, the game does not add any additional spite. Plus, with three different opus paths, it’s not all that difficult to avoid the other players.
Overall: 4 of 5. Guild of Alchemists adds a little bit of playtime, but it also adds a little bit of awesome. All of the additions – especially the opus – are worth the increased playtime. Plus, with the completion of the opus ending the game, you do not necessarily have to run through both decks. This is an interesting and fun addition to the game that really helps to carry the theme. If you’re going to get an expansion for Potion Making Practice, this is the one to get.
(A special thanks to Right Games for providing a review copy of University Course and Guild of Alchemists)