For my birthday, we finally got Alchemists on the table. Or as we call it: Postdoc Simulator. We had 5 people, all of who are in, graduated from, or dropped out of PhD programs. So that everyone understood how the alchemical system worked and to learn about what experiments are useful to run, I set everyone else the task of figuring out all the elements in the demo while I reviewed the rules (because I had been too busy cleaning and cooking and playing Gloomhaven to do it earlier). Since Alchemists only takes 4 players, I teamed up with J, who had tried to be too clever and applied some CS thing and got a contradiction in her logic. I half played the game and half was making sure we were following the rules and half communicated with lots of pronouns and gestures to not give away information.
It says something about a game when it only teaches you half the actions before suggesting maybe you should play your first round before reading the rest of the rules. The actions available on the first round are actually fairly straightforward. There were chuckles at experimenting on naive freshmen and publishing with sketchy information.
Explaining how to sell to adventurers (see, we bid again for order, then there are these four levels you can sell at, and you don’t get to know the exact outcome of the potions, just some information the adventurer reports back…) and how to debunk a theory (to be honest, it’s easiest to just read the 8 item sequence out of the rulebook) was complicated. And most of the intricacies didn’t come up, but I still had to explain them so people weren’t caught off-guard.
And there was the question of when to introduce all the systems not mentioned during the first round. Oh, by the way, we’re competing for grants. Oh, yeah, high reputation affects selling potions to adventurers and amplifies reputation penalties. Oh, I should mention we’re going to a conference after the third and fifth rounds; make sure you’ve published by then. Oh, at the end of the sixth round, there’s an exhibition with yet another set of ways to earn prestige. Luckily, everyone was happy to treat this as a learning game. We actually stopped the game after the fifth round because it was getting late.
All in all, I had fun. People tried different strategies. There was fighting over turn order. We went from scatterings of uncertain information to racing to see who could publish/endorse everything. For S and I, it was great to poke fun at the academia life we left behind. For J, who’s halfway through her PhD and is having doubts, it was more, “To laugh that we may not weep.”