Alchemy Bazaar: A new game design begins

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably seen some mentions in the past week of a new game I’m working on. My first game, Chaos & Alchemy, has been very successful (by my standards) and is in the process of moving toward publication by Game Salute.

My second design, Gods & Champions, was my NaGaDeMon project this past November, but it ended up not exciting me all that much, and I set it aside.

My third design, which I’m tentatively calling Alchemy Bazaar for now, is rolling along and I’m starting to playtest the alpha version. As of this writing, I’ve run three playtest games, and each one was better than the last.

Alchemy Bazaar is shamelessly inspired by one of my favorite games of the past year, Lords of Waterdeep. I love worker placement games (Agricola is still my all-time favorite game), and I really liked the buildings in Lords of Waterdeep. So, I decided to make a game that essentially takes those buildings and makes a whole game out of them.

In addition to buying buildings and doing worker placement, I also wanted to have the placement of buildings matter, somewhat like Alhambra but not quite. I wanted the players to build a common board, and then be able to not just place their workers, but also to move them around.

How does it work?

The game progresses through a series of rounds, each of which has two phases.

In the first phase the players are landlords of the bazaar. Each player gets to choose from three available tiles (representing shops that want to set up in the bazaar) and puts one on the board. The player collects some coins from the shop proprietor, who is eager to get a spot in the bazaar.

In the second phase, players get to move their tokens around the board, shopping in the bazaar. They’re trying to collect reagents (gems, metal and spirits) to complete alchemical formulas (similar to Lords of Waterdeep quests), which will give them knowledge. The player with the most knowledge at the end of the game wins.

The part I’m experimenting with here is the placement/movement rules for “workers” (alchemists and their apprentices). You can start by putting your token anywhere you want and using that shop. Then, you may pay a coin to move to an adjacent shop and use it. Then, you may pay two coins to keep going, then three, and so on. In the next round, your token starts wherever it ended the last round, and you begin your shopping by moving to an adjacent tile, then paying to keep going if you like.

My expectations

Unlike Chaos & Alchemy, I didn’t sit down and immediately create the game as soon as I had the general notion. I noodled on this one for a while. When I did start to create it, I expected that it would more or less immediately break down in play because of all the moving parts (tiles, formulas, actions, four currencies, movement on the board, etc.). I expected that I’d try an aborted game with my wife, then fix the fundamental flaws, then try again in a week, etc.

Happily, that hasn’t been the case at all. Much like Chaos & Alchemy, this one has been fun from the start. It’s only been played three times to this point, but those are some very encouraging games. The most recent game involved me flagging down a couple of strangers at the local game store, playing a game with them, seeing them have a great time, and only after the fact learn that they’re not even board gamers. That’s a very encouraging development!

Interestingly, I’m finding out how much fun good game components can be. After my first game, I replaced the Lords of Waterdeep cubes I had been using with some cool beads to represent the reagents. After my second game, I printed the tiles onto sticker labels and put them on matte board to create actual tiles instead of the cardstock I had been using. Such an improvement!

Next steps

I haven’t yet gotten to try the game with my favorite playtester, and I’m sure he’ll have some great suggestions for me. Also, the Formula and Action cards haven’t gotten a whole lot of thought yet, and I’m sure I’ll be able to refine them to include more of the fun stuff. But so far so good!

Watch the blog for future updates. And who knows? Maybe I’ll have a second board game out in the wild before long!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

7 thoughts on “Alchemy Bazaar: A new game design begins

  1. I have to say, Alchemy Bazaar sounds awesome. It sounds like a brilliant combination of mechanics. I like how the proprietors pay you when you place the tiles–does location of the tiles matter for that payment (i.e., if you place near the center of the marketplace, you get paid more but sacrifice something else)? It’s probably not necessary, but I’m curious. Can you move a worker more than once a turn? Do the workers stay on the board after the initial placement? If you can pay for a worker to move to pretty much any tile, I’m wondering if that could lead to analysis paralysis. Even just with the ability to access adjacent tiles, that’s a lot of options. I like the idea of paying them to move, though–it’s a delicate balance.

    Really fascinating concept, and I’m glad to hear that it has tested well so far. I look forward to reading more about it!

    • Jamey – I’m glad you like what you see so far! And those are great questions.

      I’m not planning for the location of the shop in the bazaar to matter for the up front payment; proprietors are just happy to have a place at all. :-)

      Yes, you can move workers as many times per turn as you have money for, but once you decide to stop, that worker is done for the turn. And they do stay where they are, beginning the next round by moving to an adjacent tile.

      All moves are adjacent (orthogonal, not diagonal), so the number of choices is limited. Keep in mind that most tiles won’t have four neighbors, either, at least not at first. There are choices, but I haven’t seen anyone get overwhelmed yet.

      Also, I have what I think is a fun innovation on scoring that helps to limit analysis paralysis. More on that in a future post!

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      Michael the OnlineDM

      • Thanks Michael. That makes sense about the proprietors–that works really well thematically and mechanically.

        So if I move a worker twice, do I get the bonuses from each tile the worker stops on. Or is it a single payment for the worker to move two tiles over, and I get the bonus from the final tile?

        Now I’m really curious about this fun innovation on scoring. Looking forward to it!

        • Yes, each tile that your worker visits will give you the tile’s benefit (though each worker can only get each tile’s benefit once per turn – the same worker can’t bounce between two tiles, repeating actions). However, only the tile where the worker stops for the turn is “blocked” for other workers that round. So, there’s some strategy of deciding where to “camp” for the night to lock other players out.

          I’m glad to hear I’ve piqued your interest with the scoring. It’s an area that still needs more testing, but it’s been very good so far.

          • Cool, I like that “camp out” mechanic a lot. It’s interactive and strategic, but it also gives other players plenty of options. Does it block other players from routing workers through that tile at all, or do they just not get the bonus on their way through?

          • I’m glad you’re intrigued enough to ask detailed rules questions!

            If you enter a tile that’s being “camped” by another worker, you get to move out of it to an adjacent tile for free. So, you sort of pretend that tile doesn’t exist except as an extension of its neighbors.

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