The potion mechanic is nice. For those who don’t know, most of the new cards in Alchemy have a money cost like any other action card, but also cost one potion; potions are a new kind of treasure card that you can buy for 4 coins. I like the fact that it makes these cards a little bit rarer unless you really build your deck to get them, because many of the Alchemy cards are fairly potent.
The core of the expansion is, of course, the new action cards. I got a chance to play with all but two of them (Vineyard and Herbalist) over the course of two games. I realized the potential of Alchemist a little too late, and my opponent really hammered me for it. Alchemist gives you bonus draws and actions, meaning that you can use it to chain long strings of actions and potentially go through your entire deck. What makes this card so potent is that, if you play at least one potion on the same turn that you play your Alchemists, all of those Alchemists go back on top of your deck. As you can imagine, this is an extremely effective strategy when your deck is built for it. I lost that game, largely because my opponent had more Alchemists than I had and was utilizing them more effectively.
The second game was a close one. I had an early lead because of all the Familiars I was snapping up. The Familiar is a +1 card, +1 action effect, but it’s also an attack that forces other players to take a curse. If you have a lot of Familiars, you can chain them together to force multiple curses, which is really nasty. At one point I played four of them in one turn, forcing my opponent to take four curses. The curse deck emptied pretty quickly, meaning that Familiar become somewhat less useful; the go-to replacement for it was Apothecary, a slightly cheaper card with the same card/action bonus, but that allows you to reveal the top four cards on your deck, take any potions or coppers, and put the rest back on top of your deck in any order. This was nice for getting more money and precious potions, and could have been extremely potent if it were in the same game as Alchemist.
Sadly, my early lead evaporated at the very end of the game because of one card combination that my opponent got a chance to use on me a few times. He played Throne Room (from Intrigue, which allows you to double the effect of the next card you play) on the new Possession card. Possession allows you to take your opponent’s turn for him, making his plays and gaining any cards he would have gained. You can’t cause any permanent harm to your opponent; trashed cards are simply set aside, then discarded at the end of your turn. Also, your opponent still gets a normal turn afterward. However, when combined with Throne Room, it means that my opponent was gaining more benefit from my cards than I was. This was particularly nasty because he kept on forcing me to draw and use my Philosopher’s Stones on his behalf. These are treasure cards that are worth 1 coin for every 5 cards in your deck and discard pile, and at that point I had close to thirty cards. He drew both of my Philosopher’s Stones in one turn, twice, meaning that two Provinces that I would have been able to buy, he bought instead. This, I think, is what clinched the game for him.
Overall, I really like Alchemy. My friend said, and I agree, that some of the cards (Possession, in particular) can really bog down games with more than two players, so it might be best used with only two. It does serve to make two-player games more interesting, though, and has cards that favor both thin, action-heavy decks and larger decks.