"Feather of griffin and tongue of dragon mixed in a cauldron..."
Among the positive effects of the phenomenon of Magic: the Gathering, there is a renewal of interest from players and publishers for quick playing, amusing, and chaotic games. Elixir (which Mayfair promises for us in the next few weeks), has been available for 5 years in France. Its success (notably among Magic players), was enough to support three expansions. The German edition, Mixtur, was not very popular, confirming that German players (who already despised Tsasch, the German version of Knightmare Chess, and seem to have a dislike of chaos). It is likely that Elixir will fare better across the Atlantic, as has my chaotic game Democrazy.
A good measure of Cosmic Encounter, a drop of Magic and Wiz War, an ounce of Master Labyrinth, and a finger of Once Upon a Time to bind the lot together; behold the recipe of Elixir, stirred in an old copper pot, carefully watched over by small imps. There is nothing new under this moon, but the French witches (since this game is the child of the team of Sylvie Rodriguez—the author of Pass the Bomb) has great artwork and style. The potion here is much more successful: there is a required mix of humor and viciousness, with a hint of the perfume of the woods and an aftertaste of controlled delirium. In short, an excellent apéritif, with paws of grilled spider and some slices of snake to the concoction.
The rules are contained in two small pages, simple enough for your parents and your little sister, but possibly a bit beyond your black cat. The basic idea is very simple: each player must cast a certain number of spells, using one or more ingredients for each spell. Each player on his turn takes a find (a card—most of the finds are ingredients, but there are some magic objects and some trading cards), with the idea to use these to play one or more spells. The spells have various unusual effects, on both play, the the behavior of your opponent. The first player to have played all of his spells wins the game.
At the start of the game, each player chooses his hand of spells by taking spells of various strengths of 1-4. The strength of a spell represents the number of required ingredients needed for the spell and the power of its effect on the rules of the game. To vary the length of the game, players may choose to take 9,11 or 13 points worth of spells.
The spells of higher level are a lot more powerful. So one grain of lunacy, a sachet of gunpowder, a dose of pumpkin seed dye, and angels hair makes a Tornado. This allows you to trade hands with a player of your choice-including spells. These powerful enchantments are really hard to launch, because as soon as you gather two or three of the necessary ingredients, some fool comes along and redistributes the finds between all of the players, and you must start over. When you finally do unite all of the components for a powerful spell which will give you an advantage for the rest of the game, it is frequently your final spell so the game ends!
The spells of level 2 have limited or interesting effects only at certain points in the game.
The spells of level 1 have almost no impact on the game, but contribute greatly to the ambiance. For one drop of purple dew, you can make an opponent call you Master and be your servant until the end of the game; each time he breaks this rule, he must give you a find. These spells have almost no influence on the outcome of the game, but are very easy to cast, as the ingredients can be quickly acquired.
Experience shows that a moderate game, with several spells of level 2 and a few level 3 produces the most interesting and balanced game. No one can resist, however, taking a least a couple of level 1 spells.
After each player chooses his spells, each takes five finds and the game begins. On his turn, a player takes a find from the deck, then may cast spells, and play and special cards.
Bazaar of the Bizarre
Inevitably, each player ends up with several finds for which he has absolutely no use, and there are some completely useless objects like ham or a cup of coffee. Or he may have some ingredients, like the beard of an ogre of a dose of good mood, that are just not needed for any of his spells. When a trading card is played, all players have a chance to exchange some items in their hands, giving the game a touch of the feel of the game Pit. The rules for each exchange are different, sometimes working with one player as a broker, sometimes most like an open market. As there are the same number of spells using each ingredient, there is a very good chance an opponent needs your ingredient, and vice versa.
Magic Objects to Go
Some magic objects have no particular effect, and are quickly traded away. Some also attract malicious spells, like the ham which makes you the target of a couple of spells.Some others are very powerful like the Crumb Cleaner, which allows you to recover ingredients from a cast spell, or the Bell Whistle, whose horrible warbling cancels any other magic object.
A Dynamic Game
Even though the rules are so short, there are many more rules contained on the cards, and the first few plays will be slowed as players read the text contained on the cards and viewing the superb artwork. Once players begin to learn the cards, which do not really have that many types, the game plays extremely quickly, and takes many unexpected twists along the way. The spells, the magic objects, and the trading keep cards moving about, keeping a strong element of interaction-unlike many games which rely on collecting combinations.And in fact, some parts of Elixir appear unexpectedly, even to seasoned players. Victory is never certain, a player may end the game with completely different spells than he started with; he can redirect the effects of a spell onto another player, or see saved ingredients suddenly vanish from his hand. As the game is completely unpredictable, the game requires attention all of the time, to make sure that you have a chance to recover needed ingredients from another player's cast spell, or to address your "Master" correctly. And even when a player cannot do something useful on his own turn, he often has some sort of action he can perform on another player's turn.
Oh! The Girls are Gorgeous
In this game, the publishers have granted more attention to a player's aesthetic sense, and players immediately notice the wonderful illustrations. The illustrator, Bernard Bitler, knows how to show objects without losing a bit of his humor. The small fairies are full of charm—though personally I would have preferred them a little more full. They are depicted harvesting the purple dew, cutting the beards of ogres, and tickling the noses of trolls. I have heard rumor that some chaste veils will be thrown across their small buttocks and over their nipples for the American edition.
Comments from the Sorcerer's Apprentice
Elixir has its shortcomings of course: the simplicity of the mechanisms and the lack of variety of effects of the cards. The large number of spells affecting behavior can have a different effect that the desired one, and turn the game into torture: when one has to scratch his head while talking, begin all his sentences with "Saperlipopette!" (sort of like "Gadzooks!", but much more painful to say), speak of oneself in first person plural ("We are not amused"), and call the other players Nineve, Merlin, and Gargamel. Players may start to say nothing in fear of missing a rule and losing a find.I used this lesson when writing laws for Democrazy. Players usually wish and imagine more spells, new magic objects, and new ingredients like horn of unicorn or mandrake root, and regret that there are no blank cards included, as in Once Upon a Time, for making house variations.
Three expansion exists in France: Alembic, Mandrake, and Alchemy. The first expansion corrects some imbalances in the basic game, and adds several cancellation cards, as well as more variation. The other two expansions:
Mandrake, and Alchemy, only complicate the basic game without making it more interesting, and you can pass on them. Mayfair has not answered my emails, so I am unaware if any of the expansions are included in the American edition. It is possible, considering the rather high price it is retailing for, but they may be saving it for later, if the game is a success.
Note from Frank:
(The artwork for the Mayfair edition looks like they covered up the Fairies. I've still yet to see a card count, but the box size matches the combined edition (with the first two expansions) that Asmodee released last year. I've the original game, and the expansions, so as soon as I get a chance to pick up the new edition, I'll have some comparisons.)
- Bruno Faidutti