This is a game with a lot of moving parts and where players have a lot to take in. It's full title is Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula and it's a game about alchemy: the experimentation and transmutation of materials, as quacks and even greatly esteemed scientists like Isaac Newton sought the means of turning base metals into gold. Publishers Board&Dice could've given the game a more readily pronounceable name, but the awkwardness of the Trismegistus' title does at least give a hint at the complexities that players will have to get to grips with in keeping track of the various symbols and icons they're going to encounter.
Designed by Federico Pierlorenzi and Daniele Tascini, the core game play for Trismegistus is relatively straightforward. In each of three rounds, a bunch of custom six-sided dice are rolled and they are placed out to 'bowls' printed on the main board according to the alchemical symbol that comes up on top. Players choose a die and place it on their action track. Where it is placed, and so the number of actions it gives, depends on how many die there were in the bowl it was drawn from; so if you draft a die from a bowl with three in it, you'll get three actions. There are red, white and black dice; all have exactly the same set of symbols but the colour of the die affects the actions that you can take (so, for example, if you draft a red die, you can only take a transmutation action along a red track on your individual board and you can only acquire artefact cards in the red area on the central board).
Despite the fact that you start with a collective dice roll, Trismegistus is very firmly a strategy game where you will be constantly trying to balance resource acquisition and transmutation to create the chain of actions and reactions needed to generate points. To transmute an unrefined resource, you'll need to move it along a track that's either red, black or white (tho' in one of several perverse design choices, the board shows the white track in grey). You also need to spend an essence - essentially a catalyst for the process. Whenever you use each of the different essences, you move up a track for that essence. This can ultimately earn points but, most immediately important, it's the level you are at on the track that permits you to complete an experiment card. This will both earn points and give a return of either resources or further track advancement, and the first experiment you complete in each of four colours unlocks a tile that gives you an extra bonus, plus the possibility of further bonuses depending on how you place it in your 'vault' (a grid on your individual board). All of this means that you can use an action to set off what feels like a chain reaction: very satisfying when you are able to pull it off.
There are secret objective cards that can be initially hard to trigger but which can ultimately rack up a huge number of points at the end of the game. There are also two opportunities per round to take extra actions out of turn as a 'reaction' to another player's action. This helps to keep players attentive on opponents' turns; an important consideration in a game with otherwise little player interaction. You may well find the rules on the reactions unduly fiddly, however. We are more used to similar devices in games where players can spend a token to exactly copy another player's action, which feels more intuitive. Expect to have to refer to the rulebook to clarify what precisely you are permitted to do by way of 'reaction', in relation to what colour and symbol...
The symbols used in Trismegistus and art by Pawel Niziolek and Paulina Wach doubtless add to the theme and atmospherics of the game but the iconography doesn't help its accessibility. Even after multiple plays, you can still find yourself muddled by the hard-to-recognise and, in some cases, vaguely similar symbols, and the sheer number of moving parts may make this game seem heavier and more difficult than it is.
We liked the asymmetry of the player boards and tiles, and we applaud the suggested starting selection for your first plays: without this, the pre-game choices could otherwise appear overwhelming. It's always good to see double-layer player boards and the special tiles you earn when completing experiments are beautifully produced - each bearing on one side the image of the real-life alchemist that you are playing. On the other hand we were disappointed with some aspects of the production. On the tiles, grey is meant to signify that it can be applied to any colour track, yet, as we observed, the white track on player boards is coloured grey rather than white. The areas on the board where completed experiments are placed should match up with the colours of the experiment cards but the area for red cards is pink and there is a yellow area for cards that are coloured black. We would've liked to have seen the glossary page at the back of the rulebook reproduced for each player. We certainly recommend that you print off copies of this page so that everyone has a copy to hand; you'll find it helps to speed up play. There is a player aid card but we found it conflicted with the icons on the main board.
Trismegistus isn't a game that's going to appeal to everyone. For some, it will seem too daunting. If, however, you like a challenging engine-building point scorer where you can focus on your own actions without having to worry unduly about opponents throwing a spanner in the works, then Trismegistus could prove to be your Philosopher's Stone! And, as you might guess from our account, it's a game that readily lends itself to solitaire play - with a solo module included that's been designed by David Turczi and Nick Shaw.