Slowly the gold is beginning to flocculate. At last it is done. After all the failures, this is the philosopher’s stone. Who would have thought it just needs a little more mercury. How much time have I spent foolishly trying to turn lead into gold? Yet the solution was so close, refining silver into gold is the right way. And I’ve done it! Maybe I should get a new name for myself. I, Isaac Newton, am simply the greatest. Ah well, with this insight I am not only twice as great as my comrades-in-arms, no I am the Trismegistus Alchemista – the three times greatest alchemist of my time!
Trismegistus is the new game by Daniele Tascini and Federico Pierlorenzi. Like Teotihuacan, this board game is published by Board & Dice. I wonder if the game in which we try our hand at being alchemists will have the same level of difficulty as the game about the Aztecs? Will we really manage to produce gold in Trismegistus, so that we have a good source of income for our board game hobby in the future? We would like to explain this to you in our review of this challenging board game.
Have fun reading!
Trismegistus – the three times greatest
The god figure of Hermes Trismegistus was a fusion of the Egyptian god Thot and the Greek god Hermes. His name Trismegistus in English – comes from the fact that this figure “…was at the same time the greatest of the philosophers, the greatest priest and the greatest king.”
And what does this have to do with the board game of the same name? Very simple: For a long time, this very figure was considered the author of the Hermetic Writings. In these writings were also written about alchemy and this is exactly what the latest board game by Daniele Tascini and Federico Pierlorenzi is about.
The laws of nature are simply put aside and the transmutation of different elements works without problems. A little essence here and a basic element there and lead becomes iron without any problems. Of course, in the end I can produce gold and all this without nuclear fusion in my home laboratory.
Daniele Tascini the Lord of the Dice
You can assume that Daniele Tascini has a preference for dice. This is also the case with Trismegistus. But this time the dice are everything. While they were still used as currency in Marco Polo, Teotihuacan uses workers with experience. In Trismegistus, however, the dice have a more complex twist.
A die not only stands for how many actions I can perform. A die also represents which elements I can collect, which essences I can get, which transmutations I can perform. Oh yes, and not to forget which experiments I can do and which artifacts I can buy.
This not only sounds complex, it is complex. The complexity simply comes from the fact that the selection of a die must be well thought out. Simply taking a die is not the way to get victory points. Because, as already mentioned, a die stands for different action possibilities. And that’s why I have to think carefully about which die I choose.
The number of dice indicates how many actions I can do per round. So it sounds simple: I take the die from the pool that has the largest number of dice. However, this may prevent me from doing more actions. Because if there are only black or white dice in this pool, I cannot perform red transmutations. And just as well red artifacts are no longer available for me. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Thinking until the doctor comes?
Of course, this can already outmaneuver you in your thoughts. However, this is not really the case, because I am not concentrating on what I can do. My thoughts are in the here and now. And like in any good Euro-Game it’s all about winning points. I get these victory points through experiments that I can and should do. At the beginning the experiments are quite simple and need few resources, but they also bring in less victory points, while I can get more points at the end with the difficult experiments.
However, they also require me to have more expertise. This expertise is reflected in my ability to master the four elements. In earth, fire, water and air it depends on my level of knowledge whether I can complete an experiment or not. A further interlocking that must be considered. But it can also be a popular stumbling block. Especially in the first few games I put my thoughts more on the materials to be procured and not on mastering the corresponding skill. That became my downfall at the end of the game, because now there were no more experiments that had a low skill level.
So valuable actions were wasted, in which I desperately tried to make progress on the corresponding track. This shows: Trismegistus is not a board game for casual play. I have to plan my actions in a highly concentrated way and always be aware of what I actually want to achieve.
But that also makes it difficult to put the game on the table just like that. I have to explain to newcomers exactly how the individual elements of the game interlock strongly. And often enough, new players lose touch. “Oh, I missed that,” or “Shit, I can’t do it with that dice,” are heard often enough at the table. On the other hand, the game offers a tremendous amount of excitement once I understand how the game wants to be played.
Trismegistus and the rules
But it took a while before we were able to play Trismegistus. That was because of two things. On the one hand, there are the rules. No question, Trismegistus is explained to you somehow, but it took me two attempts to understand it. But the actual game is not very difficult. Want a little example? When it’s my turn, I make an action. Then it’s the next player’s turn and so on. However, this is not clearly stated in the rules, because after the explanation of a player’s turn and what he does at the end, the explanation for the end of the actual round comes immediately, when all players have made their turns. This does not really seem comprehensible when reading the rules.
Furthermore, in my view, the rules are not logically structured. In the first section all steps of a turn are explained, but the actual actions and what they do are only explained in the second part. So I constantly flipped back and forth while learning Trismegistus. And at the end of reading and learning I had understood the game mechanics, but there was still the big question about the why. Why do I do the transmutations? What do I need essences for and how is it all connected? Only the explanation at the end of the rules, for which there are all victory points, gave me the insight how all the interlockings are connected.
Therefore I can only give you the hint when you explain the game to other players: At the beginning, just explain to them what the Victory Points are for at the end, then you can always come back to it during the explanation.
Trismegistus and the graphic
Another barrier is the graphical presentation of Trismegistus. And this is also the next criticism of the board game. Although I get all the information I need graphically explained and that helps me to play the game, this information is only useful after I have played the game a few times. Until then the symbols on the board and on the help cards are just nice gimmicks and have no added value. Especially the game help cards are actually unnecessary. In the beginning I can’t do anything with the symbols and after some games I don’t need them anymore because I know how the game works.
Also with the dice symbols Board & Dice has allowed itself from my view a rough mistake. While 4 of the 6 symbols are well distinguishable, this is not the case with two of them. These are simply too similar. These are the planetary symbols for Jupiter and Ceres and if you don’t know how they belong around, confusion is easy. Too often it happened that the symbols were in the wrong dice pool, which makes a big difference, especially in a game like Trismegistus.
All in all, from my point of view, chances to make Trismegistus more accessible were clearly thrown away.
Which Daniele Tascini would you like?
For me, Trismegistus has a lot of potential after I took the trouble to fight my way through the rules and play a few games. It wasn’t love at first sight, but over time it developed into a nice fling.
But with an author like Daniele Tascini I have to look at his other board games as well. And there are definitely other games that I prefer to pull out of the shelf. But Teotihuacan is not one of them. The game just couldn’t convince me.
At the moment I would either go for a Tzolk’in or a Marco Polo II. – Marco Polo II in particular has revived the old passion for Marco Polo. – Both games are just as complex as Trismegistus, but play more pleasantly and go more smoothly, even with new players at the table. I don’t have to pay attention to many interlocks, as is the case with Trismegistus. This is of course what distinguishes the expert games from the game for experts.
I also liked the thematic embedding of the alchemy. At first I thought that the theme was just put on, which it is in some game areas. Here the Philosopher’s Stone is mentioned, where I can unlock instant effects and various bonuses by filling in columns and rows with game pieces. But the rest of the game fits perfectly into the overall alchemical concept. The color of the cube which defines the transmutation is just an example.
So Trismegistus, like many games these days, leaves me quite divided. On the one hand, there is a quite accessible expert game with beautiful interlocking, where really everything works together. This is something that makes it better for me in this aspect than a Crystal Palace.
On the other hand, the entrance level for new players at the table is as high as with Black Angel. Which makes it difficult for me to just bring the game to the table where there are new players who don’t know the game. And especially in the expert games for 2, Jasmin and I have enough other games that want to be played. So Trismegistus will definitely end up on the table a few more times, but I don’t think it will fascinate me in the long run.