Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula Review

Trismegistus the ultimate formula board game review.jpg

It’s come to my attention just how much of an abstract term ‘heavy’ is. It’s weird how we measure a game’s complexity in terms of mass. A simple game that we consider suitable for anyone is deemed as being light, whilst a complex game that involves many layers of rules and deep decision making is considered heavy. I’m reminded of when you drink a nice dark beer and we describe it as ‘chewy’, because if Trismegistus was a beer it would be dark, complex and very very chewy.

In Trismegistus you play a master of alchemy, as you transmute elements from their basest forms to more complex elements, all in the aid of brewing potions and publishing papers. It’s a game by Daniele Tascini and if you are aware of Tzolkin and Teotihuacan (I swear it's his life’s goal to make unspellable board game names beginning with T) many aspects of the game may be familiar. You’ll be transmuting elements and heading up temple tracks, sorry mastery tracks, in order to brew the biggest and best potions.

To do this you’ll be grabbing dice from a common pool to take actions. The dice have five symbols (the sixth is a wild card) and three colours, and the combination of symbol and colour will restrict how your actions can be used.  Furthermore, the amount of actions you can take with the die are limited by the size of the pool you drew it from, so as the pool is depleted throughout the round, you’ll get less and less potency, and therefore usefulness, from the die.

Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula Review

This dice drafting is the core of the game and it’s beautiful in both its originality and frustration inducing complexity. In order to brew the biggest and bestest potions, you’ll need to be thinking one or two dice ahead, as each die colour and face combination can only achieve certain tasks. Each dice can potentially be used to complete at most five actions and you only draw three dice a round so these actions must be used economically.  What’s more there are only three rounds in the game, so it doesn’t take long for the end of the game to come around.

It’s this dice drafting that causes Trismegistus’ noodle baking complexity but once you get your head around it, you realise the concept works and the complexity is in the efficiency of your decisions. The problem is everything else around it often feels like an unnecessary faff.

To explain every mechanic in Trismegistus will take all day, but suffice to say there is a layer of paraphernalia that surrounds the game’s core mechanics. Artifacts give you bonuses when you transmute, papers give you extra ways to score points, and the philosopher's stone gives you opportunities to get more bonuses and resources. Each one on its own isn’t too much to get your head around, but add them all to the mix and they often feel like one mechanic too many. It’s a problem made worse because you really need to utilise all these extra features in order to get ahead, and the winner is going to be the player who uses these extras efficiently.

Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula Review dice pool

This complexity isn’t helped by a poorly laid out rulebook and some questionable design decisions. It’s not a useless rulebook, it just has certain rules in nonsensical places, and some of the turns of phrase are a little odd. It makes a difficult game to learn even more difficult. Things aren’t helped by player aids that really need their own additional aid to decipher and the fact that colours don’t match across the board; red cards are placed behind the red section, blue cards behind the blue section and black cards behind the...pink section?

In reality these are annoyances that come up while learning the game, and not something that’s going to be an issues game after game. It’s odd really, because for everything that Trismegistus does really well, there’s another aspect that is done badly. 

It’s stand out elements are the way the game gives you a starter potion and an expert potion right from the start, two goals to set you on your path and give you some semblance of a strategy to aim for.  The importance of that expert level potion cannot be understated, because it’s easy to lose track of what you need to do in Trismegistus, it's easy to make a mistake and be left reeling by your poor decision.

There’s no denying this is a complicated puzzle, where each move needs to be carefully considered. It means that the game can slow down, as you wait for players to consider their actions and options, and try to get everything lined up in advance. The game involves players, heads cradled in their hands, mulling over every option and glancing occasionally at the main board. There’s no need to keep an eye on other players, however, because even though Trismegistus can cope with between 1 and 4 players, their actions rarely impact your own.

Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula Review player board

Much like Trismegistus’s rulebook, this review has been meandering and unstructured, mainly because, much like the game itself, my thoughts on Trismegistus are complex and difficult to convey. Every time I play, an extra element of the systems within clicks into place, I learn something else and become more familiar with the game and enjoy the solving of the puzzle even more.  It’s a game that both requires and rewards repeat plays, a complex system that cannot be learnt in a single game, but picks at your brain between sessions. But you can’t help but feel that there’s one mechanism too many, that often there’s just a little bit too much to consider, and that with a little bit of pruning a great game could have been an amazing game.

Trismegistus is a heavy game that often feels like it is adding complexity for complexity’s sake, but if you can get past its fiddly systems and impenetrable rulebook there’s a deep and rewarding game for you.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher. 
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