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Subject: Lets Talk About... Alchemists (A Strategy Discussion Series) rss

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Steve Haas
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Following the success of the previous installment on Acolytes, its time to move on to the 2nd faction in alphabetical order.

---

In this thread, we're discussing Alchemists. As some questions to shape the discussion:

* Under what game circumstances are Alchemists good/bad? When do you look to play them? When should you avoid them?
* What sorts of strategies/approaches do you find effective when playing Alchemists? What problems have you had that you haven't figured out how to solve?
* What things should one be aware of when playing *against* Alchemists? How does their presence/absence affect what other decisions you might make?
* What other questions do you have about Alchemists? Is there anything you'd like to see more experienced players discuss about them?

Linking to (completed!) games where Alchemists did notably well (or poorly) for purposes of discussion is encouraged, as is referring to any existing threads/posts/other strategy resources you may have found useful or interesting with regards to playing Alchemists.
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Steve Haas
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No discussion about Alchemists would be complete without referencing CTKShadow's seminal post on the faction, so lets get that out of the way.
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George Sprockitz
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Bonuses: The non TP scoring bonuses (6,9,10) are crucial...ideally want all 3, minimum of 2 to even consider them. You want a minimum of 2 shipping by round 3 and should be ending every round from 3 out with ~7 dwellings and at least 1 of SA/SH. Getting these bonuses on 3 of the last 4 rounds (if not all 4) is key...even starting R2 they can yield nice dividends.

Opening: Temple opening all the way, usually for fav11. and a couple dwellings. Work on shipping to black hexes, setting up the town spots. Convert VP to coins liberally.

Round scoring: R2 or 3 dwellings (get shipping up and build several D's). R4 spades is good (usually means halflings are also in the game but can still work). Late TP scoring (pref 6) but none in the mid-game (rounds 3-4). Round 6 is quite good for TPs since you don't need to keep them on the board. Middle round SA/SH bonus is solid. Late town scoring is solid as you should have no problem getting 3 towns and can time at least 2 of them to this round.
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Manpanzee
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Enough has been said about the "FAV11 + FAV10 + spam VP coinversions" build. It's quite good. But I think that the SH opening doesn't get as much respect as it should.

The really nice thing about the SH opening is how well it enables the shipping start, specifically by paying for a 5pw priest conversion. Alchemists starting BON6 + ACT2 + SH can buy a second priest to go straight to 2x shipping, and they should have enough leech to buy at least one extra worker as well. This means a 4D + SH opening, which provides a very strong and balanced economy to work off of.

However, lack of FAV11 combined with initial 6c income means that this approach demands a very different playstyle than the other common build. Going this route, you'd like to be able to stop doing VP coinversions by Round 4. Midgame TP scoring is thus much more interesting than it tends to be for the TE opening. You can actually think about milking a 17c income for the last couple rounds and just converting those excess resources to VPs. An attractive scoring setup might be D, TE, TP, TP, SA/SH, SA/SH -- which probably isn't the sort of thing people think about when considering Alchemists.

I think Alchemists are an above-average faction, and they've done well in the games I've seen them played. However, I also notice that people miss important opportunities to disrupt them. This may be because people don't see Alchemists in action often enough to properly recognize the need to attack them. There are two main things to think about:

1. Alchemists can be neutered significantly by attacking their shipping. Assuming a black dwelling on E5, the easiest thing that could be done is a blue faction prioritizing taking C1. A much more aggressive and disruptive option is brown digging out B3. This is plausible if gray is in the game and brown can count on getting adjacency up there eventually. Cutting off B5 early should also be a priority, with a variety of factions capable of achieving that.

2. Contest ACT2 early in Round 1. If Alchemists are in the game and you think you might want ACT2, I'd place a very high priority on it.
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Tammy Carver
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CTKShadow is a top player, and he is only trying to help, but his last 5 games with Alchemists , he came 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 5th. Not a great selling point for his Alchemist posts.
 
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James Ataei
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chiohsmum1 wrote:
CTKShadow is a top player, and he is only trying to help, but his last 5 games with Alchemists , he came 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 5th. Not a great selling point for his Alchemist posts.


To be fair, those games were all on the F&I map. It's a bit of a difference from the Original map and probably requires a slightly different strategy. Also, did you see the competition for those games? For, the 3p game with me, he wasn't even paying attention because it was a chat room game.
 
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V Vendetta
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If a top 20 player doesn't know what he is talking about, then who knows how to play?

I don't think there's much to be gained in this line of thought.
 
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Steve Haas
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Respectfully: I don't think there's much value in debating CTKShadow's merits as a player. Part of the point of this thread is to discuss strategies, not "to state the one and only strategy that can possibly work". It was always my hope that people would show things they tried even if they didn't work, or share their speculation about things that might be worth trying, and so forth.

So: if you don't think CTKShadow's strategy is good, explain why. If there's some alternative you like better, tell us what it is. And, conversely, if you *do* find that CTKShadow's strategy works, it would be interesting to hear your experiences with that, as well. The discussion will be more interesting and probably generate more and better ideas if we acknowledge that good ideas can come from anywhere and discuss them on their merits rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks.
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V Vendetta
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Anyway... As far as I know his strategy works and I'm not sure what his last 5 games would demonstrate.

What I was going to comment about before reading that comment above is what and when do people think about using FAV7, 8 or 6 as Alchemists? I've seen some people use FAV7 when the game has only one D round scoring or when doing a 2TE start (or when the SH start makes them lose FAV11). And I'd also be curious to know if there are any strategies that focus on converting coins into points in the end of the game. I've tried (and failed) many times trying to come up with such a thing, and, let's say that at most I scored ~14 points (against AI) and that is kinda underwhelming since you end up having to build basically only up for that to function even remotely even when all sources of coins and power are used for that purpose. You climb relatively higher in the cults, but the more usual approach (AKA, CTKShadow's one) seems a lot more successful and easier to do. As far as I'm aware making ~30 points from coins (competitively) is sadly not possible, but I'd love hearing otherwise - I want to believe! wow goo

FAV7 with SH and double dig upgrades grants quite a bit of power for Alchemists by itself.

Some games with FAV7 (and 11) taken:
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Player4Faction02
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Aanaar35

Some games with FAV7 without FAV11:
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Jan304
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Jan247
https://terra.snellman.net/game/RigelSectorP3G147 (Granted, this is 3p)

I'm not sure if this is a circumstantial approach or if it has more merits. The (admittedly very small for 6,7,8) sample of best players playing Alchemists does have basically the same margin and VPs by taking FAV11, 8, 7 and 6 - even if, obviously, FAVs 6, 7, 8 have higher deviation from the average. FAV8, at the very least "feels like" something that could be more extensively tested (since Alchemists have very poor power cycling without spade upgrades, it could, at least from a theoretical standpoint, give the players more tempo flexibility without requiring the timing of the digs to cycle power and allow actions in more acceptable controllable fashion) - I'll be ther first to admit the evidence is weak, but I feel like pushing for more knowledge is always valid...

Now, I'm sure FAV11 is more consistent than most other FAVs, but... I'm more interested in seeing alternatives to FAV11, and I'm not convinced none of them would work, even if circumstances would need to be specific and more nuanced. It seems like CTKShadow's post covers all of what can be said about all involving FAV11 + 10 + (12 or 5 or something) and Alchemists, but it leaves the "is that it?" feel. I just never heard anyone ever giving me an argument besides "FAV11 gives most of the VP to keep the engine going and you are building a lot of Ds", which I can understand and is logical. I am sure FAV11+10+12 is going to continue being the favorite path on average.
 
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Ryan Feathers
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VeteranVandal wrote:
As far as I'm aware making ~30 points from coins is sadly not possible, but I'd love hearing otherwise.


I think it would be possible if that was your goal--it just wouldn't be a competitive option. But I don't think it is that hard to imagine a scenario where someone if they really focused on it could be ending R3 with a SH and most of their TP's on the board, so you could just collect your coins and power, turn them into more coins, and finish with 60+ coins for points.

The obvious issue is that's just a really poor way to win. I do not believe there is any winning strategy that involves making heavy use of the coins to vp conversion.


My very first game of Terra Mystica ever I wound up playing Alchemists, and I too thought their real ability maybe was to convert coins to vp at the end of the game, especially as they had ways to produce lots of coins! I did alright in that first game and tried it a bit more as I was learning. It quickly became apparent though that the real limiting resource in Terra Mystica is coins, and one almost never can have too many. So I slowly came to realize that victory point to coins ability was the real strength of the faction.

I too consider CTK's guide on Alchemists to be the needed insight into figuring out how to play Alchemists in a competitive way in top level games. In particular the key realization that Alchemists real strength was that they could achieve crazy economies and just needed good ways to turn that into points. Ever since then my Alchemists games have gone better, although I still find them one of the hardest factions to play well. But they also are in my opinion one of the most fun since they play in one of the most unique ways as you get to build and run your stuff in such different ways than most factions can hope to.

I am a bit more a fan of the SH+TE opener than I probably should be, but when it works it can be really nice. I've come to realize though it's really only good when you can ensure you are getting spades from the SH power, and in top level games that is really unlikely as the competition for Act6 in particular is pretty fierce. I did have a pretty nice Alchemists game in the FI ladder where that all worked out for me though I got to open SH and TE along with the needed Bon 6, Act3, and Act6 to make it all pay off. It probably was my best Alchemists game, but it was significantly aided by the fact that someone dropped out early so it gets a huge asterisk: https://terra.snellman.net/game/FireIceLadderW5G8

As I have been playing more and more live games on BGA, I also have been taking a liking to Alchemists in more and more set ups, although I still don't get to play them all that often as Darklings are still picked pretty frequently ahead of me. Given most BGA games are using the VP offsets though, I believe there are many more set ups where Alchemists can be competitive now and that they are really underpicked there. You get 12VP for taking the Alchemists over the Darklings now and you're getting quite a few VP over most of the common factions. Even if the set up doesn't have as many scoring bons, or doesn't have 3 good scoring tiles in R4-6 I still think they are often a good pick. I won't talk too much more about them wit VP offsets though since I do think that's one of the (many) reasons snellman experts are wary of the VP offsets.

Overall I still think Alchemists are a faction that few have figured out which is largely reflected by their continued iffy performance in all but the best divisions of tournament play. I'm curious by Manpanzee's arguments above, as that route also seems reasonable to me which may further open Alchemists niche into what situations they are viable in.
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V Vendetta
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I meant competitively, of course. The real problem is the rate of "resource -> VP" is very poor, so doing almost anything else is better.
 
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Steve Haas
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Right - that's the key point, I think. If you look at optimizing your lategame score, "leaving stuff as resources" is the best option only if you have no other way to score. But, critically: even things that only score one way tend to be of minimal benefit at best. If on R6 you upgrade a TP and only score it with fav10 (and its not freeing up a D for network or helping you finish a town)... you kind of haven't gained very much. 3vp is better than 2w3c at the end of the game, but only by a point. You can do it, and you should do it if its your best option, but its not the move you're aspiring to make in most circumstances - you'd rather be doing things that score 2 or 3 different ways (favor scoring, round scoring, bonus scoring, finishing a town, increasing network, etc.) as much as you can, as that's where serious points come from.

But scoring a D with (only) fav11, or a TP (only) with TP >> 3 is still more efficient than converting the resources directly, even as Alchemists. Hence, Alchemist resource conversion is occasionally useful lategame - sometimes you get stuck with 8 extra coins and nothing good to do with them. But it rare that it should be a major strategic goal, because - while more efficient than most factions - its still a pretty inefficient way to gain points.
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V Vendetta
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Yeah. I've tried doing the math many times to see if I could convert more stuff to coins and... I just can't see it as a viable source of points even when everything works in your favor - I've tried those situations, it just doesn't happen. I like trying different ideas, but that one doesn't work, sadly.
 
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Manpanzee
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I think scoring 10-15 points with leftover resources is pretty reasonable in the right setup. More than 20 seems unlikely.

I do have a game where I got 13vp with leftover resources, and it has some similarities to the setup I described above. This was a D7 game, which is why I didn't bother posting it before. But it might be useful just as an illustration of "Where are the points coming from?" in an unconventional setup.

Steve's post kind of touches on my thinking here. From my perspective, Alchemists will always get fewer marginal points than other factions from building in the lategame. Lategame scoring that rewards building a lot of stuff thus may benefit other factions more than Alchemists. However, if you have a scenario where there's a risk of running out of productive things to do, that might hurt Alchemists less than other factions.

Everything is relative. It's not enough to just think in terms of "what's good for this faction". If something is bad for all factions, but is relatively less bad for faction x, then you should actually think of it as being GOOD for faction x. And if something is good for all factions, but is relatively less good for faction x, then you should actually think of it as being BAD for faction x*.

*(I have a "Swarmlings + late D scoring" hot take on this subject that I'll lay out when the time comes)
 
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Steve Haas
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My impression of CTKShadow's approach is that it introduces some interesting ideas that are worth pursuing, but one needs to be careful carrying it to its logical extreme. Basically: if you can get an absolutely roaring economy in the first two rounds and all the favors, yes, you crush everyone. You finish 3+ towns, win network, make a bunch from favors, bonus tiles, and round scoring, and no one can compete:

https://terra.snellman.net/game/StoneS16
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Seattle003

But if you look at those games, the economic requirements are actually pretty high. In both of those games I got SH + TE(w/fav11) + 2 shipping + 5-6 D by the end of R2 - and doing that required getting bon6, act2, act3, and act6 over the course of those first two turns. And not getting cut off to anything important. Basically: you can do it, but the niche for it is quite narrow, and particularly as one's opponents improve, you're less and less likely to get everything you need for the absolutely blistering start needed to crush everyone. And even past the opening, people will make more of an effort to deny you fav10 and fav12, which is similarly a drag on your economic success.

And in point of fact, even in such a strategy, going max econ, converting whatever you need to, all the way to the end of the game tends not to be the best way to maximize your score. Usually, there comes a point in the game where you need to start actively working towards maximizing your score, and building TPs so you have enough coins that you can stop converting, and so on. And so what I find is that while in some of my early Alchemists game I converted ~50vp to coins, in more recent games, against better opposition, that number dropped to more like 20 or 30, and games that ultimately look a bit more normal:

https://terra.snellman.net/game/4pLeague_S18_D3L1_G6
https://terra.snellman.net/game/NoDarklingsAllowed08

Hence: I agree with the core principles - that Alchemists can be a very strong economic faction that does well in games with scoring turns and bonus tiles that provide points for building a lot of stuff. And that Alchemists can better handle low-coin games than almost any other faction. But my experience is that this should be thought of more in terms of a way to bootstrap your economy en route to a more standard game rather than your only strategy the whole way through. At some point you need to look at your 4th TP and see a building that produced 4.5vp a turn as worth making. The trick is just timing it so you can still build enough stuff to compete on the economic metrics without going for so long that you start squandering your economic gains with continued conversion.

So, in terms of specific tips:

* For the first couple rounds, the measure of your economic strength is the number of workers you can produce, while still getting enough priests to advance digging and shipping. It is not uncommon to want to have 2 upgrade to each by the end of R3, which means you need 2 extra beyond what you get from your first-turn TE.
* Therefore, if you don't get fav11, the best early favor is usually fav7.
* On the base map, the shipping rush through C1-E5-B3-A8 tends to be important. You usually want to start at one of these hexes, and hope for bon8 (or failing that, bon4) and act2 on R1 to get the necessary shipping.
* When assessing bonus tiles, you can mostly think of coins and vp as interchangeable.
* Interestingly, this means bon3 isn't exactly bad for you and can often be worth taking if present in the game. While 6vp is less than you can get from a scoring bonus (and clearly much worse than bon6 and its 2w+4-8c), it doesn't compare too unfavorably to bon9 until fairly late in the game. It still probably doesn't help you as much as it helps your opponents, and so its not an ideal favor to have in the game - but if it is, don't be afraid to take it.
* While the opening can be done on pure conversion, by R4 or so you want to start seriously thinking about efficiency. Its fine to say "I can build this D because fav11 pays for the coin conversion", but if you don't have to convert the 2c you can have the 2vp as profit.
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Sam
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I would caution against fav7 or fav8 in the early game. The alchemists have a monster of an economy, which is meaningless if you don’t score points. And they derive that economy by canibalizing their score. The biggest trap that mid-level players fall into with the alchemists is overbuilding the economy with an insufficient plan to score points. Unless your build plan matches up extremely well with the round bonuses, you should not take an Econ favors early on. (Exception for 2te start with favors 7 and 11). If you miss fav11 in round one take fav9 or fav10. Think about when you’re planning on getting your next favor. If it’s late game, go ahead and grab fav10 because it probably won’t be available in round 5. If you’re planning on a second favor in round 3 or 4, consider taking fav9 in the first round. It’s worth 15vp for you. Just make sure you maximize the number of dwellings you get out at the start.

Fundamentally, the alchemists are a lot more flexible than people give them credit for. They have a tremendous economy and can be competitive in any setup that is moderate to high scoring. They are also relatively robust to neighboring colors. I’d only hesitate to pick them in games where points look hard to come by. Although, on the vp adjusted board, there are very few setups I wouldn’t pick the alchemists in.
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Steve Haas
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I guess I'm a little confused by your recommendation - you don't think econ favors are a good idea, but you recommend fav9? More generally: do you have any examples of games where you played fav9 and got a good result? I feel like that's leaning away from Alchemists's strength, so I'm having a hard time envisioning how it works out.
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Guillaume Pilote
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I've started to love playing Alchemists after seeing someone using CTK's strategy; at the time I was not aware of CTK's post, and marveled at the originality of my opponent's play. I've played them with some success often after that, but recently, I've kind of fell out of love with them, for the following reason.

I think Alchemists (with CTK's strategy at least) are extremely powerful... as long as other players do not realize what you're doing. On BGA, me and others were making a killing with them (with adjusted VP), until people started to figure out what was going on. The thing is, Alchemists usually need to split out their first two dwellings to expand fast, and they need to win network to compensate for the lost points and the lack of cult play. But their connexion hang on a string, and is easily cut off by yellow, green, and blue, and sometimes red or brown – and you know at least two of them are going to be in. Therefore, Alchemists are an extremely risky faction, one in which you do not control your fate – which makes them either a very fun or frustrating faction to play, but by no means one faction that you would pick if you're looking for steady results.
 
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For the alchemists fav9 is fundamentally no different than a point scoring favor, because it is giving you coin that you don’t have to convert from vp, so taken in round 1 it’s equivalent to 15vp over the course of the game. Obviously that’s not as good as the 22+ points you’re getting out of fav11, but it’s not an unreasonable backup in round 1 if you’re planning on a second favor early enough that you can reliably get fav10. I don’t have any examples off the top of my head, because I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have fav11 with the alchemists. I’m pretty sure I did it once though.
 
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V Vendetta
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harq wrote:
I would caution against fav7 or fav8 in the early game.

harq wrote:
(Exception for 2te start with favors 7 and 11)


Harq's games in which he takes FAV7 and 11 early (rd1 or2):
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Shadle20/max-row=99
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Player4Faction07/max-row=99
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Osse/max-row=196

harq wrote:
If you miss fav11 in round one take fav9


After a quick scan in your Alchemist's games (I think it is about your best faction), I couldn't find any in which that was done. Do you have another account? Did I miss something?

Harq's game in which he takes FAV9 in rd4 (?), saving 6 points:
https://terra.snellman.net/game/AmericasFastGame2/max-row=25...
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Arda/max-row=273

By the way, I went to the site I usually go to get some stats and... FAV9 in the first round seems to be terrible on average (on the 6 times it was taken... So very hard to even trust the data; including the lower half of players doesn't improve the situation at all):

(Extracted from: https://tinyurl.com/ybd2jznb - might take a while to load
DATA FILTERS: Best and good players, 4p, any map, any 1st rd scoring)

Favor VP varVP Margin varM count
FAV5 (F2) 113.00 ± NaN -3.75 ± NaN 1
FAV6 (W2) 128.08 ± 3.86 1.19 ± 3.05 25
FAV7 (E2) 124.37 ± 1.55 0.21 ± 1.40 135
FAV8 (A2) 125.22 ± 3.06 3.58 ± 2.49 32
FAV9 (F1) 114.00 ± 5.86 -5.33 ± 3.84 6
FAV10 (W1) 121.71 ± 5.07 -2.31 ± 4.73 21
FAV11 (E1) 126.70 ± 0.58 1.07 ± 0.50 1119


So... I guess take FAV7 or 8 if you missed on 11?

I'd be happy if somebody double checked my data just so we can confirm this... "On average".
(I always ask for this, but usually only Steve does... Can anyone show me another way to gather the data? I'm never able to do cross checks.)

Of course the data alone doesn't tell the entire story, but... I must admit I'm not convinced by the evidences about the virtues of first round FAV9 for Alchemists. Of course I might be missing something obvious, so others can point that out.
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V Vendetta
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By the way, I think I should point out that, as far as only data is concerned, people should at least test more FAVs 6, 7 and 8.

I think I know why FAVs 6 and 7 would work since they complement some of the weaknesses of the more canonical "CTKShadow" approach (respectively, the first allows an easier game in the cults - for a faction I'd dare say would score low in the cults on average, and have low cult income on average - and the second gives you a boost in workers, which Alchemists always want).

FAV8 is not entirely clear for me. I can see something changes, but after some tests I'm not sure I can even tell what is the big picture of playing that as your first favor. MAYBE, FAV8 is always played in the exact right circumstances in the data, so it is a "very niche secret strat" nobody talks about. Or maybe... It is just that when FAV8 is taken by only one player it is more powerful, which would be in line with comments in other threads that preach that concept - I don't remember the thread... But it is probably a Yetis related thread.
 
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I don't have any concrete examples with fav9 early. My thoughts on that are based on my understanding of the alchemists, and analysis of the options. Also, those stats are meaningless, because the sample size is minuscule, and I doubt anyone strong has ever done it. In truth, I would highly recommend against playing a start other than te with fav11 or SH in round one. But I maintain that as a backup option fav7 is questionable unless you have a very good plan for how you're going to score points during the game. I wouldn't even consider fav8.
 
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Steve Haas
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I guess my feeling is that if you have a an econ setup strong enough to warrant picking Alchemists in the first place - lots of bonuses for later-round construction, lots of scoring bonus tiles, etc. - you can probably make fav7 work. Sort of like you make Nomads with an econ favor work (although its harder than if you get fav11) with the right setup. I don't think its optimal, but as a fallback plan its the best I've come up with.

My concern about fav9 is basically that 15vp is actually pretty bad for a R1 favor. For example: if you're only planning 10 buildings, you generally don't bother with fav11, because there are bigger things to do. With fav11 you're usually hoping for 22+, and I think good use of the econ favor that most grows your economy usually rivals that. So playing for 15vp and no economic advantage... I won't say it can't work, but its not a play I'd want to make.
 
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V Vendetta
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FAV8 in the first 2 rounds by 1400+ players:

https://terra.snellman.net/game/Grgw17/max-row=101
https://terra.snellman.net/game/Ivan006/max-row=135
https://terra.snellman.net/game/4pLeague_S24_D4L5_G4/max-row...

All of those games had 2air->w. Later I might expand the search for 1300+ players to see if that is always the situation. FAV7 was a lot more common, specially when losing FAV11 because you are 4th seat or SH start. Haven't found a game with FAV9 in that tier.
 
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Chris Harris
United Kingdom
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Enjoying this discussion, thanks for starting it steve. Have you considered trying to put together a "best players per faction" list, e.g. by repurposing the rating system but only using the games where people played a specific faction?

Alchemists are statistically my best faction, and definitely one of my favourite, and to be honest I have so far stuck to the "Shadow Protocol", and specifically the TE-opening approach. Manpanzee has definitely inspired me to try the SH-opening approach.

On expansion settings, they're pretty good, because they're a good bet for any of the final scoring options. Here is possibly my most successful game with them, winning network and clusters, and getting 35vp from scoring bons (that's 7vp per round from r2).

The tough decision in that game was to build my SA as well as my SH in R3, specifically to get an early fav10 (for 18vp). It's a good example of sacrificing engine for points scoring, which you really have to start thinking about in the mid-game with Alchemists if you don't want to end up with tons of workers and no points.

So let's talk about how to stop them. You can try and stop them getting the shipping they need (Ice Maidens definitely had the opportunity to do that in the above game), but probably the best way is to stop them connecting.

I disagree slightly with the point above about them being robust to colour neighbours. I think Mermaids can dominate them, on the base map at least, and brown vs alchemists seems to often be an ugly fight with no winners (see this move from Ozymandias for example - ouch). But aggressive factions like Giants, Acolytes and Drgaonlords can also target them fairly easily.

On the base map they will be looking to take E10 and C1/E5/B3, and it's very effective to just start on D7 and build D8. Alternatively you have a few rounds to take A9-D6. Here's a couple of examples, in both of which I happened to end up tying with the Alchemists. Here's Alchemists sensibly not even daring to build E10, presumably realising that their chance of connecting with Mermaids and Fakirs around was pretty much nil. And here's the equivalent opening gambit on the Fire & Ice map.
 
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