My students and I just had our very first print-and-play experience. Last weekend, I ran into Jacob Geib-Rosch at an Unpub Mini event, where game store customers were able to test prototypes of unpublished games. Sadly, I didn't get to play Jake's game that night, but I did get his business card and request a print-and-play so that we could try it out with our game club. Red Phoenix of the Alchemists is eye-catching and has a fun theme that Jake is obviously passionate about.
In the game, you and up to four friends are alchemists who are all seeking to transform common ingredients into gold. To do so, you purchase basic ingredients from a market and use them to perform experiments. If an experiment is successful, you create a more powerful substance, as well as a formula that allows you to continue producing it. This, in turn, enables you to perform higher-level (but also riskier) experiments.
A failure in the lab can be pretty devastating as you try to build an engine that will get you to gold, but that's only fair in the wild world of alchemy. If your experiment goes awry, you lose all of those ingredients you bought, plus you can do damage to yourself and to your fellow alchemists. A "catastrophic failure" can even summon monsters who attack you! While playing, we imagined that we all worked in the same lab and that we were constantly trying to peek at each other's notes, form alliances, or sabotage each other. Red Phoenix definitely encourages this, because items that you create throughout the game can be used on any monster or player. A bottle of acid or two may have been flung across the work tables...
Even though we were playing a less-fancy, low-ink version of the game, the art and flavor text were engaging. We were all disappointed to learn that cinnabar does not, in fact, taste like cinnamon. One of the students was very excited when his experiment yielded "Alchemist's Hooch," even though we told him he couldn't use it until he was over 21. And based on the prototype I saw last weekend, the full-color cards look beautiful! I am excited to see what this game will look like in its complete form, with coins and health tokens and everything.
The best part about getting to try Red Phoenix of the Alchemists as a print-and-play was how special it made my students feel. Most of them had never thought about how games are tested before they get published. Getting to try out a game that few people have ever gotten to see really excited them. They came up with great feedback for me to email to Jake, and they paid much closer attention to the art and flavor text than they usually do because they knew it was a draft. I'm truly grateful to Jake for letting us give his game a test drive, not only because it was fun, but because it exposed my students to something new and exciting.
Overall, Red Phoenix of the Alchemists works well—it's a fun game with a great theme, and it creates an atmosphere of tension and curiosity among the players. I truly hope it gets published.