The Alchemist’s Dream game play


Each of the two players is represented on the board by an alchemical element. They have one Symbol, which is both the source of their power and the piece they must protect, and ten Stones, which they use to fight for control of the board and ultimately capture their opponent’s Symbol.

How the elements react

How one element reacts with another is an important part of the game. Each element has one element in opposition to it, and two which are in sympathy. The opposition elements are: Fire against Water, and Earth against Air. Stones can enter any unoccupied cell, if they are of the same or a sympathetic element, grey (void) or the Elixir (gold), but a Stone can never enter a cell which is in opposition to its element. It also means that an opposition cell counts towards judging whether a Stone is surrounded or not.

Surrounding and escaping

A Stone or a Symbol is surrounded when four adjacent cells are a combination of opposition cells and their opponent’s Stones. A Stone which is surrounded must escape from the surrounded cell to an adjacent cell which is not occupied, already surrounded or in opposition to the Stone’s element, taking the next turn to do so. It is good manners for a player to inform their opponent one of their Stones is surrounded.

If there are no legal moves for a surrounded Stone – adjacent cells are either all occupied, already surrounded, or are opposition cells – it cannot escape and it is removed immediately from the board and kept by the attacker. The player who lost their Stone then takes their turn as usual.

On occasions, a single move can surround two Stones, both of which still each have legal moves to escape. The surrounded player then must chose which Stone escapes. The Stone that has not escaped is taken from the board.

If a player surrounds their opponent’s Symbol – which cannot move – they win the game.

Note that the Symbol itself does not count for surrounding purposes, although the cell it stands on does, if it is in opposition.

The Elixir

The gold Elixir cell in the centre of the board has one specific property. The player who controls it – one of their Stones occupies it – has the option to bring back to the board one of their taken pieces instead of their usual move.


Building the board

The board is composed of 31 interlocking tiles, each with the same shape but a different alchemical pattern. Many of these patterns have individual names, but when together on the board, they make up a seamless playing area. Every time the board is set up, it will be different, and each game will present its own particular advantages and disadvantages to the players. (I have done the calculations: there are something like 10^200 combinations of tile positioning alone. No two games will ever be the same. )

Each tile has seven hexagons, and hexagon is called a cell. Grey represents the voids between the elements. The colours in the game represent the four alchemical elements: red for Fire, light blue for Air, dark blue for Water, and brown for Earth. There are fifteen cells for each element, spread across the whole tile set.

The tile with the golden cell in the centre (called the Elixir) always goes in the middle of the board, and is always placed last. The board is circular – there is no particular way it needs to be oriented. The grey cells around the border are also part of the playing area.

One player separates the tile containing the Elixir and puts it to one side, then places the rest of the tiles on a surface where they can be ‘stirred’, or mixed up. The tiles can be either face-up, or face-down: since at this point neither player knows which element they’ll be playing, there’s no advantage in seeing the face of the tiles. Then that player starts to place the tiles on the board. The outer ring first, then the second ring, then the inner ring, so that there’s one place left in the very centre for tile containing the Elixir. Traditionally, the player who places the tiles gives their opponent this last tile to complete the board.

Choosing an element

Choosing which element to play is done randomly – the playing pieces come in opaque bags to help this – and when both players have picked, they open their bags to reveal their element. The ‘luck’ part of the game is over. Now it’s all down to the skill of the players: there are no dice, no cards, just wit and cunning from now on.

Positioning the Symbols

The Symbol is the source of a player’s power, around which their Stones are placed on the board, and which, when surrounded by their opponent, ends the game. The Symbol can be placed on any one of the fifteen cells of the same elemental colour on the board.

Where a player places their Symbol can sometimes be an easy decision, and sometimes almost impossible. How to balance the ease of defence with the ability to attack and control the Elixir are difficult choices, also influenced by where their opponent places their own Symbol.

Now that both players know which elements they are playing, they can look for areas which have lots of opposition cells for their opponent, and have few opposition cells for them, and see whether or not a cell within those regions might be suitable. Being close to the Elixir may help a player gain and keep control of it, but if both Symbols are too close to each other, it can be difficult to develop strategies.

When both players have had the opportunity to study the board, the player who chose their element first places their Symbol first – remembering that it needs to go on a cell of the same element. Then their opponent places their Symbol. The player who went first now can decide whether or not they’re still happy with their choice. If they wish, they can move to another cell of the same element. If they do move their Symbol, their opponent can also move their Symbol.

Traditionally, the placing the Symbols is accompanied by insults and warnings. Players who pick an easily defensible position have their honour and character called into question. Players who pick an position close to the Elixir are mocked for wanting in easy game, and so on. The players need to remember that actual violence is not allowed and to let their Stones fight for them.

The process of placing and replacing the Symbol continues until one player decides not to move their Symbol. When they tell their opponent this, both Symbols become fixed in their current positions, and the game begins.


Placing and moving Stones

The player who declined to move their Symbol has their turn first. Players move alternately thereafter.

For their turn, a player must either move a Stone to an adjacent unoccupied cell,

A Stone can move to any adjacent unoccupied cell as long as the cell is not in opposition to the Stone, nor already surrounded. If a Stone is already surrounded, it must escape is possible. If more than one Stone is surrounded, but they can all potentially move, only one Stone can be moved. Stones that remained surrounded at the end of the turn are taken by the opponent.

or place a Stone in an adjacent unoccupied cell next to their Symbol.

If a player has Stones they haven’t yet placed on the board, or they control the Elixir and have Stones that have been taken by their opponent, they can place a Stone in any adjacent unoccupied cell next to their Symbol, as long as that cell is not in opposition to the Stone, nor already surrounded.

A player must always make a legal move, and must always move a surrounded Stone before contemplating another move. A player may decline to move, but their opponent is immediately declared the winner.


A player wins by:

  • surrounding their opponent’s Symbol on four sides, by a combination of Stones and opposition cells,
  • their opponent resigning,
  • their opponent refusing to move.

At any point in the game, a draw may be agreed.