In Magnum Opus, you are an alchemist building a deck of material components, transmuting them to reveal resources and the three key components that you will need transmute into the philosopher’s stone.
The setup for this game is a little tricky, and the rules aren’t as clear as they could be. We watched a gameplay video online, had a few “ah-ha” moments, and then were very pleased to find that this is a pretty good game. There is a fair amount of luck involved in the gameplay, but by careful deck building, you can offset the luck factor somewhat.
You start the game with 3 “Prepare Herbs” and 6 “Attempt Transmutation” cards. This is the base deck. The “Prepare Herbs” cards will allow you to collect coins or draw cards from your deck. You may purchase or draw various alchemical reagents during your turn, which, when acquired go into your discard pile. The “board” is set up as a grid with blue reagents (lead, vitriol, aqua regia, and quicksilver) on one side, and green reagents (angel feather, dragon’s blood, serpent scale, and vilethorn), forming a 4×4 grid. Each space in the grid contains a secret research card, and a discovery card. As you draw cards from your deck, you are able to place them on your “table” and use your transmute cards to reveal a card on the grid. You obtain the research card into your hand. This is usually beneficial to you, helping you with future transmutations, or storing of items. The discovery card is a type of “event” card which have many different effects. Three of these cards are the Magnum Opus stones that you need to find, in order to obtain your list of ingredients to create the philosopher’s stone. Once a Magnum Opus card is revealed, any player may transmute those reagents to obtain that effect or stone. Upon discovering one of the three stones (Albedo, Rubedo, and Putrefactio) you will receive a card of that type. Your card will have a reagent listed. Each card is different, so each player will have a different set of reagents needed to win). Once the three Magnum Opus stone cards have been revealed, and you have transmuted the correct reagents to receive your Magnum Opus cards, you then need to get your three reagents onto your table, and successfully transmute them for the win.
This sounds fairly complicated, but in fact, once you get the concept down, is fairly easy to understand. The game can be played in an hour or less, but will probably take you longer the first time you play.
The toy value of the game isn’t high, it is all cards, but the artwork is very nice, and the game has a good thematic feel to it. Our gameplay has been quite frustrating for me however. You see, dice hate me. It’s true. The green dice included with our game has a particularly evil streak. I can consistently roll one less than I need to transmute. Even with special cards and experience points that give you plusses to die rolls, I still roll one less than I need. I believe that if I need roll a 1 to transmute, that the die would somehow find a way to pull up a negative die face. So if you are like me, and dice hate you, prepare for a very frustrating game. Each successful transmutation hinges on the die roll and getting the right cards into your hand at the right time. There are ways to give yourself better odds in your hand, but if you don’t get your dice roll, you won’t get the special cards, you won’t be able to transmute to obtain your Magnum Opus cards, and you can’t win. A LOT hinges on those evil, evil dice.
But it is a good game. If you like deck building games, or are a fan of chemistry or alchemy, pick this one up. Good fun to be had, and it comes with enough cards to make gameplay a little different each time.