The Codex of Alchemical Engineering – a great free game that makes you think


The Codex of Alchemical Engineering (COAE) is a free logic puzzle and building game that can help improve your logic skills as well as entertain you for hours on end.

It features some cute flash graphics and a great soundtrack, innovative ‘building’ and ‘logic’ style gameplay, and is just one of the great free games at Zachtronics Industries.

The basic notion of the game is that you are a virtual alchemical engineer, whose mentor has left him with a book containing his life’s work and collected knowledge.

He leaves it to you as instructions with the goal of moving, combining, and transmuting different ‘elements’ to progress from level to level. This is accomplished by giving you a set of tools to manipulate the elements, each of which is ‘programmable’ to do a specific sequence of actions in a loop. Remember the old erector sets that came with a bunch of tiny steel girders and miniature tools? Well this game is somewhat akin to that, in a virtual setting, and with the focus being on solving logic puzzles rather than building the coolest thing possible. It’s both much easier, and far more complex than it sounds at first. The ultimate goal in the game is to uncover and become familiar with all the ‘Secrets of Alchemical Engineering’ and finally create the Philosopher’s Stone (which is said to be able to turn lead into gold!).

COAE Screen 2 COAE Screen 3

When you begin, you’re given a short tutorial to help you with the basic concepts of the game and instructions on how to manipulate and program your tools. This tutorial, while helpful, isn’t really required to have any success with the game so if you’re not a fan of reading pages of tutorials before playing, you can simply click through them and get right into the fun stuff: building and programming your tools. Throughout the tutorial and the game, you’ll have a lovely orchestral soundtrack in the background which helps to add drama to the game, but you can shut it off via the little music note button in the lower left corner if you desire. Personally, I found the music to be nice enough that I often have it playing in the background while I am doing something else entirely. It’s a great piece, and sounds professional enough to have been done by James Horner or John Williams.

Once past the tutorial, you’ll be presented with what looks like a simple blueprint style grid, which is your field of play. To the left of that is the list of tools you’ll have to use to accomplish a given goal for each level. The graphics are simple but very clean and sharp, unlike many free flash games. It’s easy to tell that the developers wanted high quality graphics but didn’t want to make them too flashy and take away from the gameplay experience itself. In this, they have definitely succeeded. The tools look great and are readily identifiable by their shape as to their function, and the interface is quite responsive without being overly so.

COAE Screen 4 COAE Screen 5

The gameplay is where COAE really excels, however. There are fifteen levels to complete, each with a unique goal that builds on previous levels. The first level is quite simple: Move five “aqua compounds” from one place to another. Again, sounds simple but is actually far more complex than its description. To accomplish your goal you are given three different tools but you’ll really only need one for the first level: the Manipulator arm. Like the other tools, the Manipulator can be placed anywhere on the blueprint, and then programmed to follow a specific series of actions in a loop. As an example, you can tell it to begin by extending the arm, then close the claw around the compound you want to move, then retract the arm, rotate 90 degrees, and open the claw, dropping the compound in a new location. As a hint, I will tell you that I had to use two of the Manipulators in sequence to finish the first level but you may find another solution. Part of the elegance of the game is that there is a virtually endless number of ways you can solve the puzzle that each level presents.

COAE Screen 6 COAE Screen 7

You’ll begin with simple stuff and as you move forward in levels, you’ll be given more complex goals to achieve, like combining different elements to create new compounds. This is done using the “Glyph of Binding” tool, which can be placed anywhere and programmed, just like the Manipulator arm. There is also a Glyph of Transmutation but I haven’t progressed far enough to use that one yet. One of the great challenges of the game is that you cannot have two compounds or elements touching each other at any point. You can have them next to each other, but never touching. This means, combined with the looping nature of the programming for each tool, that you’ll have to work out things like timing and pausing between each tool in order to have a properly functioning machine. Think of it as a flat, two dimensional Rube Goldberg machine.

COAE Screen 8 COAE Screen 9

The Codex of Alchemical Engineering is one of those wonderful games that is amazingly simple in concept, but very complex in the actual gameplay. The graphics are nothing to write home about but it holds your interest by providing an engaging experience for your brain to conquer. When I first played it, I had meant to simply test it out for a few moments to be sure it worked on my laptop. Before I knew it, however, I had spent two whole hours playing the game. It’s one of those games that is very easy to lose yourself in because the gameplay itself is so compelling. Every time I tried to quit I kept thinking, “I’ll just try this one more thing and then stop.” The only requirement to play COAE is the latest install of the Flash browser plug-in, and it’s helpful (but not required) to have sound on your computer too. As a tip to help avoid frustrations, if you want to save your ultimate solution for a given level, you’ve got to do it manually via the ‘save’ button before moving on to the next level.

Give this one a try, it may surprise you and it certainly will entertain you.

Until next time, my friends.

[Thanks to reader Panzer for the tip about this game]

Play The Codex of Alchemical Engineering here.

A few notes about the game from the developer’s website:

  • After completing a level, your progress is saved so long as your Flash “cookies” aren’t deleted. Your design, however, is not; if you want to keep your design, you must go to the Save screen and save the text shown there (I keep my solutions in a text file on my desktop). You can reload a saved design by pasting the design code into the Load window and pressing the load button.