One Sentence Synopsis: Did I create salt, or nitroglycerin? Let me look it up!
Genius Games has a reputation for producing light educational games that are quick to play and easy to teach. Their RNA-building game Linkage is currently available at retailers, and Peptide: A Protein Building Game successfully funded on Kickstarter in November, 2014 and is in the middle of manufacturing.
Ion: A Compound Building Game is currently live on Kickstarter and follows up on those efforts to create fun games that elucidate scientific concepts, and are as much at home in the classroom as they are in the living room. Ion is a simple card drafting game where 2-7 players compete for points by collecting noble gases, and/or selecting from available element cards and attempting to form higher value neutral compounds than everyone else. After three rounds of play the chemist with the highest point value wins!
Ion is extremely easy to teach and to learn, and you should be up and running within 5 minutes. Players are each given a set of 3 special action tiles(more on those later), and the Element and Compound Goal card decks are each shuffled. Four Element cards are flipped face up in the center of the table, and each player receives 8 Element cards as their starting hand. Finally, two Compound cards join the 4 Element cards in the middle of the table, providing players additional points if they’re able to create one or both of the compounds shown. See? Simple and quick!
Turns in each of the game’s three rounds play quickly as players choose an Element card from their hand and place it face down in front of them. Once all players have selected a card, each player reveals their card at the same time and either bonds that Element card to existing Elements in their play area, or keeps the card un-bonded to start a new compound. Each player then passes their cards to the person on their left, and turns continue in this manner until all players hold only three Element cards. When this happens one more is drawn, and the other two discarded.
Players may use one of the three tiles they were dealt at any time during the game to gain the bonus on the tile. The “Select Two” ability lets a player select two cards from the ones they hold instead of just one, and to then draw a card to replace the one taken when they pass. The “Take From Center” tile lets the player take one of the Element cards from the center of the table in addition to selecting a card from their hand. Finally, the RXN card lets a player rearrange any or all Element cards in their play area, and/or take any one Element card from another player’s area that would otherwise not score any points. Once used, the tiles are flipped face-down and are worth a random number of negative points at the end of the game(each set of 3 totals -9).
Scoring is done at the end of each round. Points are scored for each neutral compound a player was able to create, equal to the total of the numbers at the bottom of the cards. Noble gases are scored in sets of up to 3, giving 2, 5, or 9 points depending on how many different gases are in the set. Finally, if a player was able to match one of the compounds on a card in the center of the table they receive the amount of additional points at the top left of the compound card. If they created both compounds listed, they get the second, larger number. If it’s the end of the third round players also subtract the negative points from any tiles used, and at that point the player with the most total points after adding up the three rounds is the winner.
Ion: A Compound Building Game does exactly what it sets out to do, providing a quick, light gameplay experience that teaches you something in the process. The simple drafting rules make Ion extraordinarily easy to teach, easy to learn, and easy to remember, and like other drafting games the strategy level scales well with different skill-levels of players; more casual games play like a light set collection game, while plays with more experienced drafters become more strategic with remembering which cards are where, which cards are left, and planning card denial. No one will accuse Ion of being heavy on strategy, but those elements combined with the optional player tiles still mitigate what may otherwise feel like a game of lucky card draws.
Although there isn’t much art to speak of, I find the card layouts exceptionally clean. The backgrounds have a nice, dark vibrancy to them, and the texture that’s used combined with the fonts on the cards reminds me of a classroom chalk board. Other small touches like the strips of colored tape and the ripped notebook paper at the bottom of Compound cards help to reinforce that schoolhouse feel. The entire thing is minimalist in its design, and while I can see the potential for more outlandish designs to work really well, the game certainly doesn’t need punched-up art to get its point across. All-in-all, the layouts as they stand make it very easy for new players to get their bearings.
As a simple drafting game Ion will appeal to groups who enjoy science, but I doubt more general audiences will find much here to differentiate it from other offerings. But then, that’s not really who the game is being produced for. Where things really come together for me is in its educational value. The game is a fun way to learn about different elements, chemical compounds, and the process of forming bonds, and it’s something I can see having a lot of value in classrooms and at home as a non-traditional teaching instrument. I’m no chemist so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the compounds getting created in the game, but quite frankly I don’t think it matters. The game makes you think and ask questions. Even in my normal group of players who are mostly liberal arts graduate students and, quite frankly, don’t care about chemistry, Ion had us looking up compounds on our phones as we played to see what they were called and what they were. In that setting does it matter if the compound I created is unstable? What’s cool is I cared enough to look it up, and now I know what it is, I know it’s unstable, I know why it’s unstable, and I’ve learned something! Ion generates inquisitiveness and that, in my opinion, is the hallmark of good educational stimuli.
COG Takeaway: Ion: a Compound Building Game does exactly what it hoped to achieve by providing a fun, light card drafting game that has great educational value. The game itself promotes learning through the information available on each of the cards, but its biggest success is its stimulation of questions. Good education is not just about learning; it’s about inquiring and questioning, and Ion hits the nail on the head in that regard. If you’re a parent or a teacher looking to inject some fun into what your students or children may otherwise find a stale subject, perhaps stoking their interest and inquisitiveness in the process, then I can’t recommend Ion highly enough. VISIT THE CAMPAIGN PAGE FOR MORE INFORMATION!
Visit the Genius Games Website for more great educational games.