Waaay back in the late 1860s, a newspaper in a small Ohio town is credited with coining the idiom, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
For many of you who have never read a hardcover book or had the joy of the oft-times free book covers from a local big box store, this idiom probably has no tactile meaning to you at all. Regardless, it is definitely apropos for the newest offering from the guys over at Genius Games entitled Periodic. The gameboard is a mock-up of the periodic table of elements, thus the name. But I encourage folks to not let a fear of science (climate change deniers included) temper your curiosity for this game. While there is great potential to do some learning with this one, if you don’t want to get smarter but just want to get your game on, you can just do that.
Like with any game, setting up the first time can be a bit daunting, but it is really not that complicated. The periodic table (game board) is surrounded by a number of randomly selected cards representing the different elemental groups (oops, science, sorry). There are a number of Goal cards to be separated by color. The Goal cards contain various compounds (again, sorry) and have three similarly colored award tiles placed above them at the top of the periodic table. There are similarly colored tokens for each Goal that is placed on the periodic table representing the compounds’ components.
Each player chooses a color and receives a series of tokens of that color shaped like cubes, a disc, an Erlenmeyer flask, and a microscope. There are point tokens shaped like Erlenmeyer and volumetric flasks, and a test tube is placed off to the side. Circular energy tokens are distributed based on play position, starting with the first player receiving three tokens. The second gets four, the third gets five, the fourth gets three, and the fifth gets four. Each player places their microscope on one of the Element Groups. Starting with the first player, a microscope is placed on every other Element Group card except for the fourth and fifth players, who both place their microscope on the seventh Element Group card. The Elemental Group card indicates the placement of the player’s flask upon the periodic table (at the beginning of that Elemental Group, just find the left-top most element of that color). Each player is dealt a number of Agenda cards depending on the total number of players. One card is selected, and the rest discarded. It is kept secret and contains a unique Goal that if achieved acts as a type of personal score multiplier. Each player places their discs on the first level of the Academic Track. The game ends when either one stack of Goal cards are depleted or two players advance to the two rightmost levels on the Academic Track.
The player who has touched chalk most recently or the most is the first player. In our case, that was the gentlemen who had some recent tummy issues (oops science again — you guessed it, the main ingredient is calcium carbonate). Using the energy tokens, the player can move in five directions as described at the bottom of the board. The first move always costs just one token and is placed on the applicable direction at the bottom of the periodic table. Each subsequent move on that turn costs two tokens. Should you have no tokens, you can steal one token from the player with the most or take all the tokens in a given direction. A move can be from one to five elements.
The concept is to get to as many elements as you can. Points are awarded when a Goal card is completed and for the first three Goal Cards of each color, an additional award tile is provided. The Award tile contains extra movements or a means to gather points, etc. The Goal card has a point value, but points are also given based on the number of elements within that component you have accumulated. A player advances on the academic track each time they are located on the Elemental Group that their microscope is on at the end of their turn.
My game crew included a Ph.D. in chemistry and four engineers, so you know the geek was on. Of course, the Ph.D. got lost in the feasibleness of the types of movements and the idea of the Academic Track. One of the electrical engineers remarked that their efforts were “no longer energetic,” which in turn resulted in a later comment about game toxicity, while in the noble gases. I thank my higher power that there were no accompanying flatulence and/or flatulence related jokes. Then there was the player who had to get their energy up; to wit, it was declared that the “energy is this round is getting out of hand.”
The game dynamic and timing changes wildly with the number of people, and I daresay your strategy should as well. Energy conservation can mean a lot more with just two players, and that Academic Track can be the way to certain victory if you plan well. Also, I recommend not losing track of your chosen Agenda card; it can make a lot of difference when adding up your points. The biggest issues were finding the Goal markers on the game board as they are colored that same as many of the player tokens, which can be confusing when moving the new Goal markers after a compound is complete or just finding and moving your own flask. The use of the Goal cards or the Academic Track can lead to some long games, especially the first time out, so think an hour, especially if you have four or more players. Given the complexity, unless you have a younger player who is an experienced strategy game board player, the age for this is appropriately set, so I don’t recommend this for most primary school-aged players.
For my squad, we found that the mechanics of the Goal cards were similar to Contagion and Fluxx, and the multiple paths to victory were reminiscent of 7 Wonders. Outside of an argument about whether hydrogen is a halogen or alkali, an interesting magic trick using a coin and a lost token, and complaints that the game didn’t teach enough chemistry, Periodic was a winner with my squad. Putting the criticism aside, I can see an educator using this game to familiarize their students with the names of the elements, names of lab equipment, and the different elemental groups. Beyond that, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. So if you have a couple of hours, gather the family for a game of Periodic.
Periodic was just released about a month ago as part of a Kickstarter. The easiest way to get a copy is through the Genius Game website — and let them know that E.Angel and BGN sent you!
E.Angel is an engineer and holds a BS in electrical engineering from North Carolina A&T State University. In her spare time, she works at her comic book stores — Brainstorm Comics and Gaming — when she is not writing. She’s a real nerd who loves all things Star Wars and Star Trek and is an avid gamer. E.Angel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on either game platform as Bunnehs Sister.