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‘Periodic: A Game of the Elements’ — board game review

Mixing up game night with the right chemistry.

I love board games and have played many, but never one that set out to teach science as it entertains. I decided to give one a try with Periodic:  A Game of the Elements, by Genius Games, which teaches all about the periodic table.

Periodic‘s components are well-made and quite colorful. There are multiple types of tokens, shaped like microscopes, flasks, and simple molecule shapes, as well as ordinary cubes and disks. I liked and appreciated the variety as I learned the game. There are energy tokens, upgrade award tiles, and test tube point tokens that are cardboard, but still very sturdy. The game board is a good size and very colorful, with easy-to-read type. The game also comes with a number of little bags to use for token storage, a very helpful and thoughtful addition.

I did have two issues with the game components and design. While the pastel colors are very pleasing to look at, it’s a bit difficult to tell the difference between the pink and purple, and the blue and green. It’s fine in bright light, but if you’re playing with two or three people, you can make things easier by choosing other colors that aren’t as similar. Some of the type on the cards and award upgrade tiles is white, which is not so easy to see on the pastel colors.

The rulebook is quite excellent and highly detailed. At first I found it a bit daunting because there seemed to be a lot of set up instructions, but they were clear and helpful and it didn’t take as long to get through as I thought it would.

Setting up the game for the first time did take me a little while — I was tired and was reading the rules aloud for my friend so we could both learn the game — but it wasn’t difficult. After the game had been set up, I really started to appreciate how the differently shaped pieces made it easy to keep track of what they represented.

The object of Periodic is to research elements to complete goals and move your token on the academic track, gaining points. There is good balance, as you must spend energy to research elements, so you will have to make choices in what you do — either gain energy or make extra moves. More than one person can attempt to complete the same goal, but when someone finishes it, the other players get points based on how much they did on the card.

There are four levels of goal cards, with different points scored based on complexity. There are also agenda cards, kept secret from other players, that will score you additional points at the end of the game. I could see not using them if you’re playing with younger kids or for the first time, but they definitely add additional interest as you get comfortable with the game.

The game ends in one of two ways — either one stack of goal cards is depleted or two players advance to the rightmost levels on the academic track, at which point you tally all points to determine the winner. When I played I purposefully finished a stack of goal cards to end the game quickly, while my friend chose to pursue points from the academic track (although she did complete some goals). We still ended up tied!

Periodic also comes with a book on the science behind the game. I only glanced at it, but it looks like a good source of information on the elements and the periodic table.

I will definitely be playing Periodic again. It was fun to play and one I can see returning to a number of times. I know my geeky science friends will all appreciate it.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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