Board GamesReviews

Periodic: A Game of Elements Review

Periodic: A Game of Elements
John Coveyou, Paul Salomon
Tomasz Bogusz

Periodic: A Game of Elements continues Genius Game's mission to deliver scientific concepts in highly playable games.  There is something simply satisfying about completing compounds and scoring points, and for such an austere presentation, it sure does look great.

Periodic: A Game of Elements is one of the latest title from Genius Games, a company that has always striven to merge real science with fun gameplay (often to solid results).  With Periodic, designers John Coveyou and Paul Salomon try to combine the elements of educational, scientific concepts, set completion, and easy, engaging gameplay, and have ended up synthesizing what might be my favorite Genius Games title yet!

Surprisingly beautiful, given the subject matter

We got a review copy of Periodic from Genius Games.

So, having spoiled my impressions of Periodic, let’s take a brief look at its mechanics.  The goal of Periodic is to end the game with the most points, and the main way you’ll earn them is by moving your flask across the game board – a candy-colorful periodic table – in order to research elements and create compounds, which will result in a pile of points when completed.  Periodic is all about who can manage to complete goal cards faster, thus securing victory.

‘Agenda’ cards also give you bonus scoring opportunities at the end of the game

Now, we should probably say right here that Periodic is a pretty darn abstract game in most ways – you’re really just moving your piece across the board, trying to be more efficient and effective than your fellow scientists at tagging the elements needed to make the compounds which will score you points.  But there is a simple brilliance to the design that makes it so easy to engage and lots of fun besides.

How you move your pieces across the table is a neat action selection mechanic.  Each turn, you will pick which of the ‘Periodic Trend’ cards you will activate, and that card will tell you how you can move your flask.  Activating a single card is free (and nets you any energy tokens that are present), but you can activate more by spending energy tokens, which get placed on the trends for future retrieval.

Trend cards describe movement across the periodic table – activating the ‘Increase or Decrease Atomic Number’ card will let you move laterally, while ‘Increase Atomic Mass’ will let you move your flask both to the right and down.  Every time you stop moving, you can place a research token on one of the available goal cards that features that element, and as soon as someone marks all the elements of a goal card as researched, then that card is scored.  The person who completed it gets the most points, then people who participated but hadn’t finished it yet get some catch-up points.

Beyond the goal cards, players can earn points by moving their marker along the Academic track, which is done by moving their flask from one section of the periodic table to the other.  That means that you may not want to simply make a mad dash from one element to the next to complete goals – by planning your route so that you advance your Academic marker, you can earn some serious points!

Periodic ends when enough goal cards have been scored, and at that point, players will reveal their agendas and total their points for goals, Agenda, and how far along they’ve gotten on the academic track, with the scientist whose gathered the most points is named the winner!

Now, unavoidably, we have to reiterate that the gameplay itself in Periodic feels incredibly abstract; you’re using a handful of movement rules to shuttle your piece around the board, stopping strategically to put cubes on cards.  None of that makes it boring at all, but a rich, thematic game Periodic isn’t.

…or is it?  Because the bottom line is that the science on display in Periodic is absolutely on point!  Elements with greater atomic mass are on the lower right side of the periodic table.  Atomic numbers are laterally sequential.  Increased ionization energy is consistent with elements on the upper right quadrant of the table.  And not only that, but the Goal cards, the compounds you’re trying to make, are real too, and come with some neat scientific trivia about them. The science works!

Want to learn more about the science of the periodic table? Periodic comes with a whole informational booklet!

And the gameplay does, too.  Though your goals are straightforward and the mechanics easy to grasp, Periodic has a clean feel to it, and you’ll spend your turns planning out your route and working through the challenge of being more efficient in your movements than your opponents.

And heck, if it looks like your fellow scientist will beat you to a goal just a turn before you could complete it, as long as you at least placed a research cube or two on that card, you’ll still get some points, so the sting isn’t nearly so bad.

Periodic is a game that absolutely could be used to teach scientific concepts, but there is a charm in its presentation and a smoothness to its mechanics that make it easy to enjoy even for those who aren’t necessarily looking for a chemistry lesson.

Genius Games has succeeded once again in creating an experience at the table that is fueled by science, designed with elegance, and which results in a good time for lots of different kinds of players.  We definitely recommend folks check out Periodic!

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