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The team at Genius Games is carving a niche out of quasi-educational board games, and Periodic is their latest offering. i say “quasi” not because the game’s not educational, but because it’s not capital-E educational. Whereas attempts at making chemistry board games in the past may have had you rolling to move and drawing trivia question cards from a 7-inch deck, Periodic attempts to balance learning with a genuinely designed strategic movement/set collection game.

(click to view transcript)

Hi! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table, and this is Periodic, a strategic movement / set collection board game for 2-5 players. Genius Games has asked me to teach the game to you, so let me show you how to play!

You begin the game with a handful of these energy tokens. The elements on the goal cards are marked with fruity pebbles; if you land your flask on those elements, you get to mark the goal cards with your tokens, and eventually claim them for points. On your turn, you can either spend energy tokens to move your flask, or take energy tokens from one of the pots, and move your flask just a little bit.

If you’ve chosen to spend your energy tokens, here’s how it works. Each of these five Periodic Trends describes a pattern of movement your flask can make. You can move your flask from 1 to 5 spaces, and the trend you put your energy token on determines which direction you can take.

Increase or decrease atomic number is the most straightforward: the atomic number of an element is up in this corner. So if you start on 5, you can move your flask to element number 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10. If you’re not familiar with the periodic table, it’s important to know that the elements across these gaps are connected. So if you want to decrease the atomic number of the element you’re on, you can move backwards up to 5 spaces, from 4, to 3, and then wrapping around the board like Pac-Man, to 2, and then to 1. Since you’re only decreasing the atomic number, you can’t wrap around to the opposite corner of the board.

This first trend is the only one that allows you to wrap around the board like that. For the other four trends, you can picture two solid walls on either side of the periodic table. In the words of renowned Nobel laureate chemical engineer Gandalf the Grey: you shall not pass.

So the second trend, increase ionization energy, lets you move your flask up and/or to the right. So if you start here, you can go straight up, up to 5 spaces, or straight right up to five spaces, or in a combination. You can’t ever move diagonally, so moving from here to here is two movements, not one.

Following the same movement rules, the Increase Atomic Radii trend lets you move down and/or left. Increase atomic mass moves you down and/or right. And Decrease Atomic Mass moves you up and/or left. The last two trends let you Increase and Decrease Atomic Mass. Atomic mass is generally about the number of protons and neutrons in an atom’s nucleus, and you can find that number down here. So if you decrease that number, you’re moving up and/or to the left. If you increase that number, you’re moving down and or to the right.

The first trend you activate costs you one energy token, while every additional trend costs you two tokens. You can activate as many trends as you can afford, and you can activate the same trend more than once.

Since you can pay energy tokens multiple times on your turn to move your flask, it’s possible to research multiple elements on a single turn. Not in a single move, but on a single turn.

To recap, a turn where you’ve decided to spend energy looks like this: pay 1 token to a periodic trend, and move your flask 1-5 spaces. If you stop on an element where you don’t already have a cube on a goal card, put a cube on a goal card. If you want to keep moving your flask, pay two energy tokens to a periodic trend. Could be the same trend as last time. Doesn’t have to be. Move your flask 1-5 spaces. Mark the goal card if applicable. If you want to move again, pay another 2 energy tokens, and so on. If you’re finished moving or you’re out of energy tokens, your turn is finished, and the next player going clockwise is up.

If you decide instead to take tokens on your turn, choose one of the periodic trends and grab all the tokens that are piled up on it. Then you have to move your flask 1 to 5 spaces, just once, according to the trend where you just took the tokens. If there aren’t any tokens to grab on the particular trend you want, you get one energy token from the richest player before moving your flask. In a 2-player game, you take that token from the box instead.

The second way you can earn points is to move your microscope along the Element Group Track that encircles the board. Each of these cards describes a group of elements on the periodic table. If, at the very end of your entire turn, your flask is on one of the elements described by the next card going clockwise in the circle, you move your microscope to that card, and you move your disc one space to the right on the Academic Track. These highest spaces on the track can only ever be filled with one, two, and three discs respectively, so it’s a race to reach the best spot.

When you claim a goal card, you also get to nab an award tile above that stack, while supplies last. You can cash in these awards on your turn to get little perks. The green award gets you up to 3 additional movement spaces after you activate a trend. The pink one lets you warp your flask to any element in the group shown on the back of the tile. The purple one lets you activate the trend on the back of the tile without spending an energy token. Use the blue award at the beginning of your turn to grab two energy tokens total, either from a single trend …. or from two different trends. You don’t get to take those movements – just the energy tokens. And then you get to continue your turn as usual.

Finally, you can earn points from your agenda cards. Each card has two objectives on it – if you finish either or both, you get the points indicated. Some objectives let you score points for the goal cards you’ve completed; in this case, each goal card you’ve claimed counts towards only one objective.

If a player exhausts one of the goal card stacks, or two players fill up the rightmost spots on the Academic track, the game ends. Everyone except the player who ended the game gets a final turn, and then you count up your points. If you deplete one or more goal card stacks at the end of your turn to end the game, replenish the stacks with cards from the box. There should always be 4 goal cards available to all players.

To score the game, count up the points from your goal cards and lab tokens. Add the points you earned on the Academic Track. If you have cubes on goal cards that weren’t completed, you still get 3 points or 5 points for having 1 or 2 cubes on the card at the end of the game. Tack on any points you earned on your agenda cards. The player with the most points wins the game. Your standing on the Academic Track breaks ties, and energy tokens serve as a dead heat tiebreaker.

To set up the game, shuffle and stack the goal cards by colour at the top of the board – 6 cards in the first two stacks, and 5 cards in the second two – and flip over the top card in each stack. Shuffle and stack the award tiles above the goal cards by colour. Lab tokens go nearby. Put a matching goal marker on the board for every element that shows up on the goal cards. Shuffle the element group cards and spread them out in two semi-circles of four cards each on either side of the board. Put an energy token on each of the five trends. Everyone takes their flask, microscope, disc, and cubes in their colour. The player who most recently touched calcium carbonate goes first. Calcium carbonate is in seashells, stained glass windows, old-school chalk, marble, almond milk. But you already knew that.

The first three players going clockwise put their discs on academic track zero, while everyone else gets to start on the next space up. Player one gets 3 energy tokens to start the game. Second player gets four, third player gets five, and then 4th player gets 3 tokens, and fifth player gets 4. These energy tokens, along with the five tokens peppering the Periodic Trends, are the sum total of all the energy available in the game. Because, as you know, energy is neither created nor destroyed. The first player places his or her microscope on the bottom left card in the Element Group track. Player two skips a card and places here. Next player skips a card and goes here, and the 4th and 5th player both start on the seventh card.

Look at the element group card where your microscope is sitting, and place your flask on the board according to the element with the lowest atomic number in that group. So if you’re on the Metalloids card, you place your flask on Boron.

Deal 3 agenda cards to each player, or 2 cards in a 5-player game. Keep 1 card, and chuck the rest back in the box. Play begins with the first player, and continues clockwise.

And now you’re ready to play Periodic! First player first player first player!