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Players race to research the periodic table in an engaging new board game

Periodic: A Game of the Elements

John J. Coveyou and Paul Salomon Illustrator: Tomasz Bogusz
Genius Games
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This year marks the 150th anniversary of Mendeleev’s publication on the periodic table. Periodic: A Game of the Elements provides a fun way to celebrate the science behind it in an engaging, play-based format.

Cheerful colors create an inviting game setup, and pieces shaped like microscopes, test tubes, and flasks playfully underline the science theme. The game board displays the periodic table (without the lanthanides and actinides) and is color coded by element group and classification type. Lively visual references to the tools chemists use and the elements that compose selected materials are incorporated throughout the game, and an accompanying booklet connects the game with the science and history of the periodic table.

Players move around the board according to periodic trends related to atomic number, ionization energy, atomic radii, and atomic mass in order to “research” (land their marker on) specific elements. The direction in which one can move is defined by the trends but also summarized by arrows located along the bottom of the game board, so prior knowledge about the periodic trends is not required. To move around the table, players use “energy tokens” to activate the desired trend. “Lab tokens” in the shape of test tubes and round-bottom and Erlenmeyer flasks help players keep track of the points they have earned from researching elements.

Players can earn and maximize points using different strategies. “Goal cards” (arranged into four piles of increasing difficulty) provide groups of elements—related by a common use or other fact—that players can choose to research. Carbon, oxygen, and calcium are grouped on one card, for example, on the basis of the role all three play in the calcium carbonate in chalk, limestone, and seashells. The first player to successfully research all the elements on a goal card receives that card’s points and an “award tile,” which can be redeemed for additional movement around the game board. Players also select one “agenda card,” which is kept hidden from the other players. Bonus points can be earned by achieving the objective stated on this card.

Microscope markers track each player’s progress along an outer course consisting of “element group cards.” Progression around this track can only occur when a player ends a turn on one of the elements present in the next element group card, and points are tallied by moving a marker along the “academic track” on the game board. Each successively higher square is worth more points, but the three highest squares can only be occupied by a limited number of players. Once filled, no one else can advance to those squares. The limited availability of these higher positions on the academic track provides an extra layer of competition (one that might hit a bit too close to home for those in academia).

The game ends either when a goal card pile is depleted or the highest academic track spots are filled. The player who has earned the most points through a combination of researching goal card elements, advancing on the academic track, and achieving the agenda card objective(s) wins.

On its own, moving around the periodic table according to trends and winning points by researching elements is a good premise for a game. The extra layers of complexity resulting from the different point-acquisition modes create more opportunities for strategic game play. Experienced gamers will likely find this interesting, but it may disconcert some beginner players. Our group, consisting of two professional scientists and a college student, found the point acquisition for moving around the periodic table according to the goal cards the most interesting and intuitive part of the game.

While the rule book that comes in the box is useful, the online video instructions (accessed via QR code) are also worth watching. These can help with initial setup and offer players tips for developing game-play strategies.

Overall, Periodic is an engaging game that leverages interesting aspects of the periodic table, without requiring prior knowledge for successful game play. The opportunities for strategic play provide a fun challenge, even for those who know the periodic table well.

About the author

The reviewer is at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, USA.