Science is amazing. It is one of the biggest passions in my life. But it can be hard, really hard, to understand at times. The ability to grasp and understand key scientific principles can shape and develop how we think, which is how we progress intellectually as a species. Getting this information across can be tough. There are some wonderful teachers out there that light the spark of scientific intrigue in some kids, but we need more ways, always. This is where the wonderful folk at Genius Games come in. Genius Games specialise in creating games that educate, whilst being a ton of fun, and making complex topics easier to grasp. They were kind enough to send me a review copy of their game Ion which is all about, you guessed it, Ions. Of the core sciences (Biology, Physics and Chemistry), Chemistry is easily my weakest so I was keen to see how accessible their game Ion made learning about bonds, acids and alkaline elements, and I wanted to see how my kids faired with this topic too. 

How do you play Ion: A Compound Building Game? 

Ion is a card drafting game where you aim to build compounds from the cards available to you on each turn.

In the basic game, each player starts with 8 cards in their hand (9 in the advanced game, more on this later). These are your elements. Next, put down 3 of the compound goal cards. These are there to help incentivise you to build those compounds for victory points. Now you are ready to play, you take one of your cards from your hand and place it down in your area. Once everyone has done this you pass your hand to the player on the left. Voilà you now have a new hand and any plans you had are out the door. You keep going and building your compounds till everyone’s hand is down to two cards, which are then discarded. Points are labelled on the cards, with additional points available on the compound card; the top score is added if you manage one of these and the bottom score if you manage both. The Noble gasses can earn more depending on how many different ones you have with two points for one gas, five points for two and nine points for all three noble gasses. Tally up the points and move your cool token along the board and keep going until you reach 50 or 100 (Depending on how long you want the game). 

What makes Ion feel like a game?

The fact that you swap hands each round is how you play is fantastically devious to me. You can see what others have placed and what they may want that is in your hand ready to move around to them, so you can mess up there compounds and leave them with just a big mess of hydrogen and no chloride to attach to it. Marvellous. By doing this it really makes Ion feel like a game and in doing so it makes you want to keep going, makes you decide between focusing on your hand or messing with someone else’s who may be looking at a big score if you don’t. 

What makes Ion educational?

On each element, and on each compound, you have the name of the element or compound, the periodic table abbreviations, a very brief description, and on the element cards as well they have the atomic weights, the periodic table number, an image showing the number of protons and neutrons and if that element is positively or negatively charged. Wow, that’s a lot. But what Ion does, incredibly, is that it makes all that detail look like it belongs. The cards aren’t cluttered and look slick. As you play you are subtly engaging with chemistry. You quickly work out about the balancing act of positively charged elements pairing up with negatively charged, you see how putting certain things together creates items we see in our daily lives, like salt for example, and in so it sparks questions, which is education gold. It made my kids start to wonder “oh so why does neon glow then if it is a gas?”, “Calcium, the stuff in your bones is used in telescopes? How?” and my favourite, “Dad you’re doing that weird evil scientist grin thing again.” Then followed some YouTube science videos and it was great fun. Ion doesn’t chuck you in the deep end, it shows you the basics in a really engaging easy way and makes kids have that little flush of curiosity. That is the seeding of science. That is how we get more kids into STEM. 

The science is good, but what about the art?

Don’t worry about that either. Ion looks great. The elements cards are beautiful with an old worn metal feel in the background, strong colours to designate bases, acids and noble gases, the lettering is a clean white and they really pop. If they wanted to produce a periodic table in the style they have used, I would hang it up on a wall for the world to enjoy. 

Radioactive expansion and the advanced game

Once you have the hang of the basics you have the option of moving up to the top class. In this you add radioactive cards (a stained brown and cracked wall with the radioactive hazard or trefoil symbol and striped yellow trim and a radioactive decay score), transition metals (similar to the base set but colours of elements present and dual sided like a traditional playing card), Polyatomic ion cards (more of a teal and green coloured card) and action tiles. Each player gets a set of three of the action tiles, one ‘select 2’ tile, one ‘take from centre’ tile and one ‘RXN’.  4 element cards are placed on the table and you can use your ‘take from centre’ tile at any point to get one of these elements. They all have to be different and are not replaced until the beginning of the next round. The ‘select 2’ tile allows you to place two cards from your hand as opposed to the normal one and the ‘RXN’ tile allows you to rearrange your deck, and take 1 card from the table cards or the discard pile from previous rounds and place it into your deck. That’s a powerful tile so use it wisely. 

The new cards add a few new elements like radioactive cards not having charges but scoring depending on how many you have and decay, transition metals being able to switch between the charge for more points at any point and completing a polyatomic compound gains you one of your used action tiles back. All of this together adds a great deal of strategy whilst still keeping the true nature of the game. 

Ion: A Compound Building Game summary

Ion is a great little game with the basic set being a nice introduction to chemistry for kids, even if it feels a little small but with a wicked expansion and advanced set that really ups the play style for your more accomplished young gamers, Ion will go a long way. Ion is not a hardcore, several hour monster of a game and I wouldn’t necessarily get this out on one of my adult board game evenings, but it is almost a certainty on a family games night. This is a game for a family with young kids who want to have fun and the parents who want their kids to play something that is also going to grow and develop a passion for the sciences. With that in mind, Genius Games knock it out of the park. My kids love this and it had the effect that Genius Games was going for. If their other games match the level of quality and the basic level of entry then I feel that there could be a great place for these games in homes and schools alike.

This game for me is a Beryllium and a half out of Boron (4.5 out of 5 elements)

4.5 out of 5 – Recommended

As always, look after yourself and happy geeking

Coach Rob

Robert House
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