Published on April 22nd, 2015 | by Nicole Jekich1
The Elements in Harmony
If the thought of playing a chemistry-themed game brings up uncomfortable high school memories, rest assured that Ion isn’t a test. This simple card game encourages learning through playing the game. The few fundamentals of the periodic table covered in Ion are just enough to pique your interest and make you want to play with all the elements.
Chemistry Degree Not Needed:
If you feel the need to brush up on your chemistry fundamentals before playing, I recommend watching Crash Course Chemistry videos on Atomic Hook-Ups – Types of Chemical Bonds Ep#22 and Electrons- Ep #5; however, understanding covalent bonds, the capacity of electron shells, etc isn’t needed to have fun with Ion.
Players are tasked with forming balanced compounds in order to score points. At the end of three rounds, the player with the most points wins. Ensuring the bonds are balanced is a simple: every positively charged element needs to bond with an equally negatively charged element. Some elements, like the noble gases Argon, Helium, and Neon don’t need an element partner. Instead, these noble gases gain more points the more copies you have in play. When I didn’t have a match for my other bonds, I always played a noble gas–the points were easy to acquire in a 2 player game.
To start the game, players begin with a hand of 8 cards. Each turn a player will draft one card and add it to their tableau face down. Players reveal their chosen element simultaneously and either bond it to an element already in play or place the element by itself hopefully for a future bond. Players then pass their hand to the left and the draft continues. Once players are at the last two cards of a hand, the first round is over, those two remaining cards are discarded and points are tallied.
There are two other features of Ion that give players an opportunity to gain even more points sometimes at a risk. Before the start of a round, two compounds are drawn and displayed for the round. These compounds are goals for players to accomplish for bonus points. These objectives fit right in with the pace of the game and gives Ion its competitive edge. In the two player version, it was difficult to accomplish these objectives as there are little options for introducing more cards into play if the starting hands lack the needed elements to form these compounds.
However, players can risk completing these objectives by using their action tiles. At the start of the game, players are assigned a random stack of “Select Two”, “Take From Center” and “Reaction” actions (If there are some chemistry-type names for these actions, that would be greatly appreciated as these names are quite dull). These allow players to add extra cards, pull a card from the center display of elements and add additional cards at the end of the round. When a player uses a tile, they reveal the negative points on the opposite side which are deducted from that player’s total.
Learning Comes Naturally
The graphic design on Ion’s cards is clear, concise and full of chemistry tidbits like the element’s classification or location on the periodic table. The image featured on each card is a graphic representation of the element’s structure including its array electrons, protons and neutrons. There is nothing too fantastic or eye-catching about the art but the design is clean and isn’t distracting.
I have always had an issue with self-proclaimed “educational games”, because many of these games are not in fact a game. These “games” are sold as educational tools for parents and educators looking to find more creative ways to cram little Jimmy or Jane’s brain full of knowledge; but they are little more than illustrated flashcards. I feel many students, like myself, become very good at memorizing information in order to get good grades on tests; but just how much of that information actually sticks?
Ion is a game that aims to make chemistry fun and interesting by presenting a small chunk of the fundamentals in a game format. The challenge of the card game does become stale after a couple play throughs but it would definitely feel at home in a chemistry classroom where year after year new students can play it and learn from it.
Anytime a teacher presented information that was either fun or relevant to my everyday life, I was more likely to remember it. I remember that sparklers contain Magnesium because we lit it on fire and it burned the same blinding, white light. I remember that salt lowers the melting temperature of water making it possible to make ice cream in a 45 minute class using ingredients, bags, salt and ice. Ion may not be as fun as making ice cream in science class but it definitely shows that educational material and interesting gameplay don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Ion is currently on Kickstarter by Genius Games. Ion is one of many educational and engaging games from this company. Please consider supporting this campaign and help unlock even more chemistry cards for this game!