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Science Board Games, Episode 1

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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I do enjoy a good board game night with friends, and if the game we’re playing happens to be science-themed, I’m just about as happy as can be. Here I’ll give you a quick guide to some really great science-inspired board games. This is by no means definitive, which is why I included an “episode one” in the title of this post. As I hear about more science games, I’ll put together future overviews for you. Okay, let’s dive right in.

1. Pandemic

This is a favorite of mine, and not just because it’s about infectious diseases and trying to cure them. I like it because the gameplay is cooperative. You all work together to stop the spread of disease and find the cure. However, if you’re new to this game and are playing with experienced Pandemic-ers, the cooperative nature of the game could turn into them telling you what to do. So hopefully you don’t play with people like that. And if you’re much more into competitive play, you can get the On the Brink expansion, which introduces a bioterrorist into the mix, who tries to foil all your plans to cure diseases. What a jerk.

2. Compounded

I backed this game on Kickstarter last year. It’s a fun game where you randomly pick “atoms” out of a bag to try to complete compounds. It’s a great blend of strategy and chance.

3. Strain

I have a microbiology background, so Strain is right up my alley. You rush to complete cells with organelles and cytoplasm around “organism tiles.” But your fellow players can attack you with toxins or give you viruses. Just like real life, I suppose.

4. Parasites Unleashed

This card game challenges you to complete the life cycles of parasites, and best of all–it’s true. Cards with descriptions like leave host in urine, dig through muscle, and move into gut make this game gross, awesome, and factual. What more do you want? No, seriously? What do you want?

5. Bone Wars

You’re a paleontologist in the late 19th century, and you want ALL THE BONES. You rush to complete the most impressive skeletons of dinosaurs while foiling your rivals. Muahahaha

7. Zooloretto

This is the only game on this list that is for little kids. You put together a little collection of animals and pair them together so they will–gasp!–make babies! So racy for a little kids’ game, eh? But seriously, it’s very cute.

8. Go Extinct!

This is a game I don’t have yet. I backed them on Kickstarter. It’s a Go Fish style game where you complete evolutionary trees, and if someone asks you for a card you don’t have, instead of saying, “go fish,” you say, “go extinct!” Adorable!

Which games have you played? Or which ones do you want to play?

Katie McKissick About the Author: Katie McKissick is a former high school biology teacher turned science writer and cartoonist based in Los Angeles, CA. Her first book is called What's in Your Genes. You can find more of work at Follow on Twitter @beatricebiology.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Marko Bosscher 7:25 pm 05/9/2014

    I’ve played the Robinson Crusoe expansion “Voyage of the Beagle” recently. It’s hard but fun, and the Darwin angle gives it a bit of a science/history flavour.
    Like the original Robinson Crusoe it’s basically a cooperative survival game, where you gather resources and have to fullfill certain conditions (fix up the ship, gather provisions etc.) within a set amount of turns.
    The science twist is that you also have to help Darwin gather plants, animals and fossils so he can write a book (which may or may not have far-reaching consequences for our understanding of the world, depending on how well you do).
    The highpoint for me was going on an expedition with Darwin and discovering anew species of tapir! Unfortunately we had to eat it later, so now it will probably take another century before this species is rediscovered.

    Link to this
  2. 2. 1:56 pm 05/12/2014

    Sweet! Never heard of these before… excited to try them out.

    For kids, there’s a freebie from the Smithsonian called Evolve or Perish. It was created & illustrated by the kid’s book author/illustrator Hannah Bonner. It’s a bit like Chutes and Ladders but with a science/evo theme. Highly recommend! Bonner’s cartoons are hilarious and memorable.

    Link to this
  3. 3. clg6000 9:11 pm 05/15/2014

    They are not for the feint of heart, but when speaking of science-related board games it’s always worth mentioning the work of game designer Phil Eklund. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of playing any of them personally, but there’s little doubt of his position in the hobby game community as the guy who drops the science on the cardboard and plastic.

    His most notable design is likely High Frontier, an excruciatingly detailed recreation of the business of rocket science (which he should know a little something about, since he’s a real live aerospace engineer). The next best known science game of his would be Bios Megafauna, a simulation of prehistoric animals trying to survive the Permian catastrophe.

    …yeah, it’s not exactly Parcheesi. But if you want to play games you might conceivably get college credits for, Eklund’s your guy.

    Link to this

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