Science Ninjas: Review

Science Ninjas: Valence is a chemistry-themed card game for 2-5 players.  Players draw elemental ninjas in a silent, but deadly, attempt to form powerful molecules. The molecules score points, gain bonuses, and can be used to destroy other players’ compounds. In this short review, Fairway takes a look at this Kickstarter-funded card game.

Science Ninjas: Valence was on Kickstarter last year, and Fairway love a good science game to play with his kids.

Initial Impressions ^

  • Valence features nice, kid-friendly illustrations.
  • The game is centered around basic (advanced?) chemistry and uses chemical reactions as the primary mechanism of the game.
  • The use of encoded information lowers the learning curve and scaffolds the learning
  • The game is simple enough, but has some issues.

The game play 🔬 ^

Science Ninjas: Valence is a straight-forward card game clearly intended for school-age kids. The mechanics are simple enough: draw a card and play matching combinations to collect points.  The cards are one of a series of positively or negatively charged ions. Each ion is represented by a elemental ninja character like “Eureka Fermi” as elemental Hydrogen (check out all the characters).

Players use their cards to form compounds. The available compounds are set out in the center of the table and created using the right combination of elements from a player’s hand. Each compound requires a “balanced” hand of appropriately matching colors. For example, to earn the Acid compound, you need a Red and Blue element which sum to zero.  In this case, combining a +1 Hydrogen (Blue) with a -1 Fluorine (Red).

Each of these compounds provide a special power and most provide a few points.  Collect enough points and you win the game.

On the green ^

Science Ninjas – Valence came up a bit short overall, but it fits a very useful niche: science-themed games for younger kids.

Art. The art and theme are the clear draws.  The art is definitely one of the reasons I backed. The game features the illustrations of Nathan Schreiber, a New York Times best selling cartoonist and engineer.

Science. The science is good too. The core educational concept is pretty straight-forward: basic chemistry and some very basic math.  The game is loaded with educational opportunities and uses the scientific language.  Some of the more complex science arrives as the result of playing compounds. Easy example: if you have a Base, it’s vulnerable to an Acid attack by another which would result in exchanging the Base for Water and Salt.

The use of color-coded elements to make the right compounds is quite ingenious and well-designed.  As a result, to play the basic game, all a player really needs is to be able to do simple math and color-matching.  Oddly, after doing a great job on this aspect, small text that requires the players to actually read is used for the compounds. It was so close to great from that perspective!

Where it comes up short ^

Valence’s art and science don’t entirely carry the day. There are some game-play issues and leaves a lot to be desired:

  • It swings wildly back and forth. Because of the nature of the compounds, the points associated with them, and player draws, it’s possible to have huge swings in points.
  • There are definitely more desirable compounds, but creating them has little to do with any particular strategy and more to do with who’s lucky enough to draw the right elements.
  • There can be long stretches when you don’t get enough of the right kind of elements to form any compound.  Having a bunch of positive ions without a negative ions can be a frustrating experience.

Probably not the game you’d expect.  If you just want a science game, you’re good. But it seems like a game about ninjas should have some… fight. Or at least some silently-and-stealthy-sneaking-up-on-another-player action. It felt like it should have had both. In game, the ninjas themselves don’t actually engage any player. Rather, the positive and negative ninjas combine to make the compounds. Okay… And then once combined, it’s only certain of the compounds that can be used to go on the offensive. There was clearly a missed opportunity in here somewhere.

The cards are simple enough, maybe someone can come up with a proper player v. player variant.

Graphic Design.  The designers focused a bunch on the science. Other than the color-coding of elements-to-compounds, the graphic design left a bunch to be desired.  In some places, the fonts are so small it’s hard to read, especially for the powers/effects of the compound cards which are in the middle of the table.

In the hole ^

Teachers/Parents.  If you have younger kids or students interested in chemistry, Valence might work to introduce some concepts. It’s probably even a good educational diversion in a classroom or home-school environment. It definitely fits the bill for a science-themed, educationally-topical game.

Science Ninjas is in the hole for one over par. ^

This post was originally featured on The Inquisitive Meeple.

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