Ion – A Compound Building Game: Review

Fairway reviews a recent Kickstarter delivery from Genius Games: Ion: A Compound Building Game.

Ion: A Compound Building Game is a quick, card-drafting, compound-building game by Genius Games for two to four players. It takes about 20 minutes to play.

Initial Impressions

  • Nice box, heavy chits and components.
  • Nice linen finished cards.
  • Feels a lot like Sushi Go!, but with a longer-term, three-round strategy.
  • Rules feel wordier than necessary, but were still comprehensible.

The Gameplay

Embedded image permalinkA game of Ion takes place in three rounds of card drafting. Players are dealt eight cards each round, pick a card from their hand to play into their play area, and, then, pass the remaining cards clockwise. The only cards that aren’t used are the last two.

Each card is an element or compound and has a positive or negative “ionic charge.” The cards are played to acquire point scoring combinations of either balanced compounds or unique noble gasses.  Balanced compounds are those combinations of cards with equal positives and negative charges.

It’s hard to escape comparisons to games like Sushi Go! But unlike Sushi Go!, the cards (and the compounds created) aren’t scored until the end of the third round, and there are for more types of combinations.

Each player also has three special powers that can be used: take cards from a face-up assortment of cards in the middle of the table, cause a “reaction,” and take two on one turn. When used, these powers let the player do the corresponding action at the expense of some points at the end of the game.

On the green

Embedded image permalinkIon uses nice components and looks very polished with nice graphic design and compelling color palette.  The box, chits and cards are very nice, and the cards shuffle and play well. The cards feel very much like Sushi Go! cards-again, it’s hard to escape that comparison.

Even with its rich science vocabulary, Ion is still easy to teach: pick a card, find cards that sum to zero, play the card, and pass the rest. There is not a lot of time commitment to play this game and should be easy enough for anyone especially if they’ve played Sushi Go!.

Ion has strong educational concept: basic math skills and chemistry. It includes science information, uses science vocabulary and teaches some basic concepts of ionic bonding.

Where it comes up short

Ion is a solid game  but these concerns merit some mention:

  • The rules.  It’s a fairly short rulebook, which is good, but I felt the typography made it harder to read than if it were just done in a non-handwriting font. Also the lack of differentiation in the use of bold and red and lack of whitespace added to the feeling of reading large blocks of text. 
  • Embedded image permalinkChoices. During our games of Ion, we largely completed the compounds, and it didn’t feel like there was a ton of “risk” in not completing the compounds that you’re going for. There are lots of ways to get to get a balanced compound (where the ionic charges add up to zero) when a vast majority of the cards were +1 or -1. I wasn’t nervous about completing one that I started. This fact also diminished an ability to really interfere with the other players’ plans by taking a card that they were looking for.Relatedly, our first plays made it clear that playing for the high value +2 or +3 ions were almost always the right choice.  These cards would inevitably score 10+ points and were readily achievable.  And playing a Reaction Action Tile at the end of the game all but guarantees you’ll score the point if you can’t complete it with your hand.
  • Embedded image permalinkAction Tiles. Action tiles cost points, but their value is often far outweighed by their power. The point losses you take for playing these action tiles is hidden information to everyone until flipped over, but the range is relatively small (1-4 points) compared to ending scores. More seasoned players will know the point range is small and certainly take advantage. And, if playing with the polyatomic ion cards, players can “undo” the most expensive point losses (usually a good deal).  The advantage of action tiles like the Reaction Tiles make these hugely disruptive.

    Game Variant Idea: one thought that we had was to use the “points” on the back of the Action Tiles to unbalance one of the molecules. So instead of taking away points, the values make one of the molecules have a larger negative charge.

  • Reaction Tiles. These seem really overpowered and, in two games, players all flipped them at the very end of the game.  Reaction Tiles let players rearrange their own player area and take one unbonded card from another player!  Yikes. At the end of the last round, this can work to undo almost all the decisions already made and to steal an unbonded, large point-scoring card from the other player.
  • Compound bonuses. We really wanted these to be more interesting compounds.  Most require just two ion cards together and are usually the common compounds players build anyway.

In the hole

Ion is a good, little game for teachers and parents with an interest in science education and for anyone who enjoys chemistry or science-themed games.

Ion: A Compound Building Game makes it into the hole for a par.

This review originally appeared on The Inquisitive Meeple.

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