Ion: A Compound Building Game, by John Coveyou, is a light card drafting game for 2-7 players in which the goal is to earn the most points by creating neutrally charged compounds, fulfilling the requirements of goal cards, and collecting Nobel Gasses. The player, best able to manage these challenges over all three rounds will be the winner.
The copy that I received for purposes of a review is not a final copy as this game is on Kickstarter. As such, the rules, components, and artwork are all subject change at this point.
The set up for Ion is very quick and simple. Players are randomly given a set of the three action tiles, “Take From the Center”, “Select Two”, and “RXN”. These actions may be used over the course of the game to make powerful one time moves, but at a cost of points for using them at the end of the game. The cost depends on which set a player received, and the players are not supposed to look until they use the action.
Flip four element cards face up in the center of the table. If any are the same, continue drawing until all four cards are different. Now each player is dealt eight Element Cards, which make up their hands.
Once the players have their hands, randomly flip two (three if five or more people are playing) Compound Goal Cards face up in the center of the table. After completing this step, the round is ready to begin.
During a round, each player selects a card from their hand to keep, places it face down in front of them. After all players have chosen, all selected cards are revealed simultaneously and each player either bonds it to another element in their area, or place it un-bonded within their play area. Once placed, element cards may not be moved unless the RXN action tile is used. Now, all players pass the cards remaining in their hand to the player on their left and repeat this process. This is repeated until the players only have two cards in hand after choosing, at which time the remaining cards are discarded. The round ends after the players resolve their choices and any action tiles they wish to use.
Once the round has ended, it is time to score the result of each players choices. Each player earns points for any neutral compounds the have successfully formed. These are compounds that have an equal number of positive and negative charges. The value of each card within such a compound is added to a player’s score. Un-bonded elements score zero points.
Next, players score points for any Noble Gasses they have managed to collect during the round. Any one Nobel Gas is worth two points, with two different Nobel Gasses being worth five points, and a full set of all three worth nine points.
Lastly, each player checks to see if they have successfully fulfilled any of the conditions on the Goal Cards. If one of the goals on a card is met the player earns the lesser of the two point totals and the greater if both goals are achieved.
If this was the end of round one or two, all cards are returned to the deck, goal cards shuffled, and the next round is prepared in the same manner as the previous. If this is the end of the third round, players add up all of the points from the three rounds and subtract any negatives earned from using special action tiles. The player with the most points wins!
Ion: A Card Building Game, is a very light card drafting/set collection game that is as much about learning as it is about fun. Recommended for ages eight and up, it represents a gateway for youngsters into both the exciting worlds of gaming and chemistry. While certainly not the most complex game in the world, Ion is a big step up from better known and less challenging children’s games such as Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders. Ion is a similar dip into the shallow end of the chemistry pool, but a wonderful way to introduce these concepts to kids.
Ion has a number of positives worth noting. First of all, the drafting mechanic is fun and smooth. It will be familiar to anyone who has drafted Magic the Gathering or played 7 Wonders and simple enough to pick up even if this your first such game. I am always a fan of games with drafting as they offer an interesting set of decisions every game. I liked the inclusion of the Compound Goal cards as a way to give each round a slightly different feel and to alter the valuation of each card based on what goals are face up during a round. This adds replayability and fun as players, and especially kids like to have a goal for which to aim! Its simple scoring system makes it easy for players, even young ones to figure out how the did and where they stand.
Ion’s most important achievement, in my opinion, is the successful marriage of an educational game with a game that is actually fun to play. Far too many games that pass themselves of as “educational” games are terribly designed or literally feel like homework. Kids see right through this and lose interest in both parts of such games. While I strongly believe that a great deal can be learned from playing traditional and modern games that are not strictly educational in nature, Ion strives to provide an introduction to very specific information in an entertaining manner and succeeds! This is very important! I recently read an article that said the greatest roadblock to teaching kids or even adults anything is that learning becomes associated with work, work is perceived as drudgery, and thus learning/drudgery is to be avoided. Games like Ion offer an opportunity to sneak past this unfortunate bias, and even potentially link learning about chemistry, or even learning in general, to a positive experience at a young age. The potential benefits of such a mindset are not to be underestimated,!
Any complaints that I have about Ion are primarily those of a grumpy old gamer who prefers far heavier gaming fare, but some are mechanical in nature. My biggest issue is the lack of a turn order or any order to resolve players selections. This is all supposed to occur simultaneously, but a player could benefit greatly by waiting to to see what other players do before the decide to leave their element bonded or unbonded. This is not beyond kids or even teens and is exactly the sort of thing I did when I was a grumpy young gamer. This issue also extends to the Action Tiles, as the may be played at anytime. However, this creates a sort of “slap jack” element as to who flipped theirs first or a game of chicken to see who will go last and try to use the other players’ actions to their advantage. Without more structure, these situations could lead to some conflict and slightly stain the positive experience for players of all ages.
One last warning to my fellow hardcore gamers, this game is extremely light. There is very little strategy here, and only rudimentary tactics. If you are looking for a highly competitive brain burner this is not for you! However, if you are able to set aside your bloodthirsty ways when playing with your kids and want to ease them into games, then Ion can be such a gateway.
In conclusion, Ion does a wonderful job of bonding education to entertainment in a way that should hold the interest of budding young gamers and maybe even a future scientist or two!
Let it be known to all readers and government officials alike, that Life in Games received a free copy of this game for the purpose of providing an objective review. No further compensation of any sort changed hands between myself and the publisher.