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Using games to teach science

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Does anyone use board games/strategy games to teach science? I don’t mean “Let’s make a game out of…” , nor “Let’s take a boardgame and apply it to science” – I’m thinking about strategic games (generally sold in game stores that cater to adults) where real science is part of the gameplay by design.

Eurogames Using games to teach science Pandemic Tesla Evolution

What type of games are we talking about?

We’re not talking about abstract strategy games, like Chess, Go, Pente, Checkers or othello. Nor we are talking about typical American board games,  which usually are based on direct conflict between players, and have a significant degree of luck. Instead, we’re focusing on a category sometimes called Eurogames, or German-style board games.

They are a class of tabletop games that generally have indirect player interaction, and colorful physical components, which emphasize strategy while downplaying luck and conflict. They usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.

There are several games worth looking into.

Biology & Ecology games

Evolution, by North Star Games.

This game lets you create and adapt their own species in a dynamic ecosystem with hungry predators and limited resources. Traits like Hard Shell and Horns will protect you from Carnivores, while a Long Neck will help you get food that others cannot reach. With over 12,000 different species to create, every game becomes a different adventure. So gather your friends around the table and see who will best adapt their species to eat, multiply and thrive! Contents: 129 Trait Cards (17 Carnivore Trait Cards, 7 of each other Trait Card), 20 Species Boards, 40 Wooden Markers, 144 Food Tokens, 12 Ten Value Food Tokens, 1 Watering Hole Board, etc.

‎Dominant species by GMT games Can be used to teach evolution by natural selection.

Recreates a tiny portion of ancient history: the ponderous encroachment of an Ice Age and what that entails for the living creatures trying to adapt to the slowly-changing Earth. Each player assumes the role of one of six major Animal groups—Mammal, Reptile, Bird, Amphibian, Arachnid or Insect. Each begins the game in a state of natural balance with regards to one another. But that won’t last: It is indeed “survival of the fittest.” Through wily Action Pawn placement, players will strive to become Dominant on as many different Terrain tiles as possible… Players will be aided in these endeavors via Growth, Migration and Domination actions, among others. All of this eventually leads to the end game – the final ascent of the Ice Age – where the player with the most Victory Points will have his Animal crowned the Dominant Species.

Dominant species game (1)

‎Cytosis: A Cell Biology, Board Game

Players take turns placing workers on available organelles within a human cell in order to collect resources (such as Carbohydrates or ATP!) or take actions (such as purchasing Cell Component cards or translating mRNA into Proteins.) Players use their resources to build Enzymes, Hormones, and Hormone Receptors and also to help detoxify the cell – all of which score health points. The player with the most health points at the end of the game wins!

Cytosis board game

Linkage: A DNA Card Game by Genius Games

In Linkage, each player links RNA cards side by side to build their own RNA strand, attempting to copy the shared DNA Template. Players must choose between BUILDING on their own RNA strand, REPAIRING their RNA strand, or Mutating an opposing strand. Players earn points based upon how accurately their RNA strands match the DNA template.

Peptide: A Protein Building Card Game, by Genius Games

Photosynthesis, by blue orange

Biology: Diseases, Viruses

Pathogenesis, by WIBAI Games

Pathogenesis is a deck building game in which players take the role of bacterial pathogens attacking the human body. The game was developed in partnership with scientific illustrator somersault1824. Based on real science and the mechanics were created to mimic how real biology works.

Pandemic, by Z-Man Games

Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out. Players must work together playing to their characters’ strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. For example the Operation Specialist can build research stations which are needed to find cures for the diseases. The Scientist needs only 4 cards of a particular disease to cure it instead of the normal 5. But the diseases are out breaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also towards cures. A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.

Plague, Inc.

Virulence An Infectious Card Game by Genius Games

Physics games

‎Antimatter matters, an elbowfish game. Teaches modern physics

Explore the strange and wonderful world of quantum physics, where a handful of tiny particles interact to form the atoms that make up ourselves and everything we experience in the world around us.  As the lead scientist on an orbiting space laboratory, you are in charge of humanity’s first attempt to construct ordinary matter from individually captured elementary particles. Encounter hazards like quantum entanglement, antimatter collisions and solar flares messing up your instruments, while facing the actions of other player-scientists racing toward the same goal. Will you be the first to collect the right particles and successfully build an atom? The game balances strategic choices with interactions with other players and the unpredictable nature of the universe. Simple rules-10 minutes to learn. Visual design uses double-coding to make it accessible to gamers with color-blindness and to those with limited vision or fine-motor skill.

Tesla vs. Edison, by Artana

You control a start-up company in the early days of the U.S. electric industry. In the beginning you only have your lead inventor, some shares of preferred stock, and some money. Over the course of the game you will be hiring other famous technicians and business people to work for you. Each luminary or inventor has their own special abilities. There are four focuses in the game: claiming electric projects on the map, advancing up a tech tree, investing in public relations to improve public opinion of your company or the technologies it uses, and buying and selling stock on a dynamic market.

Physics Laws: Discovering STEM – Inertia, Friction, Circular Motion and Energy Conservation Building Set (118 Piece) – by Engino – any reviews?

Laser Maze, by Thinkfun

Board games for physics classroom from Boardgamegeek.com

Games listed on educationaltoolsportal

Chemistry games

Chemistry Fluxx (Looney Labs)

Learn how elements combine and interact as you try to match the current goal and win. Students and adults can both play and remain competitive. Elements are listed with their Atomic number and their bohr Atomic model, and are color coded by Type: alkaline earth metals, transition metals, noble gases, etc.

Covalence: A Molecule Building Game, by Genius Games

In covalence, players work together to accurately build a number of secret Organic molecules. One player has knowledge of the molecules, while all other players must deduce what these secret molecules are, based upon a limited number of clues given to them by the knower.

Compounded Board Game, by Greater Than Games

Compounded is a game about building chemical compounds through careful management of elements, a fair bit of social play and trading, and just a bit ok luck. In Compounded, players take on the roles of lab managers, hastily competing to complete the most compounds before they are completed by others – or destroyed in an explosion.

Ion: A Compound Building Card Game by Genius Games

Valence Plus, by Science Ninjas

Build elite teams out of elements from the periodic table to find molecules and win the game! But be careful – opponents might attack you with acid squads, reducing your bases to worthless salt and water! It’s all here – molecule formation, acids and bases, chemical reactions, even advanced concepts like secondary oxidation states.


Engineering games


History of science & the scientific method

Progress: Evolution of Technology, NSKN Games.

Progress Technology game

Each player takes his civilization from early antiquity and learns various technologies, moving progressively to the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, and Modern Times and ending with today’s Internet or Social Welfare. The 210 technology cards in the game are divided into three ages (Ancient, Middle Ages, Industrial) and three types (Military, Science and Culture). With every advancement on a path, you gain easier access to its more advanced technologies and you’ll end up opening the door to the next age.

The New Science, Conquistador games

In The New Science you play as Isaac Newton, Galileo or one of three other great minds from the scientific revolution in 17th century Europe. You are in a tense intellectual race with your opponents, attempting to publish your remarkable scientific discoveries first in order to gain prestige, be seen as the finest mind of your era, and consequently be appointed the first President of the Royal Society. You achieve this by first researching, then experimenting on, and finally publishing new discoveries. But you need to carefully decide what and when to publish: while the only way to win is publishing to gain prestige, all other scientists will read your books and gain the same knowledge, costing you a key advantage. You’ve precious little energy to put into the many groundbreaking scientific disciplines. Your efforts will be further impacted by critical happenings in the world around you, requiring savvy as well as smarts. The New Science is a fast-playing worker placement and area control game for 2-5 players.

Astronomy & Space games

Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration, by Xtronaut Enterprises

Captures the real-world science, technology, and challenges of planetary exploration. Easy to learn, gives 2 – 4 players ages 7 and up the chance to develop space missions, build authentic rocket systems, and explore the solar system. Designed by NASA scientists. Exposes players to space science concepts related to planning and undertaking a real space mission.



Keep in mind that most people need at least an entire class period of playing through the game in order to fully grasp the concepts and strategy. Using games would thus be most productive if they were scheduled as part of the curriculum, with several sequential days set aside for playing the game/class experience.

At the beginning of each class, one should carefully explain the objectives:

  • Yes, having fun is one of the objectives!
  • But we’re also doing this to learn grade-level content knowledge and skills.
  • The knowledge and skills that we’re getting actually addresses Next Generation Science standards for content and skills; and Common Core Curriculum standards for contents and skills.


Sample learning standards

Antimatter matters, Elbowfish Games

Massachusetts Introductory Physics

HS-PS1-8. Develop a model to illustrate the energy released or absorbed during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.

HS-PS3-2. Develop and use a model to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as either motions of particles and objects or energy stored in fields.

PS1.A Structure of matter: The sub-atomic structural model and interactions between electric charges at the atomic scale can be used to explain the structure and interactions of matter.

Progression of Crosscutting Concepts Across the Grades: Systems and System Models – , students can investigate or analyze a system by defining its boundaries and initial conditions, as well as its inputs and outputs. They can use models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) to simulate the flow of energy, matter, and interactions within and between systems at different scales. They can also use models and simulations to predict the behavior of a system, and recognize that these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in the models.

Common Core ELA Literacy

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.

Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11-12 texts and topics.

Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

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