Game of cards in biology and chemistry class

Complex subjects are also suitable to be presented in a game format. US game designer Genius Games does just that for biology, chemistry and history topics.

I previously wrote this review about one of their recent games, Genotype. What I find very clever about Genotype is that you can play it ‘just like a board game’ on a cosy Saturday night. But you can also give it more substance by going into the subject matter with the game, in this case the basics of heredity and genetics. Besides the game rules, the box contains a booklet with background information on the founder of heredity theory Gregor Mendel and his Laws of Mendel.

Because I was a bit more of an alpha than a beta student, Genius Games’ other games come out of my closet a bit less often. Still, whenever I play one, I think: aha, is it like that…. not at all as difficult as I thought! For visual thinkers like me, these games can be a good support when explaining abstract lessons. Moreover, by playing the game you repeat the jargon, which makes concepts stick.

Go directly to the game PEPTIDE

Go directly to the game ION

Good to know

This blog originates from a collaboration with Daniel Behnke, teacher, game developer and curriculum designer. This blog is an amalgamation of two blogs previously published by him on his website Digital Spielend n consultation and with his approval, I translated the blogs and slightly edited them here and there. I was also allowed to use his images. You can find the original German blogs here: Game-Bases Learning in der Schule: Peptide and here Ion.

Also, a shout out to friend and biology teacher Marian, who is always willing to test these games for me and explains the rules to me very patiently 😊

Peptide – Scoring points with amino acids

Peptide is an educational game that can be used in biology lessons to teach the basic structures of proteins and amino acid sequences in a clear and playful way.

In peptide, you build a chain of amino acids using parts of the cell. To do this, you select “organelle cards” that give you suitable resources or allow you to perform actions. Finally, you get points depending on the amino acids “connected” in the chain. You win if your chain of amino acids gives you the most points.

Choosing cards and performing actions

The game is turn-based, with each round consisting of 2 stages. First, players choose organelles cards. In a second phase, they perform the actions linked to the cell organelles:

mitochondria -> get 2 energy
nucleus -> get an RNA
vacuole -> get 1 energy + an RNA
synthetose -> get 1 amino acid (this takes energy)
ribosome -> get an amino acid (this takes energy)
OR they take the corresponding raw materials. So-called ATP actions can be performed at any time.

The game rules and thus the possibilities in the game require some getting used to. It is therefore recommended to approach the complete game step by step in class (see below).

Play the game with the class

With a playing time of 30-45 minutes, the game can generally be used in class. But with the necessary introduction to the game, explanation of the rules and a subsequent reappraisal of the game and its content relevant to learning, you have to allow for a double lesson.

The game is in English, but the vocabulary used is close to Dutch-language terms because of the subject matter. Essentially, the game deals with ATP sheets, organelles, 11 ribonucleic acids and 15 amino acids. The game can therefore be relatively easily integrated into Dutch-language subject lessons by first releasing the vocabulary or gradually introducing the game material with appropriate instructions.

Because of its subject matter, it is suitable for lessons in upper secondary school, but in principle also for younger players who are enthusiastic about science.

Or use parts of the game

Instead of playing the game according to the official rules, you can also use individual game components, for example by having students find suitable amino acids based on given RNA. The playing cards are also very good for visualisation.

Moreover, “gaps” or blanks in the game – i.e. places where the game does not go into further scientific details – can be used to give further work assignments (“How exactly does this work, what do ribosomes do, for example?”).

In this respect, the game (and thus the translation process) can also be used as a framework that can be returned to again and again in class. For example, you can use individual sections of the game to gradually cover the underlying content and then play the game in its entirety at the end.

Ion – Cards during chemistry class

ION is an entertaining card game in which players make ionic compounds to collect points – and learn the basics of chemistry in the meantime.

Playing cards in chemistry class? It’s possible with ION. In terms of playing time and number of players, it is absolutely suitable for education. The game mechanics ensure that the game progresses quickly. And above all, technical content on the topic of “ionic compounds” is expertly combined with gameplay.

Basic game and expansion

In the basic game ION, the 2-7 participating players choose a card from their hand with which they want to make an ionic connection and place it open in front of them. The cards mainly represent positively or negatively charged ions, but there are also some noble gases.

The basic game contains playing cards depicting positively (and negatively) charged ions and noble gases, while the extended modes in the game also include transition metals, polyatomic ions and radioactive ions. Before the card is used for a compound, the remaining cards in the hand are passed to the next player. This procedure is repeated until there are only 2 cards left in the hand.

How to play

Each player gets several ion cards in their hand, from which they choose 1 card per round with which they want to make ion connections. The points scored are noted on a scale. The three cards to the left of the points scale indicate certain target compounds – salts, acids, etc. – for which special points are awarded. Then they are scored. You get points for successful compounds and special points if you were able to make the compounds indicated on the target cards. These indicate, for example, that acids or salts must be made to get special points.

Points are awarded for successfully making ionic compounds (such as hydrogen chloride below) and for collecting noble gases. Players get special points if they have made the compounds on the target cards.
Once you have mastered the basic game, you can also tackle the expansions. Then transition metals, polyatomic ions and radioactive ions come into play, as well as extra game markers that allow players to choose more cards from a deck of cards located in the centre of the table; or they can rearrange already played-out compounds.

Play the game with the class

ION can be used as an educational game in the classroom. Due to the relatively short playing time of 20-30 minutes, the game can be introduced, played and briefly discussed within a 45-minute lesson.

John Coveyou, the author of Ion: A Compound Building Game, gives the following brief game description for a class:
For a class, you need 3-5 games or you can adapt the game so that you play in groups of 4, for example, and show the goal cards to the whole class, for example using the IWB. Other game materials, such as the score markers, can be replaced by notation sheets or guidelines on simple worksheets.

It is worth noting that ION works very well as a game and that making suitable ionic connections does not require any explicit learning effort, but happens naturally and incidentally, as it were, as part of the normal course of play.

Or use parts of the game

Individual parts of the game can be picked up and deepened after the game. In this way, specific lesson content can be discussed: for example, how ionic compounds are constructed, which ions are involved, in which compounds certain ions occur, etc.

ION is basically an English-language game, but the basic game can also be used in Dutch-language chemistry lessons because of the similar or identical names of the relevant ions. A brief introduction of the terms may be needed, or the relevant vocabulary can be illuminated by providing appropriate hints or translations, for example for the short texts on the target cards, by adding corresponding worksheets or by making placemats on which the cards are placed and which give the corresponding translations.

General information about Peptide:

  • number of players: 2-5
  • time: about 30 – 45 minutes
  • from: the box says from 10 years, but in principle also for younger players who are enthusiastic about science
  • price: around € 25 (Dutch price, January 2024)

Peptide is not for sale via, but you can buy it via the better game shops, for example Subcultures.

General information about Ion:

  • number of players: 2-7
  • time: about 30 – 45 minutes
  • from: the box says from 8 years, but in principle also for younger players who are enthusiastic about science
  • price: around € 15 (Dutch price, January 2024)

Ion is not for sale via, but you can buy it via the better game shops, for example Subcultures.

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