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In a recent post I described a Pokemon-like game that Leo and I invented, which I tentatively dubbed “Poke Chem”. Of course, this is so obvious an idea, that someone else must have done it. And, indeed, they have…sort of.

The game Elementeo is exactly a Pokemon-like chemistry game. We bought a copy, and have played a number of times now, so I can give a pretty well-informed opinion: Nice try, but not great.

The basic game place of Elementeo is slightly chess-like. It’s fundamentally a two-player (although they tell you to play as tag-teams if you have more players). Each player gets a handful of “element” cards, each with different properties, and they move along a 5×5 board (which is slightly too small to be interesting) against one another, taking one another’s cards based upon dice rolls and the specific capabilities of the elements you have. The goal is to reach your opponent’s edge, at which point you get to “steal” several of their “electrons” (poker chips).

That’s pretty simple; too simple, in fact, and the first level, as I just described it, makes for pretty uninteresting play. Usually you end up just pushing one or a couple cards down the field, occasionally doing dice-battle with an opponent’s card. Also, the connection to chemistry is moderately weak at this level. There are, however, several levels, and they become more complex and (supposedly) more interesting. The levels that I had the most hope for are the “reaction” (second) and “compound” (third) levels.

In the reaction (second) level you get to execute “reactions”, which are special actions possessed by some of the elements. Here’s are a couple:

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You can see the basics of play in these cards — the allowed movements on the lower right; the conformation in the lower left which gives its basic strength in battle (combined with the AMU in a tie); and so forth — but it’s not worth going into all that.

Note the italic part in the lower half of the explanation. That part is the “reaction”, and in this second level of play it confers special powers on the card. As you can see, these are pretty marginally chemical, and have nothing whatever to do with any sort of real chemical reaction.

In the compound (third) level you can swap multiple of your element cards that are on the board for compounds that are composed from them, and the compounds are more powerful. I like this idea (it’s similar to the one in our poke chem game). Here are some cards from the compound level. The left is a compound card which you get to make by combining several elements, and the right is a “handy” index to compounds:

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Unfortunately, this concept isn’t well implemented in Elementeo. There are various problems: Because the board is small, and the number of “electrons” you have (and can rapidly lose) is small, play is too short to get enough elements on the board to upgrade to compounds. Also, since you only have a few cards in an entire game, you pretty much never get the elements you need to create a compound. And although there’s a “handy” index card to the compounds (right above), it’s not actually handy at all, not being organized in a way that helps you find compounds that you can build. So in the many plays that we’ve had in the compound level of Elementeo, I think that we ever only created one or maybe two compounds. Also, you’d think that the reaction and compound levels would be related, but they’re not related at all. Oh well. On to insanity…

So element level (1) is too simple, the reaction level (2), has nothing to do with reactions, and in the compound level (3) it’s too hard to make compounds. But where the game starts to go completely off the rails is on level 4: Alchemy. I’m not even going to bother putting a picture of the alchemy cards on the blog; they’re just another way to do inane things, like the reactions of level 2, but you get to do them from the sidelines instead of having to have an element on the board. Really, nothing new here, and no interesting chemistry (as I guess one would expect from a level called “alchemy”, although you might expect some interesting history).

The final level is called fusion. I don’t actually know what this level has to do with fusion. The idea is that you get to form your own fusion deck by pre-selecting a bunch of cards from your element and alchemy decks. This makes the game much more strategic, but also way more complex, and given that the thing usually just lasts ten minutes, it’s hardly worth all the extra effort. This said, you can sort of see that, given repeated playing one would learn to create a very useful fusion deck, and take eventually be able to take advantage of compounds.

Three simple changes would make the game much more interesting: 1. Make the game board longer. At the moment it’s possible to get a card on the board, walk to the opponent’s end zone, and take some of his or her electrons in 2-3 moves, which makes the whole game go way too fast. 2. Have a way to get electrons back. At the moment, once you lose electrons, their gone. Since you only start out with 10 electrons (15 in the fusion level), and up to 6 can be lost in one attack, this combines with the too short field to make the game is way too short. 3. Fix the reaction/compound logic — okay, this isn’t simple, but it’s probably the most important thing to do. I guess that there is a simple thing that could be done just by inverting the “handy” compound index card to actually be useful. But what you really want to have happen is something like allowing players to form compounds much more easily, and as a result of reactions. So, for example, having the reactions on the element cards form the compounds, or something like that.

Bottom line: Elementeo‘s far from perfect, but it’s a little bit fun, and a little bit educational. Probably a player who feels like putting effort into it could use the existing materials to figure out how to make the game more interesting on their own.