H₂O, CO₂, H₂SO₄. Water, carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid; these are molecular formulas most people would recognize. Well, maybe not sulfuric acid, but for some reason that one has always stuck in my mind. Most people could then tell you that H₂O means water and that it is composed of molecules with two atoms of hydrogen and one oxygen. However, if you ask people what makes a hydrogen atom hydrogen they would probably stare at you with a blank face. In Subatomic, by Genius Games, you go even smaller to create the atoms themselves.
What is Subatomic like?
Subatomic is a deck-building game where the end goal is to create atoms by using quarks, protons, neutrons and electrons.
As in other deck-building games, each turn consists of drawing a hand of cards and then utilizing those cards to buy newer and better cards for your deck to use later on. Your deck starts with particle-wave dualities, up quarks and down quarks. If you are the average person you probably have never heard of any of these things, but don’t let that throw you off, you don’t actually need to know what they are.
With your hand of cards you can do as many of four different actions as you can afford:
You can build up your atom on your player mat by playing electrons, protons, neutrons or the necessary quarks and waves that make them up.
Then you can claim an element card if you have the necessary atomic particles on your player mat. If you do, you can claim an element card which gives you points and the chance at bonus tiles. If you claim an element you remove all particles that you have collected on your player mat even if you overpaid. You take the element card and then place two end goal markers on one or two of the end goal locations. The only limitation is that you cannot place a marker on the element you just claimed. If bonus tiles are present on either end goal location you claimed then you can choose one of the tiles. These tiles give you a variety of bonuses some taking effect during gameplay and others at the end of the game.
The next option is to get new cards into your deck by purchasing them from one of three rows, consisting of single subatomic cards (proton, neutron, electron and wild cards), larger subatomic cards (double neutron, double proton, proton and neutron or double neutron and proton) or scientist cards (which provide special actions when drawn). When purchased all of the cards go into the discard pile, later to be shuffled in with the rest of the deck, allowing you to do more powerful turns.
The last option is to turn cards from your hand face down and collect an energy token for every card not used.
Subatomic is not a ground-breaking new style of game, however it is a good game. It takes the basics of deck-building and takes it up a notch in a way that makes sense. Deck-building in Subatomic isn’t just about getting better cards in your deck, instead it is about building your atom and creating elements. Having a great deck will be helpful, but using the cards at the right time to build up your atom, claim an element, or buy a card is the real key to this game.
In my first play of the game I didn’t quite fully see the true value to the end goal markers and their placement. I started by trying to get the bonus tiles and then about half-way through I realized you have to balance your end goal marker placement in order to get the tiles, but also set yourself up for end game scoring. At games end you score points for each element you claimed based on the Mass Number of the element (clever!) and then also based on who has the majority of the end goal markers in each of the end goal sections. Whoever has the most or 2nd most markers on each goal will score more points for each card of the element (or for a full set of the elements). Not only does this drastically change the end game scores, but it also determines where you place your end goal markers. You might even choose not to get a bonus tile in order to secure area majority on one of the end goals you really want. It’s a small part of the game, but it’s a great part too!
- Being able to use every card in every hand is a pleasant change from other deck-building games
- The goal marker provide a slight area control aspect which was unexpected, but well-received by all
- The science behind the game is accurate and presented in a way that could easily inspire curiosity to learn more or be combined with lessons in the classroom (my teacher brain has already thought of several lessons that could utilize Subatomic)
- The scientists add to the theme, but I never found them worth investing in
- The theme could turn people off of the game, though it shouldn’t
Subatomic is not a complex game. The biggest hurdle to get over is for people who are not aware of what a deck-building game is. If they know how to play deck-builders then the additional aspect of building the atom is quick and simple to learn.
- Players: 2 – 4
- Playing time: 40 – 60 minutes
- Suggested age: 10+