It is a truth universally acknowledged that most games that purport to have an educational aspect are bloody awful. During my days as a teacher I saw more boxes that had been played once then chucked into cupboards than I care to remember. They always looked the same, excited kids eternally locked in the 1970s who looked delighted to be on the cover while LEARNING and PLAYING (but mainly LEARNING because you wouldn’t want to have too much fun, would you?). Such dreadful, dreadful crap.
The vast majority of them focused on maths, of course, because there’s nothing more fun than adding and subtracting. Move out into other subjects and the terrain got a lot more barren – despite delving deep into those despairing dumpsters, I don’t think I ever saw a history based game, and forget finding something scientific. Now, in an attempt to redress the balance, a new game called Elemons attempts to strike that balance between education and entertainment.
Set in a rather strange little universe where elements from the periodic table have taken sentient form, Elemons (perhaps unsurprisingly) has a bit of a Pokemon vibe about it. Strictly for two players, you both take a set of twelve cards, each one of which depicts an Elemon. Icons show its base state – either solid, liquid or gas – and how you’ll be able to transform it to a different form using either heat or cold.
The game takes inspiration from rock-paper-scissors, meaning that it’s straightforward enough for even very young players. A card in the middle of the players shows what beats what – in the case of Elemons, gas engulfs solid, solid splashes liquid, liquid disperses gas. Each turn, you’ll have three Elemon cards in your hand alongside four Temperature cards. Taking one of each and placing them face down on the table, you and your opponent reveal them at the same time…
…and here’s where you need to be paying a little bit of attention. The Temperature cards paired with the Elemon will give you a final state for this battle. For example, Boromon starts off as a solid; playing it with a card with a minimum heat value of three will turn it to a liquid, while going with a heat value of five or more makes it a gas. There’s also an X card which keeps your Elemon in its current state. Once both players have worked out what state they’ve got in front of them, you compare using the instructions of the central card and if there’s a winner, they take their opponent’s card. First to get ten cards from the other player is the winner. See? Very straightforward.
As it’s aimed at a younger audience, you’d expect it to be both graphically appealling and easy to understand. Icons are clear and easy to understand and the various Elemons look cool. In this, the first game in the proposed series, there are only twelve different characters and I would’ve liked to have seen them in different poses on the two player card decks, but hopefully when new games are released we’ll expand further into the universe. For older players, the backstory is written at the bottom of each of the cards, hopefully inspiring them to add a bit more of a storytelling element to the game.
Of course, the main thrust of any game should be that it’s fun to play and… yeah, Elemons manages to break with tradition by actually being entertaining. It’s also quite challenging at times, so even a certain cross-section of grown ups will take something from it – managing to keep track of the cards that have been played by your opponent can prove rather tricky. With children being the main target audience for Elemons, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the game stood on its merits for a gamer audience. Sure, it may not be the first game that pops into my mind when I’m looking for a two-player effort, but it’s a fine way to spend some time while bolstering your knowledge of the elements.
Elemons was designed by Eiman Munro, and was first released through Elemental Publishing in 2013. Strictly made for two players, games will normally take you between 15 and 20 minutes. To pick up a copy, head on over to the Elemons site where one will set you back £7.99. They’ll also be at this year’s UK Games Expo, so if you’re attending be sure to check them out!