Tabletop Game Review: ‘Periodic’

Gaming Geek Culture Reviews Tabletop Games

I love the Periodic Table, so when I heard about Genius Games’ Periodic at the UKGE, I leaped at the chance to play it. I wasn’t disappointed. A chemical visual feast, where you have to travel up and down the Periodic Table in order to collect victory points, the game obeys the rules of the table whilst delivering a satisfying gaming experience.

What is Periodic?

In Periodic players move across the Periodic Table board by activating periodic trends. Players draw goal cards for which they must research specific elements to gain victory points. By traveling through certain families of elements players compete with one another for the limited Academic points (which give yet more victory points). The person with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.

Games of Periodic last around 45 mins to and hour and it can be played by 2-5 players. The age on the box is 10+ and that seems pretty accurate, possibly even a little high. My 10-year-old had no difficulty in understanding how to play the game.

My favorite board game board, ever.


What’s in the Periodic box?

The components of Periodic are all presented in muted almost pastel tones that are color-blind friendly. The components ooze class. Just handling and leafing through the cards and components is a pleasurable way to while away some time.

  • 1 X Board. The thick card board folds out into an A2 sized multi-colored Periodic Table. It’s colored according to element type, e.g. Alkali Metals, Halogens, Nobel Gases. The table goes all the way up to element 118, Oganession, and contains Atomic number and Atomic Mass, the latter to 3 decimal places. Below the table is the game’s academic track and below that a series of “Periodic Trends” These have colored arrows on them, that, during the game, control the direction you can move your playing piece. But more on that later.
  • 1 X Rulebook. The rules of the game are slim, running to just 10 pages. They’re well written with clear examples.
  • 1 X “Science Behind” booklet. An explanation of the science and history of the Periodic Table.
  • 32 X Goal Cards. In four-color types.
  • 12 X Agenda Cards. Shh! Keep yours secret.
  • 8 Element Group Cards.
  • 11 Goal Markers. (In four colors) These denote which elements on the board form part of the game’s current goals.
  • 12 Award Tiles.
  • 28 Lab Tokens.
  • 24 Energy Tokens.
  • 30 Research Cubes. (In 5 colors)
  • 5 Discs. One for each player in 5 different colors. These mark progress on the Academic Track.
  • 5 Erlenmeyer Flasks (wooden ones, not glass!) (In all my years a lab, I only ever heard these called conical flasks, but apparently that have another name). These are in 5 colors.
  • 5 Microscopes (again wooden). These come in 5 colors and track Element Group progress.
It’s hard to know which I love more, the counters or the board…

How to Play ‘Periodic.’


After laying the board out, the goal cards are separated into color and 4 face down piles are made, one for each color. Not all the goal cards are used in one game, meaning the goals from each game will be slightly different from the last.

The top card of each goal pile is flipped up, showing the game’s initial 4 goals. Goal cards have 2 or 3 elements on each. Goal markers of the corresponding colors are placed on the Periodic Table on the elements given on each goal card. During the game, players collect goal markers as they navigate their way around the board. Completing a Goal Card enables them to cash cards in for victory points.

Each Goal Card pile is given a small pile of award tiles to go with it. When players complete a goal card they can take the corresponding award. Whilst stocks last (there are less awards than there are goals). Awards tiles can be played on subsequent turns and offer one hit bonuses that can be used to gain a strategic advantage.

The 8 element group cards are shuffled and placed up, face-up, next to the board. 4 on each side. These need to be thought of a continuous track that loops around the board. This track starts in the bottom left corner and goes up the left side before crossing over to the right, moving downwards, then back across to the bottom-left card.

1 Energy token is placed on each of the Periodic Trend spaces at the bottom of the board.

Each player chooses a color and is given 1 flask, a microscope, a disc, and 6 research cubes in that color.

The first player is chosen (who most recently touched calcium carbonate!). If you’re playing with 4 or 5 players they get to start on level 2 of the academic track. Everybody else starts on 0.

Everybody is given some energy tokens. Exactly how many is dependant on what player number you are.

Each player places their microscope on an element group card, starting with player 1 on the first card (the bottommost left and everybody else, in turn, on alternate cards. This gives everybody an element group (e.g. Nobel Gases.)

Each player puts their flask counter on the lowest Atomic number of their given element group. Meaning that everybody starts in a different randomized place at the beginning of the game. This means that different Goal Cards will be more easily obtained by some players than others.

Everybody picks an agenda card. This is kept secret from the other players and provides ways of gaining additional victory points.

4 Goal Cards, with tokens. The tokens are placed on the elements shown on the cards. When players finish on an element shown on a goal card they research it and put a cube of their color on the card.

Playing the game.

The idea of the game is to research elements and advance along the academic track in order to gain victory points. By using the periodic trends players can move their counters strategically around the board. The game is a balance of spending energy to make multiple movements or taking only a single movement but gaining energy to use later in the game.

Game Turns.

Game turns consist of two components. Activating Periodic Trends and the after turn refresh.

When you Activate a Periodic Trend you can a)Spend or Gain Energy Tokens and b) Research Elements.

During the refresh, completed goals are refreshed and any markers that need advancing are advanced.

Activating Trends

The key to moving about the Periodic board is activating periodic trends. There are 5 types and each type can be used to cross the board in a different way. The movement direction you take, correlates to the periodic trend in question. All moves in the game are 1-5 element spaces (players can choose how many elements to move through). Moves are always directly up or across the table. You can never move diagonally. A move from (say) Silicon to Nitrogen would be a move of two squares (via Phosphorus by increasing Ionization Energy).

The 5 trends are:

  1. Increase or Decrease Atomic Number. This enables you to move left-right (you pick either) across the board. (NOTE: This is the only trend that enables you to move from the far right edge to the far left edge of the table (or vice versa))
  2. Increase Ionization Energy. This enables you to move right and up across the board.
  3. Increase Atomic Radii. This enables you to move down and to the left across the board.
  4. Increase Atomic Radii. This enables you to move down and to the right across the board.
  5. Decrease Atomic Mass. This enables you to move up and to the left of the board.

To do this the first time on your turn you must pay 1 energy token; subsequent moves cost two energy tokens. Energy tokens are placed on the periodic trend used. Players may make as many moves as they like, as long as they have enough energy to pay for them.

If a player needs to gain energy tokens, they pick a periodic trend. They can move up to 5 spaces according to the rules of that trend but can then collect ALL the energy tokens currently on that trend (if there are none, they can steal it from another player).


After a player has moved they may research elements. Players can only research elements indicated with colored goal markers on them. To do this a player must finish their move on such a space.

When a player researches an element, they place one of their research cubes on the corresponding Goal Card that has that element on it (in a case where two goal cards show the same element, a player can choose which card to put it on.) Different players can research the same elements, so a goal card may gain different color cubes as the game progresses. It is not possible for one player to gain the same element twice on the same goal card (but in the case of one element appearing on two different cards, it is possible to research an element once for each card.)

The After Turn Refresh.

This is broken down into two stages.

1. Goal cards:

If, after a turn, a player has research cubes on every single element of a goal card, then that goal card is complete.

For any completed goal cards (it’s possible to complete more than one in a turn):

Each player with research cubes on the completed goal card (but not the person who completed it) takes back their cubes and receives lab tokens (victory points). You get 3 points for 1 cube and 5 for 2 cubes.

The player who completed the goal card takes the card. All goal cards have a victory point total printed on them. If any award tiles are left above the goal card pile that the card came from, they get one of those too. (There are less awards tiles than there are goal cards for each pile.)

A new goal card is revealed and new goal markers placed on the elements on the Periodic Table that match the elements shown on the new goal card.

It’s worth noting at this point, that the goal cards type (and difficulty) are denoted a) by different colors, but also b) by little symbols and tokens that mark an atomic orbital. s-orbital for the easy one through, p and d, all the way to f for the hardest cards. Rarely have I encountered anything so geekily exciting!

2. Advance Markers on Tracks.

Progress around the Element group track is given by the position of a player’s microscope. Players are always looking to move onto the next group on the track (which was randomly arranged during set up). This is achieved by finishing with your flask playing piece on the Periodic Table on the element group (in a clockwise direction) that you are trying to get to (i.e the element group AFTER the one you microscope is currently on). This mechanic is incredibly confusing to explain, but actually very easy to understand in-game!

Every time you advance a space on the element track, you get to put your marker on the Academic track up one. This give you an increasing amount of victory points as you continue up the track. The number of points given is increasingly better value, but as the track nears its end only a certain number of players can travel that far on the track. Only one player can push their marker all the way to the end of the academic track.

This sets up a neat pair of competing needs for victory points. If you are focusing on collecting goal cards, you will probably fall behind on the academic track and vice versa.

Award Tokens.

Award token are one-shot bonuses gained (whilst stocks last) by completing a goal card. Each color pile of goal cards has an associated pile of award tokens. There are 3 for each type.

  1. +3 Spaces After you’ve activated a periodic trend and moved accordingly, you can move an extra 3 spaces in the same direction.
  2. Move to – A powerful award that enables you to move to any square on the Periodic Table.
  3. Free Trend – You can activate the trend given on the award card for free.
  4. Take 2 Energy. Can be super handy if you need a boost to research more elements.
Some of ‘Periodic’s’ Agenda cards. Keep it safe, keep it secret.

Agenda Cards.

The Agenda Cards are a final, secret way in which to score some extra victory points. Each card has two conditions and you can score either or both for a victory point boost. These are drawn at the start of the game and hidden from your opponents, giving an element surprise at the game’s end when points are totaled.

Ending the Game.

The game ends when one of the goal card piles is depleted or two players reach the rightmost level on the academic track (only one player can reach the very end, but if another reaches the penultimate space, this will trigger the end game). After one player triggers one of the end conditions on their turn, all the other players are given one final turn.

Final Scoring.

Victory points are added for the following:

  1. Points form Goal Cards and Lab Tokens.
  2. Points from the Academic Track.
  3. Points from Research Cubes on incomplete Goal Cards.
  4. Points from Agenda Cards.

The player with the most points wins!

The Element Group cards

Why Play Periodic?

If you love the Periodic Table or what to learn more about it (or want your kids to), then Periodic is the game for you. On the face of it, the Periodic Table is a brilliant opportunity for a playing space,  but in my experience, games that try to do so have been lackluster. Not so, Periodic. 

In terms of game tactics, it is a little constrained by theme, but then you’re probably going to be playing this game for its theme, so that’s all part of the game experience. Thematically speaking the game is spot on. Players really lean into the science of the table as they navigate their way around the board.

The game is a tactile and visual feast making it a joy to play. It’s also very simple to pick up. Things seem a little daunting at first. There are lots of tokens and colors involved, but once you start playing, there aren’t that many different things to do. The skill is in choosing which direction to move to best collect your sets and your victory points. We picked the game up very quickly, my 10-year-old, who can get turned off by games on first playthroughs, if they’re not immediately accessible, took to it straight away.

The mechanics aren’t too confrontational. Because you can still score if you have some tokens on a goal card, it’s not a total disaster if somebody completes a goal card before you do. Periodic is well-balanced; the chances are if somebody else IS swiping a card out from underneath your nose, you’ll be doing exactly the same to them on your turn. All the games we have played have come down to the wire, and so far, no dominant tactic has come to the fore. The different tracks for collecting victory points all seem to balance well.

All in all, Periodic is a most enjoyable, thematic, playing experience. I’m not sure it will make it to the table for a serious game night with a mixed crowd, but if like me, you know lots of chemists, or you’re trying to instill your children with a sense of wonder at one of science’s marvels, then you’ll get lots of play time from this gorgeous looking and entertaining game.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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