I’ve actually only ever played Compounded a couple of times before, but I had so much fun playing it – and with the current Kickstarter to get the Geiger Expansion published – I thought there was no better time than now to do a Casual Games for Casual Gamers piece on this marvellous game!
Compounded is designed by Darrell Louder and published in 2013 by Dice Hate Me Games. It’s a strategy game for two to five players where every player is a lab scientist trying to make as many Compounds as possible by collecting the Elements that build that compound. The games tagline is “Better gaming through chemistry”, but honestly, I think the opposite is just as applicable – “Better chemistry through gaming”.
I’m no science-whiz, I did average in high school, and didn’t do very well during the chemistry subjects. But I’ve probably learnt more about chemistry playing this game than I did in high school. Which actually says a lot about this game, even if you’re a chemistry nut, or a chemistry dunce (like myself), there’s actually a lot you can gain from this game. Whether it’s the educational side of it, or just the sheer amount of fun you can have playing it, Compounded has both sides of the spectrum covered. But the game is so well designed that you don’t need any chemistry knowledge to play this game. Having said that though, if the concept of “Elements” and “Compounds” confuse you, here’s a nice music video to educate you with everything you need to know about the science this game is based on.
So what exactly do you do in this game? Well, each player is a scientist working in the same lab together, but you’re all competing to complete Compounds before anybody else does. Each player has a Workbench which they use to keep track of their Experiments’ progression, as well as hold onto any Elements they may collect. The game ends when a player has reached 50 points or has finished 3 of the 4 Experiments on their own Workbench. The game round ends as normal, end game bonus points are awarded and the player with the highest points wins.
The game is played in multiple rounds, each round consisting of 4 main phases; Discovery, Study, Research and Lab phases. Each phase has different purposes, and depending how well each player is doing on their Workbench Experiments determines the amount each player can do in that turn, whether it’s how many Elements can be discovered (drawn from the bag), how many Compounds can be individually studied (claiming Compound cards), how many Elements can be researched for each Compound (placing Elements onto the Compound card), and even just simply how many Elements can each Workbench hold in the lab.
There’s quite a bit of strategy involved because you have to think about what Elements you have and what Compounds are currently in the Research Field that you can use them on, you then have to think about how many points that Compound is going to earn you as well as which Workbench Experiment it is going to help progress, or even what Compounds are currently in the Research Field that will help progress the Experiment you want to prioritise yourself on and how quickly are you going to be able to complete them. Perhaps you are just a couple of Elements off from fulfilling that Compound and perhaps there’s a player that has the Elements you need, perhaps you might want to consider organising a trade with them. But, then again, perhaps they’re planning on going for the same Compound as well… For anyone that likes a game with decent strategy behind it, you’ll get a lot of fun out of this game.
Compounded, as well as being a lot of fun, it’s quite easy to get started to play. The rulebook (or Textbook as the game refers to it as) is really intuitive, you can play the game as you go through the rulebook and, as the game is played over multiple rounds, each round that goes around you’ll get more and more familiar with how the game plays and before you know it you’ve already got a strategy all mapped out for you. In fact, for anyone thinking of playing this game for the first time, I highly recommend you play it as you go through the rulebook as the quickest way to learn how to play and teach how the game works to others, and only consulting the rulebook when it’s needed – although if you’re going to teach the game to others, it doesn’t hurt to have a read over the rulebook before you try and teach it to others, but that’s just something that goes for any game, really.
One thing that I think really makes this game truly magnificent – especially for those with minimal chemistry knowledge – the game relies on very minimal amounts of text, the only text you’re exposed to is the scientific name for a Compound, and the Element symbols on the Compound cards, but as the game only features six different Elements and each one is colour coordinated, you don’t need to know that your blue Element is Nitrogen, all you need to know is all the places where a blue Element can be placed on the Compound cards currently in play. There are some items that you can collect for completing certain Compounds, and each one has a different ability, explained on your Workbench, but even then its simple language explained in one sentence, and anyone can see what items you have so they can help you out if you’re unsure about them, or even just consult the rulebook for further clarification. Either way, symbols and colours predominantly explain what everything does.
I haven’t had the opportunity to play many small scale games of Compounded, possibly because as soon as the game hits the table EVERYONE wants to play, but with five experienced players you’re looking at, at the very least, a 90 minute game. Five players can be really intense with everyone wanting to claim as many Compound cards as possible before the other players get to them, but there’s more room for trading as there are more Elements in other players Workbenches. Although the game can be played with as few as two players, a two player game features a neutral player that the first player of each round can control, making more room for trading, that would otherwise be stagnated in just a two player game. But the less players the faster the game will be. There’s no perfect number of players for this game, but if it’s your first time playing, I recommend a three or four player game to start with.
I think there’s something for everyone in Compounded, it’s subtly educational enough that it’s not imposing and it’s simple enough that someone as young as 9 years old, and older, can enjoy and get a lot out of. If your family is a bunch of science nerds, then you probably need this game in your games cupboard. But don’t be put off by the science theme, this is a well designed game worthy of any gamers time. Honestly though, if I had Compounded in my household when I was in high school, I would have done so much better in science class!
The game hit the table at a recent meetup with my gaming group, Meetings With The Board, and it was amusing for gamers and spectators alike when you would hear someone shout “YES! CALCIUM SULFIDE!!”, a sentence you wouldn’t normally hear in any everyday situation. I think it just goes to show how much fun science can actually be!… SCIENCE!!
- # of Players: 2-5
- Game length: 90 minutes
- Designed by: Darrell Louder
- Published by: Dice Hate Me Games
- First published: 2013
- Game type: Strategy
- Cost: $40~$55
Watch a ‘How to Play’ video of Compounded!