A game that I received via Kickstarter that has brought enjoyment to my gaming group recently is Compounded. This game was designed by Darrell Louder and published by the excellent Dice Hate Me Games.
In Compounded you are essentially a lab manager taking care of different experiments. Your objective in the game is to earn the most Atomic Points (AP… Note: this is the type of AP that you want!). Atomic points are earned by completing compounds. Each round consists of the following four phases:
- Discovery Phase: Players obtain new elements from the draw bag based on their Discovery research level.
- Study Phase: Players place or move their claim tokens, which indicate the compounds that they are claiming.
- Research Phase: Players take elements from their workbench and place them on compounds.
- Lab Phase: Players score any completed compounds and deal with any lab fires.
The game lasts until someone reaches 50 atomic points or when someone has 3 of their 4 research levels topped out or when the research field can no longer be filled.
Throughout the game players are trying to complete compounds that will be beneficial for them. Beneficial refers to the type of research that they will gain when completing a compound. Let’s take a look at the examples in this image:
The compound in the middle, Hydroxylamine, will award 6 atomic points (upper right corner). The player completing the compound will also be able to increase their “Discovery” experiment level (Blue indicator next to the score). Also, the player completing the compound would receive a Lab Key token, which they could use later in the game to obtain the first player marker. The compound on the left awards 5 points, a bump in the “Research” experiment level, and causes volatility in the lab (red flame icon in the lower right corner), which is like a lab fire. The compound on the right awards 6 atomic points, a bump in the “Study” experiment level, and safety goggles, which can be really useful!
As players complete compounds their abilities will increase. That nature of the game allows things to ramp up really well throughout the game. Here are my thoughts:
Here’s What I Like:
Science and Theme: You’ve gotta give it to the designer and publisher. This is not a typical theme and I imagine some people would find it dry because there is no boring looking renaissance man on the cover. However, the theme is so perfectly integrated into the game that you almost forget that don’t realize Hydrogen Oxide is, in fact, water! Everything thematically works really really well in this game.
Graphic Design: Normally I list that I enjoy the artwork in a game. This game is a little different. There is actually very little artwork. Rather, the game is nearly all graphic design. Even the box cover isn’t your typical fully painted work of art. So why is this in the section of things I like? Because they pulled it off beautifully. In a game like this there’s just no need for gaudy, over the top artwork. This is a streamlined product that looks really nice.
Gameplay: I really enjoy how this game works. It is similar, in some respects, to Scoville in that each round of the game is made of different phases. I enjoy that each round is discrete and you have to work to maximize what you can do during your turn while hoping you’re doing a better job than your opponents.
Here’s What I Dislike:
Luck: Since drawing elements during the discovery phase is a luck mechanic, it can make things a little frustrating if you are unable to draw what you need. This issue is minimized, however, by your abilities as they increase throughout the game. While luck is present, it becomes less and less as the game goes on, which is good.
Flame Token and Draw Bag Components: This is more of a gripe than something I dislike. I wish the flame tokens were slightly larger so they would be easier to grab. I understand that their size makes them fit really well onto the compound cards, so I can forgive that. The draw bag is also slightly too small. We swapped it for a draw bag from VivaJava and the VivaJava draw bag worked much better.
Designer Perspective: What Would I Change?
First, you should be aware that I have not yet played the game with the Chemical Chaos or Journal expansion cards. As a designer I would like to drop some of the symmetry from the game. I’m not sure how it would work, but I like the idea of having different starting conditions or abilities for each player. Perhaps Player 1 could start with a bumped Discovery level and fewer elements. Perhaps Player 2 could start with a bumped Research level. Those options for asymmetry wouldn’t work very well. A better option would be hidden objectives. Like someone could be an Oxide collector where they try to get a set of three different oxides for bonus points. I think that could be fun as it helps to steer your long term strategy in the game.
According to the website, Dark Element is strikingly viscous and creamy on the palate with citrus fruit and chocolate cream. It sounds like a delicious beer that would pair well with Compounded!
I really think this is a fantastic game. The game flows nicely, minimizes downtime, maximizes strategic decisions, and, most importantly, is a lot of fun. But then as a bonus you can learn stuff while you’re playing! I can’t wait to play Compounded again. I’ll rate this game a 9 out of 10 on the BoardGameGeek scale: