Science Kombat

Who would win in a fight: Nikola Tesla or Marie Curie? Now you can find out, in the game Science Kombat. It’s only available online at the moment, and in Portuguese, but a mobile game is in the works. Below some screen shots of Tesla fighting Stephen Hawking, Tesla fighting Pythagoras, and Marie Curie fighting Einstein.

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Saving the world with Pandemic

This week my friends and I saved the world from epidemic outbreaks of four unnamed diseases. Not in real life, unfortunately, but at least in the board game Pandemic.

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In Pandemic, all players collaborate to play against the game, in an attempt to cure and treat four rapidly spreading diseases. Each player is assigned a role and each role has a special skill. In yesterday’s game, I was the dispatcher, who is able to move other players across the world when needed, to speed up travel time. It seems a pointless skill, but the ultimate goal of the game is to cure all four diseases, and to cure a disease you need to be at a research station with multiple cards of the same colour. To get cards from other players to complete the set, you both need to be in the same location on the board, and that’s where my power turned out to be very useful!

It’s a game of coordination and collaboration. If you don’t agree on the next few moves with the other players, you won’t be able to beat the constantly spreading diseases. If a city on the map is already heavily infected, it can cause an outbreak to neighbouring cities. The more cities are infected, the harder it is to contain, so we spent a lot of time moving around the world to treat imaginary patients.

One of my favourite things about Pandemic is the attention to science-related details:

  • Every player starts the game in Atlanta, because that’s where you will find the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. You can definitely play the game without knowing that, and just wonder why in the world you have to start in Atlanta, of all places, but if you know a bit about global healthcare it’s a nice touch!
  • The little blocks that represent the diseases come in plastic petri dishes. (You can see them in the photo above.)
  • There is an expansion pack that’s set entirely in a lab!
  • The images on the scientific role cards actually look like average biomedical researchers, and not like the kind of crazy Einstein-cartoons other games will have you think scientists look like. There are different designs of the game, and some expansion packs, but these are the role cards we played with this weekend:

roles(Image via The Average Gamer, from their detailed Pandemic review.)

I’ve only ever played Pandemic in board game cafes. I first encountered it in Toronto’s Snakes & Lattes, and yesterday I played it in London’s Draughts. Time to get my own Pandemic game very soon!

Science wins again

I recently spent a week and a half in Toronto, after having been gone for nine months, and the city’s changed already! There’s a stretch of Bloor street that’s notorious for having new shops open every few months, and others disappearing when the rent gets too high. Just west of that a new board game cafe opened while I was gone. For $5 you can sit there as long as you want and play as many boardgames as you like. They have close to two thousand games, all stacked in IKEA Expedit shelving along the long wall of the cafe.
While waiting for Nadia to show up, I spotted a game that I’d read a review of (but now can’t seem to see the full text of…). As I said there, I wanted to play Pandemic, and here it was! Nadia was also up for a game of pandemic eradication, so we got out the multi-page instructions and tried to figure it out. The girl sitting at the table next to us commented “Wow, your game sounds complicated” when we had to refer to the instructions for the millionth time. “Have you been the infection yet this round?” “You still need to take another card – we only just did the epidemic card.” “Don’t forget to move the outbreak marker.”
The goal of the game was to win, as a team, against the spreading infections. The game itself could win from all the players by making them run out of cards or playing pieces, or after eight epidemic outbreaks. The players could win by finding cures against all diseases. Once you had a cure, you could then also eradicate that disease, making it impossible to get new infections of that type.
To find a cure, you needed 5 similarly-coloured cards, and a research station. Building a research station was, relatively speaking, the easiest move in the game. It only cost as much as a plane ticket, and if you were lucky, you could even use this card, making it entirely free:

Don’t you wish you had that card in real life?
Nadia and I were battling the imaginary diseases as hard as we could, but even though the game had assigned us the awesome roles of scientist and medic, respectively, we couldn’t seem to win. After playing for more than two hours, and cheating a little by not admitting defeat when the pile of playing cards ran out (an instant loss, according to the game), we wondered how anyone was ever able to beat Pandemic. We were collaborating and playing well, and had still only wiped out two of the four diseases from the map. That’s when we read the instructions again…. We were supposed to find cures to all diseases, not entirely eradicate them! We’d been playing with all the cures for over an hour, trying our best to entirely get rid of every single pathogen on the board, but that went way above and beyond the call of duty. Science had won after all. If only building research stations and finding cures was so easy in real life…

Nobel Prize Games

The Nobel Prize website has a section with games and simulations about topics that have won Nobel prizes.

The Discovery of Penicillin is a a small simulation-style game where you play the role of William, a house keeper who just happens to be working for all three scientists credited with the penicillin discovery. Click on everything and you can figure out how William can help the scientists to their Nobel prize-winning discovery!

In the chemistry section is a little tutorial and game on chirality of molecules, led by two snails. It’s not very exciting, but the snails make good teachers (at least they don’t go too fast!)

There are quite a few other games on the site.
In fact, the rest of the Nobel Prize website is worth a visit as well. There’s an article from John Polanyi: “On Being a Scientist“, Albert Einstein’s Nobel lecture, and the excerpt from Alfred Nobel’s will that gave us the Nobel Prizes:

“The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. “