Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Sunday, 12 August 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Cytosis

Game: Cytosis: A Cell Biology Board Game

Publisher: Genius Games

Designer: John Coveyou

Year: 2017

Cytosis is a worker placement game from Genius Games, who specialise in making games based on real science. After seeing their Kickstarter campaign for Covalence and some interviews with them, we’ve been extremely impressed by how closely they try to replicate the science in their games. Fiona is an engineer and Amy studied biochemistry, so these themes are very exciting to see. In particular Cytosis is about cell biology and it’s certainly cell biology at an advanced level! Amy is enchanted by the details whilst Fiona is learning all about cell biology and finds Amy’s enthusiasm very endearing.

Our copy of Cytosis also includes the virus expansion and we’ve played both the base game on its own as well as the expansion to put together this review.


Cytosis takes place of a fixed number of rounds, during each round players will take turns placing workers in order to create cell components which reward you with health (points). Most of these spots are pretty typical for a worker placement game: some let you generate basic resources, others let you convert basic resources to more advanced resources or vice versa, while others let you spend these resources to create cell components. There are always 4 cell components at the bottom of the board which can be bought for increasing amounts if ATP (the game's currency). However the best cell components need to be processed through the cell, going from RNA, to proteins, then processing them in the Golgi apparatus, before finally spending ATP to expel them onto the cell surface. As you can imagine these cell components have a higher reward due to the larger amount of time needed to make them.

Many cell components have rewards based on what other components you, or your opponents, make. Enzymes are simple to make and offer a set collection reward at the end of the game. Receptor components offer immediate rewards when either you or an opponent make another of the same type. While these rewards might be tempting enough, each game there are 3 cell components which can offer additional rewards; 3 objectives are dealt out but during the game you can only claim 2 of them. At the end of the game you will get bonus points for each component you have made which matches your claimed objectives

At the end of each round an event is drawn which may punish people for stocking large amounts of resources or provide bonus resources for using certain spots next round. Should these events ever run out then the final round is triggered. At the end of that the player with the most health wins.

The virus expansion adds 3 viruses that attack the cell periodically, when this happens players roll dice (with more dice for the players with higher scores, and modifiers if players have invested in defence) and the player with the highest number is rewarded with some resources, while the player who did worst has to sacrifice some resources. You can invest ATP to help increase your chance of beating back the viruses, but you have the weigh that up with the cost of actually losing.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Cytosis is a game that is bound intimately with the science behind it's theme, the game even comes with a small explanation of how all the cell's organelles work! This is seen all over the place, and I love it. The construction of proteins requiring vesicles to travel from the rough endoplasmic reticulum to the Golgi apparatus for further processing, however making enzymes merely requires sending mRNA to free floating ribosomes to create proteins and... Ok I promise to stop geeking out over the science, the point is I rarely see a game which has been so lovingly crafted around it's theme. It's even educational, with this being ~ A-level biology.

However even if you don't give a damn about the theme Cytosis is still a very solid worker placement game, competition over worker spots is high, especially areas like the golgi where multiple construction pathways converge. That being said the game is a fairly by the numbers worker placement game, there isn't anything ground breaking in Cytosis. But don't let that put you off, because while it's nothing that we haven't seen before, it is a finely honed and balanced game where you will constantly be tight for resources and struggling to decide which spot means the most to you.

The virus expansion was quite a let down for me, it replaces some of the events, and some of the cell components, with virus attack cards. When viruses attack you have a roll off, with rewards and penalties given out based on the roll of the dice. You can invest resources to increase your odds of winning and as you get more health points you get more dice helping further. To me this was too much randomness, the investment to increase your defence against each virus dwarfed the potential gain, and the cost of failure was too low for me to be that interested.

The art in Cytosis is clean and colourful, it's a textbook example of cell organelles, all nicely colour coded providing a great balance between visual appeal and usability. I have to give extra credit for the dice in the virus expansion which are the most disgusting shade of mucus mixed with blood, I am genuinely awestruck how they have made some dice look so wonderfully putrid.

Overall I strongly recommend Cytosis, the gameplay is simple enough that almost anyone can pick it up, and the theme is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of anyone who has studied cell biology. Cytosis is great fun and comes with the added bonus that you might learn something about how you work!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Cytosis plays like a well-oiled machine. I love how each card requires a sequence of actions and how you need to be flexible in your focus to work around the other player(s) on the board. Knowing what actions other people need based on sequences they have started, or based on the end game goals they’ve chosen or the cards you’ve seen them take in hand, also adds to my satisfaction in figuring out how to optimise my game. The end game goals give me something to work towards and the set collection with enzymes is something I also gravitate towards. In some games you don’t quite get the cards you want but it’s really fun for me to try and figure out the most efficient use of the resources I have to keep my strategy moving throughout the game.

For me, the theme isn’t particularly a hook, but watching Amy get excited over the different action spaces on the board and how accurately they are portrayed has been a real pleasure. The game board is definitely a colourful interpretation of this part of human biology and I love the idea that this alone will draw some people into this educational gaming experience.

The virus expansion wasn’t detrimental to the game for me, but it also didn’t add anything to win me over. It added an element of dice luck into an otherwise very clean worker placement game, and I’ve come to learn that randomness in worker placement games is very rarely something I enjoy. The virus expansion introduced some interesting choices for where to invest your ATP currency, an added another potential component to your game strategy, but for me, the base game is just the perfect length and complexity.

Overall, Cytosis is a colourful and enticing package that offers really solid gameplay, as well as educational value. I am really excited by what Genius Games is doing and I can’t wait to check out more of their games.

You Might Like...
  • Cytosis is a tight resource management and worker placement game that plays in just 40 minutes for two players.
  • The game offers various paths to victory, which feel very well balanced, with different types of set collection rewarding a slow and steady strategy vs. a strategy of many easier to complete objectives.
  • The game is an absolute pleasure to play as a science geek or with aspiring science geeks. The theme and the actions are so well integrated.
You Might Not Like...
  • If you’re looking for a meatier worker placement game, then Cytosis may be too simple
  • In a two-player game there can certainly be some blocking of the minimal worker placement spots which can get a little antagonistic.

The Verdict
8/10 Not only is Cytosis a really solid worker placement game, with tight resource management, it also has huge educational value. The theme and science in Cytosis is very advanced an accurately portrayed and we love the idea of playing this game with kids as young as 8 or 10 years old and igniting a passion for science with them!

Cytosis was a review copy kindly provided to the Board Game Exposure Reviewer Collective.

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