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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Saturday 29 December 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Covalence

Game: Covalence: A Molecule Building Game

Publisher: Genius Games

Designer: John Coveyou

Year: 2016

Genius Games create board and card games that provide educational value in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. But, these aren't your standard educational games - they're good modern board games first and science knowledge is embedded in the process of playing the game.

Covalence focuses on organic chemistry. As the name suggests, the game teaches players about covalent bonding and correctly structuring molecules. It's a cooperative card game where 2-4 players work together to accurately build a number of secret organic molecules.


In Covalence players take a role of either clue giver or guesser. The clue giver draws a molecule card for each player, assigning them a molecule each to try and make. The Guessers must use the various atoms in front of them to create the molecules, with the slight caveat being that they don't know what they need to make. To this end they may ask for clues by spending a clue token.

When the clue-giver hands out a clue they must choose to give each player a combination of cards. In front of the clue-giver are 2 rows of cards, one with clues such as the names of atomss or single/double bonds. The other row contains numbers from 0-5. Each time a clue is asked for each player gets a combination of 1 from the atoms row and any number of numbers.

The guessers can then rearrange their atoms to match their new clue and choose between asking for another clue, or making a guess at the cost of a guess token. If a guess is made then the clue giver checks if their molecule is correct or not. On a correct guess the guessers are given an additional guess and clue token to use during the game. Once enough correct guesses have been made then the players win, but if the number of guess tokens run out before that number is reached then the game is a loss for everyone.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Covalence does a wonderful job of mixing pure deduction with the principles of organic chemistry. You don't need to understand the chemistry behind it in order to play, but at the end of playing you will certainly understand that Carbon can make 4 bonds, Nitrogen 3, Oxygen 2 and Hydrogen 1. Once you understand the chemistry then the clues can be a touch more clever, fr example giving clues that reveal the number of bonds can inform the types of atoms involved in the molecule.

That being said there are some set rules, though they vary by difficulty. Each molecule in the game consists of a combination of 3 of Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen. In fact on the easiest difficulty you only even have 2 carbon with 1 other atom, the middling difficulty adds the opportunity for there to be only 1 carbon, while the full chemist difficulty adds chlorine which can replace hydrogen in the molecule. The key to these higher difficulties is that the older, 'easy' cards are still mixed in, so there is simply a greater variety of molecules in the game. With the greater variety the easy cards are no longer easy to guess.

Covelance gives a very different experience when guessing and clue giving, but both have their difficulties. Chemistry has many isomers, meaning the same things but in a different spatial order, which means even the perfect set of clues can lead to the wrong answer. Of course you don't always have the right cards to give the best clues.

Overall Covelance is a touch on the simple side at the lower difficulties and I certainly think that it needs the chemist difficulty level from the expansion to make things interesting for experienced players.  That leaves the easier difficulties as a good learning tool for basic chemistry, or for younger players to enjoy. While the theme is well integrated it's fair to say that chemistry can be a slightly dry theme, despite this Covalence is a lovely little deduction game that is well worth giving a go, especially if you have a chemistry test coming up...

Fi’s Final Thoughts

When I first taught Covalence, I called it 'Chemistry Mysterium'. I still think it's quite similar. One player knows the answers and uses limited information and no additional communication to try and get players to make the right guess. There is a limit on the number of times players can receive information before the game is lost. What I enjoy about Covalence is that your information is quite simple and a typical clue might be a number and an element symbol. However, on some turns you might not have the right cards, so you have to get creative to cycle your cards - a Nitrogen and a zero can clearly be used to communicate 'N0'. You can also use the way that you place cards on the table to mean something different - a '1' spun through 90 degrees might be a single bond.

I'm most impressed that Covalence introduces concepts that I didn't learn until I was 15 or older at school. With this game, you could introduce these more complex ideas to children as young a 8, or perhaps even younger. You can play Covalence as a pure deduction game, and you can do so without understanding anything about the chemistry, but with the guidance of an adult, or with children keen to learn, there's a lot to learn about organic chemistry in the game. It even sparked a very geeky discussion between me and Amy about the difference between ionic and covalent bonding!

For me, Covalence is slightly higher on the scale of 'educational' and lower on the scale of 'great game for gamers' than our previous experience with Genius games - Cytosis. I still think that Covalence is a a great educational tool, but probably not a game I'll bring to the table, purely for fun during a gaming session. If you're a parent or teacher, I'd definitely recommend checking it out!

You Might Like...
  • The game strongly reinforces some important chemistry principles.
  • You don't need to know anything about chemistry to play the game. It can be played as straight deduction.
You Might Not Like...
  • The deduction is quite basic and similar game after game, especially without the chlorine expansion.
  • There may not be enough excitement in the game for it to be played in a non-educational context.

The Verdict

6.5/10 Covalence is a great was to get kids interested in chemistry. It's a fun cooperative game that delivers some educational concepts, and definitely not an educational game. It can teach both the chemistry knowledge, as well as skills of deduction and has a good range of difficulty to give the game some longevity and adaptability.

Covalence was a review copy kindly provided to us by Genius Games.

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