Teaching Evolution Through Board Games
Cytosis: A Cell Biology Board Game (second edition)
Playtime: 60-90 minutes
Teach time: 15 minutes
Game difficulty: Medium
Key educational concepts: cytosis, human cell anatomy, transcription and messenger RNA, enzyme synthesis, hormone receptors, ATP production
Favorite rules video: Genius Games- How to Play
Essential Files: Biology behind the board game
Cytosis: A Cell Building Game is a worker placement game inside a human cell. Players aim to synthesize and convert cellular building blocks (e.g. mRNA, ATP, lipids, glucose) into enzymes, hormones or receptors the most efficiently. Navigate the crowded cellular highways passing by the Smooth- or Rough Endoplasmic Reticulum on the way to the Golgi Apparatus to fill your transport vesicles prior to shuttling the created hormones out the plasma membrane to other less-industrious cells. If anything about this introduction induced PTSD from a dull biology class from your past or instantaneous and extreme boredom – do not worry. Strip away the finely crafted veneer of the cellular biology lingo, and there is a full-fledged and polished strategic board game. If the topic is foreign, embrace the science and learn a little- I cannot imagine a more entertaining introduction to cellular biology.
The core gameplay is center around worker placement, where players take turns placing ‘flasks’ on spots on the gameboard to take specified actions. These include collecting and converting resources, or combining them to create enzymes or hormones recipe cards that produce victory points (called health points). Instead of money, the game uses ATP energy as a currency to purchase new cards and fulfill other game objectives. After everyone places all their ‘flasks’ on the game board, the cards available for purchase are refreshed. Then an event card is drawn, which typically incentivizes one of the worker spots on the gameboard for that round. Then the next round begins. Everyone collects their flasks to be placed again. This is repeated until no event cards are available, and the game ends.
Learning and teaching the game
The gameplay is streamlined and easy to teach. The biggest challenge for most players is explaining the steps required to create transport vesicles and export them out of the plasma membrane. However, the rulebook has a beautiful example of these processes. If confused, watch the publishers' rules video. After you master the gameplay, it would be reasonably easy to teach to students.
Cytosis: A Cell Building Game is a paragon example of how to merge STEM education and board games. This game is an excellent resource to facilitate a broad range of discussions on cellular biology. My favorite thing about this game, and something that every STEM-themed game should also provide, is a handout explaining the science behind the game. This document clearly explains the connections between the game and the science behind each part. This handout is absolutely fantastic, seriously, check it out.
The game is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend this game for use in a biology classroom. Genius Games did a phenomenal job, and all STEM-themed games need to use Cytosis: A Cell Building Game as the baseline for future endeavors!
Box cover (Image credit: Genius Games)
A few of the event cards (image credit: Genius Games)
Worker placement mid-turn (image credit: Mark Fredrickson)
Game setup- can you be the best at cytosis? (image credit: Genius Games)