The Science of Magic
Last spring, the kids and I read String, Straightedge, and Shadow: A Story of Geometry. We were fascinated to learn that in Ancient Egypt and Greece, those who were seen to have mystical powers, those who were considered priests and in contact with the divine, were those who understood the properties of geometry! If you knew how to use a Pythagorean triangle to determine the measure of a field and charge the proper tax, you had super powers!
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As usual, all of the opinions expressed herein are my own honest assessment of the product.
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So, naturally, we were thrilled when we had the opportunity to explore more of the history of the interrelationship of science and magic. This time, however, it was in the form of a board game! We got our hands on a copy of The Quest for Arete: An Elemental Card Game. As the game says, “in the real world, this is the magic”! You know that around here, we’re pretty crazy for learning through board gaming. Even better, in this game, we were exploring an area of science that we haven’t yet encountered in the course of our regular “school”: chemistry, the periodic table, and using elements to create compounds!
The Best Kind of Educational Game
If you’ve been around here long, you know my feelings about “educational games” – those games where all the fun, great gameplay, and well-balanced mechanics have been sacrificed to serve the theme. And the theme is often something that, on its own, isn’t a huge crowd-drawer. Fractions. Parts of speech. Or multiplication facts. No gameplay, dry theme, why play?
However, just because we’re all about awesome gameplay and good family fun doesn’t mean we don’t get a little giddy about all of the things that you can learn while playing an excellent game! For example, I’m somewhat of a Latin nerd. So I was pretty tickled to see that each of the element cards in this game lists the actual Latin name of the element. Only of interest to nerds like me? Not so, my friend!
Ever wondered why the chemical symbol for Lead is “Pb”? Because Pb isn’t the abbreviation for “Lead;” it’s the abbreviation for “Plumbum”. Want to know why the chemical symbol for Antimonium is Sb, Gold is Au, and Tin is Sn? Yea, you just might accidentally pick up a little
Latin vocabulary Chemistry knowledge in this game! Each element card even features the name of the person who discovered it!
The scoring track is the periodic table of the elements and the basis for the game is the creation of “spells” which are actually compounds, formed with elements! Elements within a spell are marked with subscripts, exposing kids to using that format for determining the numbers of certain elements to be included in a compound of elements. And card points are written in Roman numerals, giving players an added exposure to that system as well.
Thematic AND Fun!
What makes this game an awesome purchase is that, though the theme of Chemistry and the “magic” of compounding elements is artistically woven all throughout the layout and gameplay, the authors of Quest for Arete aren’t so constrained to being “educational” that they sacrifice quality gameplay. After all, this is a game, right?
The game includes two basic “modes” so that players can begin with a simple format and work their way up in skill level and excellence (“Arete”!). New players begin with a rummy-style game in which they simply use the element cards to form spells and play for the highest points. The game is designed for players ages 12 and older, but younger kids could definitely join in as a team player with a parent.
Once players have mastered the basics of spell making, they have several options for increasing the complexity and excitement of the game. Players can learn to replace elements with other elements by the use of “catalysts”. Cards include extra iconography if players want to add in the use of bonuses and defensive and offensive scoring as well.
Perhaps the most engaging gameplay comes with the addition of player cards. Players can choose a character from one of the magic houses: The Alchemists, The Sorcerers, or The Armorers. Each character is different and gives a player unique advantages, adding further layers to the strategy involved! (But don’t worry, should “analysis paralysis” become a problem in your gameplay, this set includes a sand timer to limit each turn!)
You’ll want to begin with the Starter Set, which includes enough cards for two players to engage in all the levels of play listed above. Once you’re ready for more adventure and more customization, you can add in special expansion packs tailored to the talents of the house of your favorite character. The Alchemist, Sorcerer, and Armorer expansion packs can be found on Amazon or in the Quest for Arete shop. For even more fun, be sure to check out and follow Quest for Arete on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!