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Tom Vasel
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When giving a lecture at a school conference one time, I was espousing the value of using board games in the classroom and listed games that could be used for each subject. When I got to science, I paused and then quickly stated that they could use the games I had listed under the math category. While that’s certainly debatable, I still hold to my position that there are few, if any games that effectively teach science, as opposed to the multitudes for history, English, and math. Then I received Gene Pool (Goadrich Games, 2006 – Mark Goadrich), which is a game about genetic researchers trying to find cures for rare genetic diseases. A game for science at last!

To be sure, I gave the game to our high school science teacher for his reaction, and he was pleased to see that it was exactly what he was teaching about – DNA, and tried it out. His opinion was the game was pretty good; and it was a nice, if limited, tool to teach in the classroom. As a gamer, my opinion of the game is that it’s a mildly fun game that two players can enjoy, and makes for a great lunch game, or other situations in which players have limited space. At first I was curious as to how a game could be played with only twenty-six cards, but this two-player game manages to do it elegantly.

Eight “1 year” Gene Research cards are shuffled and placed next to six “2 year” cards. The remaining twelve cards (Base Pairs) are split into two kinds – Adenine (A) Thymine (T) pairs, and Guanine (G) Cytosine (C) pairs. Each player receives one of each card, with another of each type being placed face up next to the board, forming two piles. The remaining six are shuffled and placed in a row to create a six letter DNA sequence. Actually, there are two sequences of letters that are formed by the cards facing in different directions (i.e. If “C” is on one side of the card, “G” is on the other). Each player draws one Gene Research card from either pile. The youngest player goes first, and then play alternates between the two players.

On a turn, the player chooses one of six different actions:
- Draw Gene Research: The player can take the top card from either pile, but only if they have one or less Gene Research card.
- Draw Base Pair: The player can take a Base Pair card from either pile.
- Inversion: The player can rotate one or more cards in the DNA sequence. If two or more cards are rotated, they must be rotated as a group, not individually.
- Mutation: The player can replace any card in the sequence with a card from their hand; the other card is discarded to one of the Base Pair piles.
- Deletion: The player can remove any card in the DNA sequence, discarding it, and add a card from their hand to either end of the sequence.
- Insertion: The player can insert a card from their hand anywhere into the sequence then discard one of the cards at either end of the sequence.

After taking an action, the player can claim Gene Research Years if either side of the DNA sequence contains the letters shown on their Gene Research card (for example, the one year card Hemophilia Type A shows the letters ATGC, and the two year Osteogenesis Imperfecta shows TTAGC. The card is placed in front of the player, and the years on it added to their score. Also, if a player has no Gene Research cards in their hand at this point, they may draw one from either deck. Play alternates between players until one has accumulated nine years, at which point they are declared the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The game comes packaged in a small box that can easily slide into a shirt pocket with some nice, thick quality cards inside. The Base Pair cards show DNA artwork on them, while the Gene Research cards are full of information about the disease. Two small reference cards are also included to help players remember what actions they can take. It’s a very small game but has more in it than meets the eye.

2.) Rules: The rules are printed on two sides of a small sheet of paper but are in full color and show several illustrations of how the game is to be setup and played. The rules are actually rather simple, and the game can be explained easily – all you have to do is hand the person the reference card, and they are pretty well off.

3.) Science: The game rules explain just what Genetics is and talks about the positive benefits of genetic research. Each card shows a disease, such as Werner Syndrome, talks about the effects, the probability of occurrence, and a website to learn more about it online. When it comes to an educational game, Gene Pool is certainly an excellent one; I found some of the information fascinating and enjoyed the theme of how players were researchers attempting to find cures for these diseases.

4.) Gameplay: With such a good theme, I would even take a mediocre game, because I have so few games that help promote science. But I am pleased to say that Gene Pool is actually a decent game, one that is light and easy, but offers some good decisions. It is slightly reticent of another game, Phoenix, but without all the bright colors and randomness of that game. Gene Pool allows a player to rotate, maneuver, and add and subtract cards to get the order they want. Finishing a sequence isn’t that challenging, but doing it before the opponent finishes theirs is the key. The ability to take only one action a turn is nice, as it keeps the game flowing smoothly and quickly with little downtime.

5.) Fun Factor and Luck: Luck is a factor in the game, as players hope to get cards that are very close to the current DNA structure. I’m still not convinced that always taking two year cards isn’t the better choice, as they don’t seem twice as difficult to attain as one year cards. The games I’ve played in have been quick, easy and very close in score. The box says thirty minutes, but I have yet to breach twenty minutes, and that’s with rules explanation. And in my mind, for a game of this weight, that’s a good thing; because the rotating cards might get wearisome if done longer, but makes for a pleasant diversion here.

Gene Pool is an insignificant looking game, and you might overlook it when scanning my bookcases that are crammed with piles of large, colorful games. But it’s a game that promotes science – specifically genetics – and is easily portable, sets up and is explained quickly, and rather fun for the short time it takes up. I had to take it back from the science teacher, who sadly surrendered it, and hope that it has success, so that we can see more games in this genre.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”
www.thedicetower.com
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Kent Reuber
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I was looking at this game for my wife, who is a molecular biologist. Sadly, it was produced in limited quantities and is already out of print.

From their Web site:
"Gene Pool was released in late July of 2006 in a limited edition of 200 copies, priced at $9 plus shipping and handling. It is currently sold out and not available for purchase. Questions or comments?"
 
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Marc Figueras

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kentreuber wrote:
I was looking at this game for my wife, who is a molecular biologist.

Exactly the same in my case! (my wife is a molecular biologist as well). But I was fortunate to discover it early enough to get a copy.
 
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Nick Bentley
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I think there is one game that exceeds all others in teaching science: zendo. The reason being that zendo is a distillation of the scientific method (induction). You think of a hypothesis, then you test it, and based on the results, you modify it, etc., until you find the "natural law" underlying all the data. Of course, in real life, there's no godhead standing around to tell you when you've gotten it right, but still, it's a great simulation.
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Carlos O.
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I am a molecular biologist and despite the implied professional deformation I want this game. I hope it's republished.
 
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Ettore Gislon
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It has been republished :D
 
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