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Cytosis: A Cell Biology Board Game» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A review by a biology and gaming nerd. rss

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Mike Bialecki
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An introduction:
Before I start the review, I must disclose a few things about myself. I have a PhD in developmental genetics and have been a biology professor for the past decade teaching cell biology, biochemistry, molecular biology and genetics. In addition, I am an avid Euro-gamer playing this style of game since 1997. My wife is also a biology professor and hardcore Eurogamer. My point is, there are very few people in this world that are more predisposed to liking Cytosis than me.

I have played this game once so far. It was a three player-game with two other biology-savvy players using the Virus Expansion. The game lasted about 90 minutes not including setup and rules.

The Components:
The components are solid. You won’t be disappointed. The artwork is crisp and clear. It doesn’t try to be too detailed so that the worker placement spaces are readily visible. The cards are standard MtG size and the resources for the basic game are wooden cubes. However, I have the deluxe version which comes with “realistic” resources. These are fantastic and add to the theme, but they are not without problems. The first is that there is writing on them, but only on one side - yes, a first world problem. The other problem is that they are significantly bigger than the cubes. Trying to stack a bunch of deluxe resources on the relatively small transport vesicles (round cardboard disks) is a bit clunky.

The Rules:
There are many Kickstarter games that have been killed by poor rules. Cytosis isn’t one of them. I wouldn’t say they are the smoothest I’ve ever read, but I had no problem confidently playing the game properly without having to post questions to BGG. What became immediately apparent while trying to explain the game, however, was the complete lack of player aids. There are several tiny details that, while possible to memorize or find in the rulebook, would have been easier to manage with a small player aid.

The Theme:
The theme of this game is what makes it shine. If you are not interested in cell biology, the game won’t compare favorably to other light to mid-weight worker placement games like Lords of Waterdeep. The marriage between theme and mechanics is very strong - so much so that I can see myself using the game to teach students about the endomembrane system. And yet it doesn’t come across at all like a dry edutainment “game”.

The Mechanics:
If you have played any light to mid-weight worker placement game, you have played Cytosis. There is nothing new here. As I explained the rules, I kept using Lords of Waterdeep comparisons. The macromolecules are the adventurers. The cell components are the quests. And the organelles/cellular locations are the buildings. The Goals are nice, but the events are uninspired especially if you are not playing with the Virus expansion. Many of the events come in the form of “Give the first player who goes here an extra resource.”

One of the features of the game that was disappointing was its lack of acceleration. Nothing really changes throughout the 10 rounds of the game. The worker-placement spaces and number of available cell component cards stay the same, which makes the game feel a bit repetitive by the fifth round. The receptor cards try to reduce this feel by providing a way for players to make limited tableaus, but they only provide more victory points instead of offering new options each round. It would also be nice for more ways to purchase cell component cards to become available as the game progresses. At the end of the game, two players had huge surpluses of resources because they had no cell component cards to spend them on.

The Virus expansion helped inject a little more excitement into each round. The new event and cell component cards cause a “Virus Attack.” Players roll 1-3 dice based on their health (how far they are on the victory point track) and add their immune response for that virus (flu, ebola, rhinovirus). Resources are then either awarded to- or removed from- players based on their total antibody response. Players can then increase their immune response for that virus by paying ATP. This will give them potentially higher antibody responses in the future. Unfortunately, there are exactly three “virus attack” cards for each virus, so often times the decision of whether or not to increase your immune response isn’t a very difficult one. It would have been nice to see a more random mechanism to determine which virus attacks.

Overall Feeling:
All three of us enjoyed the game and would play it again. With that said, one of the players asked about Lords of Waterdeep after we finished Cytosis. I had been comparing the two games throughout my rules explanation, which got him curious. We immediately set Lords of Waterdeep up and proceeded to play. After the first turn, his eyes lit up and he remarked, “I *really* like this game.”

An idea to spice up the theme and game mechanics:
Cell differentiation via differential gene expression is a fascinating subject. It is fundamental in understanding embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells, and the most basic process of how a single celled embryo becomes a multicellular adult comprised of hundreds of different cell types. I would suggest making cell components cards for proteins expressed in different cell types (examples: hemoglobin, glucose 6-phophatase, ion channels etc). These new cards can offer new worker-placement spaces or ongoing passive effects for the player who builds them. This would add acceleration to the game and teach another essential concept of biology.
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Peter Terry

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Those sound like great expansion ideas. I hope the creator sees your review and takes these suggestions.
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Aaron Greene
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There can also be additions to inject unique player powers, with each player taking on a cell (or tissue) type. Like Lords of Waterdeep, certain cells could benefit from completing specific types (classes) of protein/goal cards.
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Mike Bialecki
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Quote:
There can also be additions to inject unique player powers, with each player taking on a cell (or tissue) type. Like Lords of Waterdeep, certain cells could benefit from completing specific types (classes) of protein/goal cards.
There is an Epigenetics expansion where each player gets a permanent ability, but I haven't played with it yet. And there are Goals, but those are public and open to all players. Neither seems to be entirely focused on cell differentiation.
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John Coveyou
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First off, the detail and accuracy of this review is brilliant! I am very thankful for the time and effort you put into putting this together! Especially coming from a group with your backgrounds.

Player Aid - Yes, no excuses there, we need to official player aids. That is not on my to do list. Thanks for mentioning that! I would love to hear which details you were referring to that "while possible to memorize or find in the rulebook, would have been easier to manage with a small player aid."

Lord of Waterdeep Comparison - I should start by tipping my hat to Waterdeep, it’s a beautiful and elegant design and I have only good things to say about it. From my perspective, there are three main differences however, that make me enjoy the experience in Cytosis much more (obviously I am incredibly biased since Cytosis is my design)

First, there is an incredible amount of tension when multiple players are trying to move transport vesicles through the Golgi and out the Plasma membrane around the same time (especially where Receptors are involved), and this tension builds and displays itself over multiple rounds. I haven’t felt tension like this in Waterdeep.

Second, in Cytosis the timing of when players choose to claim end game goals is *in my opinion* a much more interesting end game points mechanic. Players may score additional points by claiming them earlier, but as a consequence they make their strategy obvious to all other players. They can wait to keep their strategy veiled (or even let it develop as they watch what their opponents are doing) but if they wait too long, they may not only lose out on easy points, but could be blocked out from claiming their ideal end game at all!

Third, the Virus Expansion and the public push-your-luck against all players aspect.

Cell Differentiation Expansion

I really like this idea. I am in the middle of designing a number of variants / expansions for Cytosis and I think your ideas here have incredible potential! I’d love to hear more about them and we could chat about how to implement them if you want to email me? John@geniusgames.org.


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Matthew Jeffries
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Great review! I am a cell biologist as well, and am eager to play my copy of Cytosis.

I completely agree with making cards that give new worker placement spaces and passive effects. The mechanics should be salient (e.g. GLUT1/glucose transport protein could allow more efficient collection of carbohydrate cubes, or LPL/lipoprotein lipase could allow more efficient collection of lipid cubes).

As long as good theme gets integrated into these cards, it will make the game more interesting and educational.

Also, my colleagues at work are eager to play Cytosis, even though they are not boardgamers!

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Mike Bialecki
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JohnCoveyou wrote:

First, there is an incredible amount of tension when multiple players are trying to move transport vesicles through the Golgi and out the Plasma membrane around the same time (especially where Receptors are involved), and this tension builds and displays itself over multiple rounds. I haven’t felt tension like this in Waterdeep.
This is something I forgot to mention in my review, the issue of scaling. I played a three-player game, but since the board doesn't change with four or five players I imagine the game plays very differently at those player counts.

There is a finite number of transport vesicle spaces (places you start loading resources to complete a card) on the rough endoplasmic reticulum and Golgi. If those spaces are full when a player wants to place a transport vesicle, that players kicks off one of the transport vesicles and all accumulated resources back to the owner. I can see how this would offer more tension in the game, but I can also see how it can become frustrating. I'll find out soon, since I know a ton of other biologists chomping at the bit to play.

Edit: I just remembered that with more players, each player receives fewer flasks (workers), so there is some scaling.
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Lawrence Myers
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mbialeck wrote:
It would also be nice for more ways to purchase cell component cards to become available as the game progresses. At the end of the game, two players had huge surpluses of resources because they had no cell component cards to spend them on.
just a thought, make the worker spots on the card component be able to bump off other player's flask like the vesicle spots are able to bump other vesicles, you would just need to refill the card spot after it was purchased to setup.
 
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Glenn Chambers

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Bogusgig wrote:
mbialeck wrote:
It would also be nice for more ways to purchase cell component cards to become available as the game progresses. At the end of the game, two players had huge surpluses of resources because they had no cell component cards to spend them on.
just a thought, make the worker spots on the card component be able to bump off other player's flask like the vesicle spots are able to bump other vesicles, you would just need to refill the card spot after it was purchased to setup.
That's what the gray flasks are for.
 
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Rob
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mbialeck wrote:
The marriage between theme and mechanics is very strong - so much so that I can see myself using the game to teach students about the endomembrane system.
This is one of the most extraordinary statements I've seen on this site. A highly-rated science-based game that is accurate enough to be used in a college course. Kudos to John Coveyou.
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