I got to play Compounded at the International Tabletop Day hosted in Nashville by Emma / Meeple Mountain. It was one of the play-to-win games so I was super stoked to get a chance at playing it, and even stickered the discs and taught myself the game from the rules.
It took a while to figure it out and then teach everyone else, but once we got going was lots of fun. Basically the game is all about researching compounds. Everyone has access to the same compounds in the middle of the table which you can claim and put the correct elements on to complete them. When they are scored you not only get points, but some of them give you pieces of lab equipment and some have chemical reactions which you use to your benefit.
Depending on whether the compound was a solid/liquid/gas it moves you up on a different one of your research experiment tracks, which are basically the economy of your game. I found it very beneficial to try to balance these tracks—drawing a lot of elements every turn doesn’t do you very much good if you have to discard the excess, for instance. So it felt a lot like an economy management game as well.
The rules with claiming compounds were a little confounding; there’s a way you can claim them at the last minute if you score a compound that was unclaimed, and I kept having to re-explain the differences to people. It felt like something unnecessary that the player has to mess around with and just unnatural.
Overall we really enjoyed the game; it’s very visually appealing and satisfying to take these neat element tokens (odd-shaped jewels of different colors) and place them on the different slots of the compound cards. The compound cards show you the chemical formula/bonds, so it really feels like you’re learning about chemistry. The lab equipment was a nice touch as well, as all of these things really enhance the theme: lab goggles, graduated cylinder, pipette, lab book, bunsen burner (to ignite other player’s experiments on fire), etc. For the most part, the effects of these pieces of lab equipment has nothing to do with the theme at all though.
One player was a runaway leader and there really wasn’t anything to do about that. No catchup mechanisms (which I’m fine with) and no way to bring him down (which I would have liked). Most of the game feels like playing solitaire…the only interactions are A) in claiming compounds in the middle, others can’t claim them, and B) with using the bunsen burner to ignite other people’s experiments strategically. If you can get a bunsen burner.
Overall the theme feels kind of like candy. Everything looks great and that’s what enhances the theme. However most of the mechanics and rules don’t feel like they have much to do with what it would be like to be a chemist at all.
Nonetheless, it satisfied two very important things: it was fun to play, and you felt a sense of accomplishment in building your compounds and learning something in the process.
Also the strategy of it was fairly fun. Although it didn’t feel like there were vastly different strategies you could employ…just different ways to tweak your economy.
So, it was fun, and I would certainly pick it up if I found it for a good price. And I’ll definitely want to pick this up when I have kids of high school age…hopefully it will help instill in them a love, or at least like, of chemistry.