Before we begin, please sanitize your hands. Don your lab coat. Wipe your glasses clean. Take a deep breath. And another. Remember that science class was separate from English class. Therefore, I’ll need you to pardon the prepositional and grammatical stumbles caused by the game’s title. Good? Good.
What do you do in For Science!?
Players place cards next to cards, then blocks on top of other blocks, so some blocks touch other blocks, but other blocks can’t touch those blocks. After stacking the blocks, someone verifies all the proper shapes and colors are properly – and not improperly – touching the other shapes and colors. The reward for stacking blocks is puzzle pieces with pictures. Piece together the puzzle pieces to enclose enough pictures, and you win!
It’s confusing and stressful and chaotic and random, and that’s before you introduce the countdown clock! If you want it even confusinger and stressfuller and chaoticer and randomer, shorten the clock and introduce more events!
I’ve said too much. Also, not enough.
In For Science!, 1-6 lab workers cooperate to concoct the universal vaccine. To do so, players uses their unique abilities as they research designs for cures. Cures are built to match the blueprints constructed from design cards, each showing a series of blocks along one, two, or three strands that depict which blocks must be in contact with other bocks to complete the builds. The first design card in any cure or workshop displays the only shapes to come into contact with the table, and every piece further up their respective strands must be on top or to the side or leaning or balanced or occasionally held in place by another player…
Blocks come in six basic colors and shapes: yellow bricks, orange slats, red triangles, purple cylinders, blue half-circles, and green…um… bridges? There are only six of each shape. While multiple builds can happen simultaneously, you may need to wait until one design is built, verified, and torn down for a necessary block to become available.
Does it sound hectic? It is.
For Science! is a real-time game, which brings an enjoyable level of madness to the table. Similar to Space Alert and Escape! The Curse of the Temple, the timer provides a countdown clock that magnifies the mayhem if and when events are introduced. Where Space Alert is a programming game and Escape! is a dice-chucker, For Science! excels as a dexterity game where you have to build and balance and avoid making your plans crash down around you.
There is a bit of programming, so to speak, as design cards are linked together to form cures matching the criteria required by the Disease and possible Mutations. Once those criteria are met, someone needs to verify those criteria are met. This isn’t whimsy; it’s For Science! Upon verification, turn the Disease card 90 degrees. Doing so reveals that it is now TIME TO BUILD!
But there’s not much time! The countdown clock provides an anxiety-inducing atmosphere, another cog in the double-helix in the name of For Science!
Once a structure is completed, another player must verify that it was done correctly by stopping whatever they’re doing to once again confirm the all conditions were met for a cure. That verification allows the team of scientists to collect data and knowledge, which can be spent for the aforementioned puzzle pieces, also known as universal vaccination tiles.
Each tile contains three colors of amoeba-like cell structures, some of which contain icons. Enclosing those icons increases your research toward the Universal Cure, which is marked on the appropriate level of the Lab Board with an insight pawn. Many roles improve their individual character bonuses with higher levels of research, so the players must be aware where they stand. More importantly, enough quality research will allow players to perfect the Universal Cure and win the game!
Why would you want to play For Science!?
I’ve often heard that co-op games aren’t games as much as they’re puzzles. For Science! is an unapologetic puzzle that takes every opportunity to not apologize. Don’t like the design card you’ve drawn? Waste it, but know that too much waste adds mutations to the diseases. You get to choose which cards get built where and the order, but you still have to construct the puzzle with big, chunky, 3-D blocks. It’s refreshingly tactile. And the sound of blocks falling is exponentially funnier and more frustrating than hearing “Pretty sneaky, Sis” before unloading the trapper in Connect Four. I’ve played speed games and strategy games and real-time games, but For Science! hybrids all of them together with a balance better than most players possess.
R. Eric Reuss designed For Science! with a thorough understanding of who would appreciate the humor. Mixing in mutations like Noxious, where players must hold their breath as they build the cure; Miniscule requires players to keep their head within 6 inches of the table while touching blocks. Contaminated mandates players shake each block vigorously for 1-2 seconds prior to placing it. Events include Rioting, which forces all players to give the table a strong, two-fisted thump. Temporary Evacuation makes players leave the room for 10 seconds or walk around the table three times.
The roles are tongue-in-cheek as well, and it’s not limited to the flavor text. The Combat Endocrinologist is decked out in full bomb squad gear, and his special power is he may carry up to two blocks from another player’s build away from the table as samples, then return them saying “Got yer samples.” For each sample they use, the build earns additional research. But my favorite role is the Hypocritical Compliance Officer, who’s special power is to touch or hold up to one block in your build, even while it’s being verified. That’s genius!
Why wouldn’t you want to play For Science!?
It’s a table hog. You’ll need sufficient room for potentially building individual workshops for each player, plus up to three disease cures. That space includes all of the starting boards, plus cards for each build, plus the wooden blocks. If you don’t have enough table – or worse, if the table isn’t sturdy – one build collapsing could knock down another build. I don’t consider this a negative; thematically, a crowded laboratory has more potential for bungled experiments.
It’s loud and hectic. My gaming group often selects a short cleanser at the end of our sessions, something we can play in thirty minutes or less. If we’re playing at someone’s house and a family member is sleeping, they won’t be. The exclamation point in the game’s name is well deserved.
If, however, the idea of discovering a universal cure to disease is appealing – at a time like this, how could you say no to that? – and you enjoy an immersive, high-energy endeavor with your friends, I wholeheartedly recommend For Science!
If science was this fun in high school, I wouldn’t have slept through so many classes.