Dale Yu: Review of FReNeTiC

 

FReNeTiC

  • Designer: Graeme Fraser-Bell
  • Publisher: Accentuate Games
  • Players: 2+
  • Ages: 8+ on box
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by publisher

FReNeTiC was a game that caught my eye as I was flipping through the Opinionated Gamers twitter feed (@OpinionatedGmrs) – and all I saw was a colorful periodic table.  Being a Chemisty major in college (with the obvious double major of European History combined with it); I was instantly interested in learning more about the game. There aren’t many Chemistry themed games that I’ve found which aren’t purely educational (probably for good reason); but I’m always looking to try new ones when I find them.

The game, from what I can tell, isn’t available in the US yet.  I did contact the publisher in the UK and was able to get a copy to play.  The designer appears to have an educational background in Chemistry himself, and he has used this interest to design the game.

FReNeTiC is a game which uses the international element abbreviations as the basis for a word game.  The board is placed on the table, and it has an abbreviated form of the periodic table on it – there are only 96 symbols on the board.  There is a bag of tiles, one for each of the 96 elements in the game as well as four FReNeTiC tiles as well.

In the first round, someone draws out 8 tiles and they are placed on the board in the matching spaces.  Knowledge of the actual periodic table will help as it seems like there are always issues putting some of the transitional elements in the right place.   Each tile (and board space) has the abbreviation and the atomic number printed on it which would hopefully help. If you draw a FReNeTiC tile, the player who drew it keeps it near him (and I’ll explain what to do with it later).

Once all the tiles are placed, the sand timer is flipped over and players try to make words using only the tiles available on the board.  You are able to use the same tile multiple times. For instance, if Barium (Ba) and Sodium (Na) are available, you could spell BaNaNa.

If you have a FReNeTiC tile in front of you, you can use it while making words to stand in for any element.  But, you can only use it once! At the end of a round where you use a FReNeTiC tile, it is placed on the board on top of the FReNeTiC logo.

You must use the letters in the abbreviations in the way they are found; and you must always use all the letters shown in the abbreviation as well. Players write their words on a sheet of paper.  When the sand timer is done, all players have to put their pens down. Then, in a style similar to Boggle, players take turn reading off their words. If two or more players have the same word written down, it is crossed off on all lists, and no one will score for that word.  Interestingly, it might be possible to spell the same word with different elements – (Ag+N+Os+Ti+C) and (Ag+No+S+Ti+C). These are NOT the same word for purposes of scoring. Once all players have read off their lists, players will score points for any words that were not written down by anyone else.  Obviously, if you have used a FReNeTiC tile to make a word, it is unlikely that anyone else will have made the same word – though I suppose it is possible if multiple players had FReNeTiC tiles. A FReNeTiC tile scores points equal to the atomic number of the element that it was being used for.

The value for any word is calculated by using the atomic numbers of its constituents.  For instance – BaNaNa = 56+11+11 = 78. There are a few special rules in scoring. There are thirteen elements which can be spelled out – they are helpfully noted in green on the periodic table on the board.  If anyone is able to score one of these words, you can collect all the used FReNeTiC tiles on the board. Additionally, there are ten RED symbols on the board which are for elements with difficult to use abbreviations; if you’re able to score a word using any of these red spaces, you double the score for that word.

Sum up all your valid words and keep a running tally of your score.  The game is over is someone has more than 1,000 points, and the player with the most points is the winner.  If the game is not over, a new round is set up – FOUR more tiles are drawn from the bag and placed on the board, and words are again created, canceled, and scored.  Continue until someone has more than a thousand.

My thoughts on the game

FReNeTiC is an interesting word game; as I mentioned, I am definitely predisposed to games with the theme.  I’ve given the game a couple of plays now, and it is among the more likeable Chemistry themed games that I’ve played, but still falls a bit short of being awesome.   Some of that is probably due to the theme – I think there are some things which simply don’t translate to fun games, and this might be one of them.

The word making is fun, and it uses a well proven word cancellation system to reward players who are able to find unique words.  The rules don’t specifically address this, but we have interpreted the cancelling rule to say that any word ever written on anyone’s sheet cancels out a new word – so that you can’t write down the same word round after round and just hope that someone else doesn’t do the same.  By the time you have 16 or 20 element tiles in play, you have so many possible new words to make, that it would be silly to keep using words from the first round again just because someone else didn’t write it down to cancel you out.

There are also a couple of procedural issues which detract from the game.  First, having to place the tiles on the grid can be an equality issue. The person/persons who are putting the tiles down on the board are using all their concentration finding the right spaces; the other players are essentially getting extra time to make words.

Second, and even more imbalancing, are the FReNeTiC tiles.  These tiles come out in the random draw at the start of a round, and their use can be devastating.  They can be used to replace any tile not on the board, which means that you almost assuredly get a word which cannot be canceled out.  Given the scoring system, it is quite possible to have words that score in the 300-400 point range; and if you are able to use your FReNeTiC tile for a red doubler element, you might end up with 600-800 points that no one has a chance to negate.

After three games, we’ve found that it’s better for us to leave the FReNeTiC tiles out of the game, and to just put the tiles face up on the table without having the periodic table in the way.  We leave the board off to the side so people can see the green and red spaces, but the game is more equitable without the time spent hunting for the right spaces on the board.

Games go fairly quickly, usually only five or six rounds at the most – the reason for this is that word values can get into the 300-500 range quickly.  If you’re able to find a high scoring word (and then can pluralize it with Es or use -Y or -Er to make multiple words), it is actually possible to score more than 1,000 in a single round.

Because of the theme, and my love of word games, this one will likely remain in the game collection, but it is not a genre killer.  It would certainly have its place on those once or twice a year nights when we decide to play word games as a theme for the game group.

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me…

 

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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