Subatomic: An Atom Building Game: A Review

Designer:  John J. Coveyou

Publisher:  Genius Games

Players:  2-4

Playing Time:  40-60 minutes

Ages:  14+

MSRP: $39.99

Review copy provided by Genius Games

When deck builders (Dominion, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game and the like) were becoming popular I tried a number of them, but never felt like I was doing anything meaningful in the game.  Pick up some cards, put down some cards.  I kind of thought to myself, This is apparently not a mechanic I enjoy. Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a solid mechanic and is extremely popular within the gaming community.  It just didn’t click with me and so I didn’t embrace the concept.  I never did poorly when playing deck building games, but I just didn’t feel like I was really making any meaningful decisions (I want to buy as many of those 2 types of cards and then VP cards to win the game.) Draw 5, play 5, draw 5, play 5.  Then I was introduced to Fantastiqua by Alf Seegert.  Boom!  I found a deck builder I enjoy!  He added a little puzzle to the game that takes place in a clever fantasy world and I was in.

Introduce Subatomic: An Atom Building Game by Genius Games.  A deck building game where you get to do some particle physics and make atoms and elements without having to wear all the sweaty hazmat gear that make your glasses fog up!  Add some up quarks with some down quarks or gamma rays together and create protons, neutrons and electrons!  Add those together and create some elements.  Is it magic?  No!  It’s Science!

Often in games based on science, you get a game with solid science, but crappy gameplay, or a game with solid gameplay but crappy science.  Rarely do you get games that offer both solid science and solid gameplay.  Enter Genius Games, who take science, mix with some solid game mechanics and come out with fun, scientifically educational, strategic games.

In Subatomic, players begin with a small deck of up quarks and down quarks (elementary particles that make up protons and neutrons) and gamma rays (which make up electrons).  You draw 5 cards, and have the ability to do any of the following:  

  1. Purchase cards to make your deck stronger (neutron, proton or electron cards)
  2. Build an element  (there are 4 different elements you can work towards, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium or Boron) by adding electrons, protons or neutrons to your atom player board
  3. Turn cards in for energy tokens or 
  4. Claim an element card.

You can enlist the help of scientists by spending energy tokens to purchase scientist cards with the likes of Einstein, Madam Curie or Schroedinger (but not his cat…) amongst others.  These help give players special abilities when creating their elements.

Each time a player claims an element, they place 2 of their 10 goal markers on elemental spaces that will give them bonus points at the end of the game.   Once all 10 of a player’s goal markers are placed, players finish the round and the player with the highest number of points at the end of the game wins.


The card quality is a good weight and quality, with easy to read, easily identifiable cards.  The cardboard pieces, wooden cubes and particle markers (glass tokens) are of a good size and quality and the colors are easily distinguishable.  The player boards and game board are a good quality and thickness and are easy to read.  The rulebook is colorful, nicely laid out and easy to follow.  My biggest gripe with the rulebook, however, is that the “Game Setup” diagram is on the backside of the “Game Setup” directions, so you have to flip back and forth between the two pages when setting up the game.  It would’ve been nice to have them on the same spread inside the rulebook.  (Game setup once you’ve set up once or twice is really not that difficult.) A really brilliant addition to the game is a rulebook-sized 6 page manual entitled, “The Science Behind Subatomic An Atom Building Game” for science nerds.  Or people that just want to know…


The deckbuilding (or Atom building in this case) mechanics work really well for the game.  The addition of building your elements using the deck, thrown in with the different scientist abilities give the game a fun twist in the deck building genre. 


The game runs within the 40-60 minutes as listed on the box.  This is the perfect time for what the game is and doesn’t run to long or too short.  It fits in that “just right” for time.  The ages listed on the box 14+ seems a bit high while the 10+ on the website seems a bit low, so I’m recommending in the middle at 12+.  To date I have only played with adults.  I believe the game would play well with middle school and high school students, as well as adults, and might be great with students that are learning basic sciences.  I used to run a board game group of 10-20 teens for a military library and this game would’ve been a regular go-to for those players


The art in Subatomic is great.  The artwork on the cards is bright, colorful and easily distinguishable.  The player boards are nicely created and have a player aid on each board, which I greatly appreciate in any game.  The first edition had cartoony artwork that was super cute, but the designer didn’t want people to confuse the game with a younger kids game so the artwork was changed for the second edition but still works and looks great.


While I find straight deck builders may not be my mechanic, throw a little twist and I’m onboard.  I quite enjoy this one and find it gets my mind working in trying to figure out what I can best do with the hand I’ve drawn.  I think this might help any budding, school aged scientist have fun and maybe learn (a little.)  The addition of “The science behind” book is a really nice touch and explains the concept behind the science and how it differs from science within the confines of the game.  The game itself is fun if you don’t happen to be a science nerd, and you could learn something as well!  


Patrick Brennan: It’s a workable little deckbuilder game. The theme is both excellent (if you’re a science nerd) and completely non-engaging (if you’re anything but). Your deck starts with quark and photon cards and you use these to buy neutron, proton and electron cards. Once your deck is strong, you start playing these to build up your proton/neutron/electron count that allows you to build atoms (rather than using them to buy more cards) as scoring atoms wins the game. Start again, build another atom. While it works, it seems like there’s going to be minimal variety from game to game, and any deck-thinning strategy that ends up proving successful is going to be repeated. It’s slow progress building up, but then it’s rush, rush, rush for points – once you have a strong working deck you just keep playing it through. The game ends quickly as a result, which isn’t a bad thing. Swingy though.


I love it!

I like it.  RJ Garrison

Neutral. Patrick Brennan

Not for me.

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3 Responses to Subatomic: An Atom Building Game: A Review

  1. Jacob Lee says:

    Is there a science game out there with solid gameplay (and crappy science)? I’ve only played ones with crappy and crappy science. I’m definitely interested in this but is it going to need a lot of expansions to stay fresh? I’m fine with that as long as expansions are in the pipeline. Otherwise it could hit a dead end. But I’m very intrigued. Thanks for taking the time to review this.

    • RJ Garrison says:

      Thanks for checking it out. I’m not sure what Genius games has in its pipeline as far as expansions for Subatomic. The thing they’ve been known for over the past couple years is putting out fun games with fairly solid game play based on solid science. I’ll be getting more reviews out on some of their other games over the next couple months so keep tuned!

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