I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Compounded, which is set to release in mid to late September, and after multiple playthroughs I can promise you that it’s absolutely fantastic.
Compounded is gorgeous. It’s designer, Darrell Louder, is a game graphic designer so he knows how to make make components look good and Compounded is the best design work he’s ever done. It’s the kind of game that’s pretty enough to be framed and hanged on your wall.
“I love how everything looks and feels,” Louder said. “The production quality of Compounded is amazing. We were truly lucky that the Kickstarter funded at what it did because it allowed us to make Compounded better than what I could have ever imagined. The stock, the colors, and just everything came out terrific.”
The core gameplay of Compounded is simple. Players complete chemical compounds by adding elements to them. The more complicated a compound the more points a player scores for completing it. When you score a compound you also gain extra bonuses and a lot of the the games depth comes from trying to decide not only what compounds to complete but how to maximize your research tracks.
Where Compounded shines the most is with player interaction. There is a phase during every round where players get to swap elements. Deals are struck and it’s a battle of trying to not help your opponents while still trying to get the elements you need. There’s always a lot of alliances as well as a lot of backstabbing.
“Originally the game was meant be something silly and small for the first Unpub. It was built in four days and the idea was that you were an alchemist putting together potions with things like rattails, worms, and spider legs,” Louder said. “I was telling my wife Lesley about it and she told me I should just use the periodic table with real compounds and elements. I jumped on that idea and ran with it!”
In the first photo below you can see the original prototype for Compounded. On the right of the table is Darrell while on the left is his wife Lesley and TC Petty the III, designer of Viva Java: The Coffee Game. The close-up is a later version of the game that also appeared at an Unpub event.
After debuting at Unpub, Compounded went through several revisions and was picked up by Dice Hate Me Games. Along the way, some details of the game changed, but the core mechanics never did. For example Sodium used to be one of the main elements and now it isn’t.
“The biggest change we made was probably the player tableau,” Louder said. “In the original prototype there was no research track or tools. It was only a place you used to hold your elements. Other things we changed were the size of the compound cards. They went from Tarot size, to playing card size, to what they are now.”
The center piece of Compounded’s design is the periodic table it uses for a score track. The coloring of the table is unique because normally periodic tables are colored by types. For example all noble gases are one color. What Louder chose to do with his track was to instead use the non-commonly known CPK Coloring system, which is used by chemists. It sounds like a simple change, but it is what helps Compounded’s periodic table look so vibrant.
“I had several people tell me that I should use the periodic table,” Louder said. “However the golden key goes to my wife. She is the one who hounded me over and over about it. Looking back I was being dumb. I kept thinking it didn’t make sense because of how the table is broken up and how big it is, but now it’s perfect because once we add the first expansion the scoring will jump from 50 points to 75.”
Although the game isn’t out yet, Louder is already in the lab experimenting with expansions. He hopes to eventually have three full size expansions with each not only adding to what’s already in the box but also adding new mechanics and ways to play.
“The first expansion is going to bring in radioactivity,” Louder said. “I will add in uranium and other radioactive elements. There will be radiation poisoning, hazmat suits, and other cool stuff. I’m really excited for people to see what I’ve been working on.”
At first glance, Compounded seems like it would be an educational game. It’s not. You don’t need to know anything about chemistry or science to play it. That being said, you can’t help to pick up a few tidbits of knowledge while you play.
At the Origins Game Fair last June, I saw the game demoed and amongst all the players were two teenage brothers. About halfway through the game their mother called asking how much longer they were going to be and the one son said, “We are at Phosphorus and need to get to Bromine.” The mom was so excited that she went directly to the Dice Hate Me booth and asked how she could pre-order the game.
“The compound cards were the hardest to design and get right,” Louder said. “I had a chemical engineer and a chemist look them over. I would build all these compounds and then they would tell me half of them was wrong or that an angle of an element was off. It was a true design challenge to fit everything I needed to in such a tight space.”
The production quality of the final game is by far some of the best I’ve ever seen in the game. The card stock of the tiles are as tough as you are going to get without losing their elegance. The elements, represented by custom molded gems, feel good to pick up and look great. Compounded is the kind of game you want to show off with other gamers because it looks so nice.
It’s still not to late to pre-order Compounded. The game retails for a mere $35 and if you order it from Game Salute you get free shipping!