Genius Games is proud to be hosting a Kickstarter for their new game “Nerd Words: Science!” Genius Games has pioneered the science-meets-tabletop-gaming genre, and is the only board game publisher in the world focused on creating scientifically accurate strategy tabletop games. Now, they’re excited to announce their latest product offering called “Nerd Words: Science!”
In this game, the fun is in the clues! Gather friends together, select teams, and compete against each other to give clues and correctly guess secret Science Terms in this new science-based word game. Beginning March 19, Genius Games will launch their twelfth Kickstarter campaign to introduce geeks and gamers alike to “Nerd Words: Science!”– a social word game where players work in teams to solve clues. Essentially, it is a word game where teams pit their wits (and some science knowledge) against each other with the goal of figuring out Secret Science Terms based on Clues given to them. In each round the lead scientist chooses a Term from a hidden pool of science words. They then reveal a series of Clues associated with the Science Terms. The first three Clues must begin with a different letter in the Science Term other than the first letter, slowly spelling out the Science Term as well as hinting at the content of the Term. If neither team has figured out the Science Term, the fourth and final Clue will begin with the first letter of the Term as a last ditch effort! After each Clue, both teams have 60 seconds to submit a Guess and place a bet based upon how confident they are in their Guess. Each team to correctly guess the Science Term scores points based on their bet and the team with the most points at the end of the game wins!
The Nerd Words: Science! crowdfunding campaign contains built-in stretch goals that will add to the complexity and fun of the final game that include component upgrades and special ‘topic’ packs of new Science Terms, including earth science, astronomy, and medicine that players can add into the game.
Genius Games was founded in 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri, by John Coveyou. It is one of the only tabletop game publishers with a focus on creating engaging board games that are accurately themed around STEM subjects. John Coveyou, creator and designer of “Nerd Words: Science!” nearly dropped out of school in his teen years and spent a stint living out of his car. However, after serving in the military, he pursued his love of science at Washington University, earning his Masters in Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering. He later quit his posh engineering job to launch Genius Games in 2014. He now teaches courses on Game Design and Crowdfunding at Webster University in St. Louis along with running Genius Games full time.
“Nerd Words: Science!” is the ninth science-based game created by John Coveyou. His previous Kickstarter campaigns have been very well-received and were wildly successful, collectively raising more than $1.3 million. His games have received attention from scientists and gamers alike and include accolades and coverage from media influencers.
John is excited about this project and recently discussed it with us via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in designing games and why did you focus on tabletop games?
John Coveyou (JC): The big light-bulb moment for me came when I was teaching college level chemistry and biology. I needed a way to engage my students. They had a lot of negative preconceptions about science… it was ‘too hard’, ‘too boring’, ‘too geeky,’ etc., but I noticed at the same time that those very students could easily spout of complicated stats and principles from games they were playing…!
So, of course, I looked for games centered around substantial science information – and you know what? They didn’t exist. Sure, there were some educational games out there, but they weren’t what I was looking for – they were either really heavy on the info, and boring as far as the game went – or really good as far as gameplay, but only slightly reminiscent of anything like real science. So, I decided I would design incredible games around incredible science. And that’s what I did.
I wanted to try table-top games as a medium for this because I think we are already consumed enough with the digital world. I am not saying that digital is bad, not at all, just that we want to return attention to learning through interaction with peers, bouncing ideas off others, questioning concepts and thinking critically in a social setting. These skills are a really important part of living a human life. To me the whole board game revival is an indication that people are very, very interested in carving out time in their lives for interacting with each other without screens.
The desire to demystify science and make it fun and approachable is at the heart of Genius Games. Games are tactile, they can include really gorgeous visual art, they also have a social component…they really allow people a more holistic way to engage with scientific material.
MM: What were the major challenges of establishing Genius Games and how did you get it more well-known?
JC: Honestly, the most difficult challenge has been combating preconceived notions that a game with accurate science in it must be a boring game. We’ve had to push back against the label of “educational games” pretty intensely because there are many so-called educational games out there that aren’t good games… in fact tons of “educational games” slap random educational content or tasks onto an otherwise unrelated game, and that means that for students, doing the educational part is actually DEMOTIVATED because it isn’t integrally related to the fun part of playing the game.
It’s true that you’ll probably learn something from playing our games, but learning is an inevitable consequence of playing – in learning the rules of the game, and in learning to play as well as you possibly can, you’ll learn the rules of the scientific phenomena. It’s a seamless process. So, the learning is precisely motivated by the rewards of the gameplay itself.
Our game Cytosis was a big breakthrough for us. That was our first big box board game and it took off on Kickstarter. Then Tom Vassel, and Board Game Geek, and Rhado all started paying attention to our games. Right now, we’re having fun spreading the word about our games by exhibiting at all the biggest board game conventions in the US and in Europe!
MM: How did you come up with the concept for “Nerd Words” and why does this edition focus on science? Might future editions focus on other subjects?
JC: The “Nerd Words” co-designer, Eric Slauson, came up with the very first idea for the game. We were literally taking a walk trying to figure out how to combine our powers to make a game – Eric is an English teacher, and my background is in science – and he came up with the idea of a science word guessing game where clues were restricted the letters of the word to be guessed. I was immediately intrigued by the mechanic, as well as the challenge of figuring out how to make a word game that was science themed… those two themes don’t usually go together!
Since science is our core focus at Genius Games, the base game of Nerd Words contains terms pulled mainly from biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences. The base game is made with words that most people know. Students would have exposure to the words in the base game in any good middle school science program – so it really is accessible. It’s not too advanced or technical. But, of course, we would like to delve even deeper into certain subjects, and are creating add-on packs for Medicinal Sciences, Space Science, Earth Science and Advanced Biology.
The response to the unique gameplay has been great. Gamers love the betting element and the challenge of giving a really terrific clue. And teachers are especially loving how seamlessly it works to reinforce what they are doing in classes. So, we’re eager to take the same formula and apply it to more subjects and areas of interest.
MM: What are your biggest hopes regarding this Kickstarter?
JC: I think my biggest hope for this Kickstarter is that someone who would never have considered touching a science-themed game will be intrigued enough to give it a try… who knows, they might even become a science enthusiast in the process. OR that a die-hard gamer who loves science might be convinced to stretch out of his comfort zone and give a thinky word game a try.
MM: What was it like to win so many awards and gain recognition for your game designs?
JC: Oh man, it just makes me so grateful. And very hopeful, because I actually do see learning as discovery – it’s delightful – but so many people see it only as drudgery (myself included, way back when.) As these games get out there, if they really succeed in offering anyone a more inviting, empowering way of engaging with science…well, that’s an honor that is both humbling and more fulfilling than I know how to describe. It’s crazy to me to think back to when I first started doing design sprints in the early days… design a game, toss it in the trash… rinse and repeat, over and over again through that grueling school of trial and error. Now to think that we’ve been able to launch twelve successful Kickstarters, and that revered organizations like the Journal of Cell Science, the National Science Teacher’s Association, or board game guru Tom Vassel would take note and start highlighting our games! It feels almost unreal. I’m very grateful.
MM: How much do you think your games tie into learning practices like Gamification and Entertainment-Education?
JC: There’s a strong tie – we regularly hear from teachers who use our games in their classrooms and have such striking stories to share. USA Today recently interviewed one teacher from Indiana about how he uses our games (Ion and Covalence) with his high school juniors and seniors in AP Chem to review everything they needed to remember and build on from Chem 1.
Another teacher from New Jersey told us that her students have enjoyed using our games as review tools so much, they ask to play them after class during study hall hours, and even stop by to play when they are not her students anymore! That stuff is pretty heart-warming to a nerd, you know?
MM: What are your major goals for the future of Genius Games and what new titles can fans expect to see released in 2019?
JC: We’ve got so much great stuff in the works right now! A handful of beautiful games (titles still pending) that we hope to roll out in 2019 and/or 2020 include a Mendelian Genetics game; a few really tight math games that focus on foundational concepts like multiplication, division, fractions and decimals; a heavier weight physics game where players collect units like time, distance and mass. We’re also in process with a game that takes place inside the human digestive system. Oh yes, and several expansions for our previous big box games are in the works as well!
“Nerd Words: Science!” will be on store shelves for the 2019 holiday shopping season for $29.99. For more details about the game and testimonials, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/geniusgames/nerd-words-science-a-party-game-meets-real-science
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