We are used to games played out on world maps and even maps representing whole galaxies. Here’s a game that goes from the macro to the micro. Designed by John Coveyou and published by Genius Games, in Cytosis, players are collecting ‘health points’ by building hormones and enzymes inside a human cell.
The core mechanic in Cytosis is worker placement, with players taking turns to place flasks out on spots on the board to take the specified actions: collect various resources, convert resources, acquire cell component cards, complete cell component cards, or claim the first player marker and one of the end-game scoring goals. Players use ATP energy (adenosine triphosphate) as the currency in the game, so, for example, the left-most cell component card is always free but players have to pay ATP to take cards from the other spots. There’s also an important set collection element in the game. Alcohol Detoxification cards, for example, are individually worth only one health point but the player who has the most of these scores an 8-point bonus.
Putting to one side the theme, you’re basically collecting and converting coloured cubes to meet the specific requirements of cards that give you victory points. You can think of this game as Century Spice Road quite literally on steroids.
Theme is important, though. You’ll get a lot more out of Cytosis if you get swept up in the biological terminology that the game trades in. Sure, you can just exchange your black wooden cubes for red ones, but you’ll get more of a kick out of this game if you stick with the Free Ribsosome action as translation of mRNA into proteins. And claiming the health points for cards usually isn’t merely handing in the matching resource cubes, it mostly involves placing flasks out at a sequence of locations to take the requisite processing actions. All of this forces players to give at least a thought to the biological processes involved.
The game incorporates an alternative board and additional components for what the rules describe as the Virus Expansion. This introduces diseases, antibodies and dice. It plays very differently because it turns Cytosis into a more combative ‘take that’ game, but even the base game involves a fair degree of passive aggression as players find opponents nipping in to nab the spots they need to process their cell components.
Cytosis is a beautifully produced game that is enjoyable and easy to play once you’ve got over the initial hurdle of what may seem like technobabble to anyone who isn’t a biochemist. And if you’re not a biochemist, you’ll come away from this game knowing a little more science than when you sat down to play. If nothing else, at least you’ll now be able to distinguish molecular transport at a cellular level from a urinary tract infection.