Preview: Unstable Isotope


Unstable Isotope

[Ed. note: This is a preview of a non-final, non-production prototype demo of the game. Our opinions reflect that of the game at the time we played it; the final product will feature some variation in game play, art, and/or components.]


You’ve probably played a micro game or two, but what about a microscopic game?  Well, now is your chance to shrink down and get inside an unbalanced atom, hoping to make it stable.  Can you eject protons and neutrons, or convert them to positrons or find that all important photon?  It’s going to take some guesswork as you try to stop the radioactive decay and avoid being the one booted out.  Now I majored in history, so I have no clue what any of this means.  Thankfully, you don’t have to be a biology buff – or is that chemistry – to play and enjoy this fast-playing card game.

How It Plays

Before I lose you to scientific jargon, Unstable Isotope has little to do with science.  It is a quick deduction game, though an unusual one.  Like most in the genre, you’re trying to infer what other players have.  Here you want to guess what a player is holding in his hand; otherwise you’re eliminated from the round.  If you’re correct, you can potentially score if the player after you is knocked out when he assesses incorrectly.

The game comprises a mere 18 cards representing 7 different sub-atomic particles.  Some of them, like neutrons and electrons, have multiple copies.  Others, like mesons and photons, only have one apiece.  Each particle’s name is at the top of the card, while one or two other particles are listed at the bottom.  The goal of the game is to collect all 7 particles over a number of rounds, and then survive a final round of stabilization to win.

Whoever has the meson is the first active player and begins a round.  The active player discards a card, picks one of the particles (or the only one) listed at the bottom and then announces a player.  If that player has the particle, he discards it and is the new active player while the previous active player becomes the catalyst.  If the chosen opponent does not have the particle, he announces “stabilized,” eliminating the active player.  The player thus knocked out must give his remaining hand to the catalyst, which becomes part of that player’s score pile.  In that event, the player who announced stabilize becomes the next active player and discards any card in the same manner.  Play continues until all but one is eliminated or if the remaining players are out of cards.

So, honestly, I have no idea what these particles mean or what they do.
So, honestly, I have no idea what these particles mean or what they do.

If one of the surviving players has already collected all 7 particles, they win.  Otherwise, everyone reveals their score piles, even those that were eliminated (assuming they acquired one before getting ejected).  Simply write down what’s in your pile, keeping a running tally over the multiple rounds and ignoring duplicates.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself that it’d be difficult to obtain all of the particles in this fashion, since a few only have one copy.  And you’d be correct – especially in the case of the meson, which is used to start a round and so can’t be collected in the usual way!  In that case, there are a few opportunities to collect a “wild” card, essentially obtaining a particle face-up in your score pile which you may substitute for any other kind.  Science is helpful in many ordinary every day ways like that.

A Good Scientific Method?

The term unstable isotope may give some prospective players pause as they conjure up memories of high school science labs.  But this title is ideal for larger gaming groups who really enjoy quick, interactive, social deduction games.  You may readily allay the qualms of non-science geeks, despite its unique theme.  If you’re into micro and deduction games, like maybe Werewolf and Resistance, Unstable Isotope is a more manageable entry in the genre.

Not to mislead you too much, though.  Because of the design’s unique challenge, it requires a tad bit familiarity.  It’s not a tremendous learning curve, but it can potentially trump first-timers for a few rounds.  In a nutshell, it’s easy to think you knock someone out when they don’t have a card that you ask for, rather than actually you suffering as the victim.  At least it took us a few tries before our own understanding was just as stable as the isotope we were trying to stabilize!

Be careful playing the Neutrino unless you know who has the Proton - it's your only choice and there's only one of them!
Be careful playing the Neutrino unless you know who has the Proton – it’s your only choice and there’s only one of them!

So there are two parts to the game.  First, you’re endeavoring to guess what others are holding in their hands so that you can avoid elimination.  Not only does that keep you in the game, but it sets you up to score a pile of cards if the next player guesses wrong!  If you really want your head to spin, you need to not only guess correctly, but try to anticipate that next player being unable to ask for an available card on his turn.  If you can do that, I’d like to accompany you to Vegas.

The second aspect turning the wheels here is merely to survive.  Each player not eliminated receives one free wild card.  So even if you have trouble acquiring particles you don’t yet have, you’re assured at least one new point just for making it cleanly to the end.

That said, elimination doesn’t sink you unless you failed to nab some score cards beforehand.  Otherwise, you may still count any collected particles after the round’s conclusion.  Not only that, but if your score pile doesn’t contain anything new nor any wild cards, you get a one for free, ensuring once again that you’ll get at least one new particle to add to your collection.

Those wild cards are a smart addition.  While they generally keep most players in the game, they’re certainly not a crutch.  You won’t win by solely relying on them.  Mainly, it’s a mechanic to keep the game from dragging out.  That’s just fine.  Again, the design isn’t about set collection, despite the victory objective.  Instead, it’s about deduction and setting yourself up to reap a windfall of score cards.

Yeah, still no clue what these mean...
Yeah, still no clue what these mean…

Unstable Isotope isn’t an in-depth strategy game nor will it be a constant go-to staple; yet it’s not priced like one, either.  Indeed, it’s a nice little value.  This is a small, light-weight, portable and quick social game.  In fact, you’ll need to provide your own pen and paper to track everyone’s particles.  For the gaming itch it scratches and at the price it’s offered, this one should be a tempting grab for fans of casual, filler and deduction games, especially for larger groups.


Unstable Isotope is currently on Kickstarter until May 19.  It is part of a campaign that includes three micro games (along with Dirty Detectives and Treasure Map) from Project Danger.  They’re portable, easy to teach and handy to whip out on short notice whenever you need a fast title.  If you’re interested in one or more of these quick, hard-hitting card games and/or checking out the other two titles, you’ll need to head over to the campaign page.  For $6 (or $8 in the fancier wallet) you can grab one game of your choice.  $13 (or $18 upgraded) will nab you all three games.  Those prices include any stretch goals the campaign reaches plus worldwide shipping.  Hurry now before the whole project is destabilized!


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I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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  1. Pingback: Unstable Isotope Preview – iSlaytheDragon | Roll For Crit

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