Believe it or not, there was a time when stem was just a word that we used to describe the stalk of a plant. But then nerds decided to adopt STEM as an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Then a few designers took STEM another step farther and created an elegant little card game. A game called STEM: Epic Heroes.
Preview Notes for STEM: Epic Heroes
The creators of STEM: Epic Heroes provided me with a preview copy of their game and at the time of this writing not all characters have been publicly revealed and the rules aren’t completely finalized. That notwithstanding, this is an honest assessment of STEM: Epic Heroes in its current state.
The Game, Briefly Described
The game itself is pretty straight forward. There are 108 cards (a blue deck and a green deck) and a rule book. Blue cards comprise the Hero Deck and are where you’ll find Hero, Enhancement, and Inspiration cards. The green deck (Discovery Deck) is where you’ll find the Discovery cards.
The heroes (29 in my deck) are notable people such as George Washington Carver, Ada Lovelace, Nikola Tesla, Al-Kwarizmi, and Galieleo Galilei. They are all either scientists, technologists, engineers, mathematicians, or, in some cases, polymaths. To score points, match up these heroes from your hand with a corresponding card in the field. Making such a match is a “discovery”. Discovery cards also have point values and a single step of the scientific method on them (Observation, Hypothesis, Experiment, Analyze Data, and Publish Results). Once a single player has collected all five steps the round ends and each player totals their points up. The player with the most points wins. Simple.
Now, obviously, the actual gameplay is a little more nuanced than what I’ve laid out so far. Essentially, each player begins with 6 cards in their hand and chooses to either play a hero and match it with one of the five face up Discovery cards in the center of the table (i.e. “the field”). Only one Discovery card per turn may be played unless a card’s special ability dictates otherwise. The player replaces the Discovery card with a new one.
A second option is to add one Enhancement to an existing discovery. Enhancements are items and locations that can be attached to discoveries and are worth additional points and sometimes they are worth even more when played under certain conditions.
The third and final option is to do nothing. It may seem silly to waste a turn but with STEM: Epic Heroes there is an element of “take that” style mechanic so if a player has the right Inspiration card then they may just be biding their time. Or they could just have nothing to play. You may find it hard to tell just what the other players are up to.
When ending their turn, a player may discard as many as three cards from their hand and draw from the blue Hero deck until they have six cards again.
Play continues this way until a player has collected all five steps of the scientific method as previously mentioned. Once that player has all five steps you will all finish your turn until play reaches the first player. By the way, the first player is the one who can recite Pi to the farthest decimal place so get to memorizing!
My initial reaction to STEM: Epic Heroes was positive. The design is amazing. Each character is drawn to an uncanny likeness of the real person they represent. The design logo is simple and elegant and who in tabletop gaming doesn’t love a hexagon? The colors pop. I love the set matching and the emphasis on short-term strategy. This is a quintessential play-the-hand-you-were-dealt kind of game. Sure, you may be able to slap someone with an inspiration card you’re holding but if you don’t make discoveries as soon as you can you’ll have a hard time winning. Besides, you can play Inspiration cards any time so…play aggressively.
Will I be Backing STEM: Epic Heroes?
Short answer, yes! The young players I showed this game to immediately took an interest in the game title and the persons in the Hero deck. They wanted to know more about STEM. What were Blaise Pascal and Edith Clarke were known for? Did George Washington Carver suggest peanuts for alternative crops? Nikola Tesla…is that the same guy as the car? Tell me more! This game has the potential to pull double-duty. It can offer enjoyment to casual gamers without snubbing seasoned gamers looking for a lighter game. It will spark further conversations about STEM. And it will foster and encourage inquisitive minds to go deeper and deeper down the rabbithole.
I’d like to thank Michael McMinn and Aaron Hanna of the creative team for the preview copy of STEM: Epic Heroes.