Open Source Chem Card Game

text: ChemCards - An Open Source Card Game

Chem Cards is a game that can familiarize students with chemistry; from historical events and figures to nomenclature and minerals. It is a card game with 118 cards, one for each element. The game can be played at four levels, starting at middle school. It is designed to familiarize students of all ages with chemical terminology so they grow comfortable with the topic and equate it to an exciting, team building experience.

The 118 cards are listed four to a page, with each card being approximately 4 inches wide by 5 inches high. The page can be printed on regular 8x11 paper in color, laminated and cut into cards. 

Game: It is a game focused on the elements, from hydrogen to oganesson, and their chemical, physical and biological properties. Little or no prior knowledge of elements and their history and chemistry is required to play.

Philosophy: The first step in learning is a general familiarization with a topic. If this step is conducted in a fun, social and slightly competitive manner, it will result in participants having a greater desire to learn more about the field. With this approach, there is no memorization phase, nor are participants pushed to learn at a pace they might not adapt to easily. All world citizens should feel comfortable approaching, learning and incorporating STEM topics within the framework of their situation, needs and capabilities…………………………..step one, let’s make it fun, informative and exciting!


1. There is a deck of 118 cards that represent the 118 elements on the modern periodic table. We anticipate the cards would print at a size of 4.6 inches by 3.6 inches (see figure 1). 

Figure 1: Example ChemCards, Selenium and Oganesson.


2. The cards have the following information (see the Helium card as an example);

  • The name and the abbreviation of the element
  • Several facts about the element that are below the element symbol. These facts are for the player to read. They might read one fact when the card is in play.
  • There are eight chemical and physical parameters - below (periodic table group; electronegativity, etc.). If they are highlighted in yellow, those groups can be used for that specific element (i.e. for He - Inert gas is the group; Low electronegativity, Magic number and famous isotope.
  • Finally, at the bottom of the card is a question about the element. It is not part of the game but might pique the curiosity of some players to look up and answer. This can be researched during the game, or after the game.
  • The game or cards can be used in a classroom setting, around a dinner table at home, or in a social setting.
  • The game can be adapted for different ages; a high school chemistry class might use it to become familiar with the element names, symbols, some simple facts. More advanced students or curious adults can look up and answer the questions on the bottom of the cards.
  • The facts are delivered in brief phrases. Players are not overwhelmed with long statements or abstract ideas.

How to Play Chemistry Cards!

  1. There are 2 to 6 players.
  2. Face down, each player receives six cards from the deck that has been mixed in a random fashion.
  3. An order is decided (1st, 2nd, etc.) for the players to draw cards.
  4. The first player picks a card from their hand and places it on the playing surface, face up. (They can read a fact from their card).
  5. The deck is face down and the same player turns over the top card from it and places it next to their card (face up).
  6. CARDS MATCH. If one of the groups on their cards match the deck card, they pick both up cards. This is indicated by the yellow highlight. For example; (i) if both groups have “high electronegativity” highlighted in yellow, or (ii) Both cards are in the “alkali metals” group, or (iii) Both cards have a “magic number” highlighted. (See below for examples). The card selected from the pile goes into the players hand so they maintain six cards throughout the game. The card the player selected from their hand now goes into their pile (facedown). The players goal is to increase the size of their pile.
  7. NOT MATCHING: If the two cards do not match at all, the player keeps the card they pulled from the main pile and places their card at the bottom of the central pile.
  8. When the initial pile is gone, the player with the most cards in their pile wins. Throughout the game, all players maintain six cards in their hand. 

a. Germanium and Europium would NOT be a match. The card taken from the pile would go into the players hand, and the card taken from the players hand would go to the bottom of the deck (face down). 

b. Potassium and Gadolinium would be a match because both elements have a low electronegativity (less than 1.2 value). If it’s not highlighted in yellow, the element does NOT belong to that group. The card taken from the players hand would go into their pile (face down), the card from the deck would go into their hand.

Groups Low electronegativity (1.20 or lower): Li, Na, K, Rb, Cs, Fr, La, Ce, Pr, Nd, Sm, Gd, Ac, Ca, Sr, Ba, Ra (note; elements with no electronegativity such as neon and argon, are not considered). (used values)

High electronegativity (2.40 or higher); F, Cl, Br, I, Se, S, O, N, C, Au

Low Natural Abundance (in the Universe): (0.5 ppb or lower) As ; Fr ; Np ; Pu ; Po ; Pm ; Pa ; Ra ; Rn ; Tc ; Eu ; Tb ; Ho ; W ; Th ; Sb ; Th ; In ; Rh ; U ; Lu ; Ta – elements with #protons greater than 92 are listed here also.

Magic Numbers (protons) 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82, 126, 114, 122, 124, and 164.

Oxyacids (elements in the following) chromic acid ; carbonic acid ; sulfuric acid ; sulfurous acid ; nitric acid ; nitrous acid ; phosphoric acid ; osmic acid ; boric acid ; perchloric acid ; selenic acid ; hydrobromic acid ; iodic acid, arsenous acid

Famous Isotopes (both natural and synthetic isotopes are considered) but only some of the more prominent or famous isotopes are selected. H (deuterium, tritium), He (3 He), U (235/238), O (17), C (12, 13, 14), Pu, Ra, I, Cr

Allotropes (more common/well known allotropes)

  1. Carbon (fullerenes, diamond, graphite)
  2. Oxygen (O2, ozone)
  3. Silicon
  4. Phosphorous
  5. Sulfur
  6. Titanium  
  7. Manganese
  8. Iron
  9. Selenium
  10. Dysprosium 

See the Supporting Information: Pages 1-4 in the packet provide the directions for the game. Besides the pdf version, we included each element card on its own Word doc. Feel free to edit with your own detailed information. 


We have turned some of the cards into the world’s greatest presents! There are companies online that allow you to use images to decorate objects (below are examples). We are not selling the items but you can create your own for your personal use if you wish to use the cards as images. 


Open Source Game

We intend this to be an open resource approach meaning the game can be adapted to different formats. We hope players will discuss their unique format in a comment below. The goal of this game is not a rigid format that applies to all participants, but a loosely defined set of cards that gets students, young and old alike, excited about chemistry. For example;

  1. Group specific.  The players can use the same format outline for the entire periodic table (118 cards), but adapted to one or two groups.  For example, the cards for the transition metals could be used by 2 players the wanted to focus on that group.
  2.  Playing with a periodic table, students can use the atomic numbers. The players all put down a card (face down), then turn them over at the same time.  The player with the highest atomic number wins and takes the cards.  The winner or end point could be determined by who reaches a specific number of cards in their hand first (i.e. first to 15 cards), or who has the most cards when the game is over. The game could be played with all 118 cards, or a smaller number.  

If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact Dr. Thomas Manning by leaving a comment below. Please reach out if you see any corrections to be made!


Interesting facts were obtained from several common sources, including;

  1. Wikipedia element pages (references at bottom of pages), i.e.
  2. Wikipedia Isotope tables, i.e. 
  3. Britannica elemental pages
  4. Nobel Prize Web site
  6. CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 103rd Edition, Editor-in-Chief: John R. Rumble      
  7., ex.
  8. Elements (book):


Supporting Information: