Neuron Nemesis

by Wayland Lim

Wayland is an independent business analyst and graduate student in Educational Technology. He is also a recovering brain-damaged patient.

Educational Objectives of the Game
The game reinforces the players' knowledge of the human brain. In addition to learning/relearning about the brain's anatomy, physiology, chemistry, functions, disfunctions, and evolution, the players will enjoy the strategy and competition of the game.

Learners/Context The learners are students in college level biology classes that have a great interest in learning about the human brain. They may be pre-med or nursing students, or even high school students interested in neurology.

Rationale The game can be played purely for fun or as a motivational learning tool for class discussion and participation.

Game Setup For 2 or More Players

  1. Divide the players into two teams (Red Team and Green Team). It doesn't matter if one team has one more player than the other. Teams sit facing each other across the board playing area.

  2. Give each team their matching color marking pen. The black marker will be shared by both teams.

  3. Place the Question Card Holder, Growth Card Deck and Category Die just off the playing area (The Neuron Board) between both teams. Make sure the Growth Cards are shuffled and are all facing down.

Rules of Play Each turn, a team will do the following steps in order:

  1. Roll the die. The opposing team then reads the corresponding category question from the first card in the Category Card Holder. If a team rolls "Wild Card" they may choose any category.

  2. If an incorrect answer is given, the turn is over and play starts with the other team. If a correct answer is given, the team is rewarded by selecting a Growth Card from the top of the deck.

  3. Read the instructions on the Growth Card, and use the marking pen to draw on the playing board as directed. Once a mark is made on the Neuron Board, changes can not be made unless directed by a Growth Card played later on.

  4. The turn is completed and play starts with the other team.

Playing Growth Cards

The Growth Card is only played when a team answers a question correctly. There are three kinds of Growth Cards: (14) Grow Cards indicating how many neuron parts you can draw on the playing board; (1) Deficit Card causing the loss of neuron parts; and (1) Age Progression card that advances the years on the Age Progression Table printed on the Neuron Board. When the Age Progression card is revealed, use the color marker to shade out the leftmost unshaded hex on the Progession Table, and immediately draw another Growth Card.

The Age Progression Table starts at Birth and progresses in ten year increments up through age 100 and beyond. Below each of the increments is a bonus factor number. These factors are used along with actions printed on Growth Cards to determine the number of neuron parts a team may draw on the Neuron Board. For example, at Birth neuron parts grow three times faster than normal. If the Growth Card indicates growing (drawing) four Dendrite segments, a team may draw up to three times that amount (12 segments). A team may grow as many neuron parts as the card and bonus factor allows, but does not have to grow the maximum number. Unused portions of the Grow card can not be saved for a later turn. After a card has been played, place it in a discard pile face up. When all the cards in the deck have been played, shuffle the discard pile and place all the cards face down to start the deck over.

Drawing on the Neuron Board
[NOTE: Only use the marking pens provided or similar dry-eraser marking pens on the playing board.]

The Neuron board is a hex grid simulating a portion of human brain matter. The larger printed hex figures represent the brain's nerve cells (neurons). The object of the game is to draw other parts of a neuron: axons, dendrites, and synapses and connect them to other neurons. Once a part is drawn on the board it can not be removed or changed unless directed by a Growth Card. Also, a part may not be drawn covering or crossing any other parts on the board. The following figures illustrate each of the neuron parts as they might appear on the playing board.

Axons are like transmission cables sending information out from a neuron. Each neuron may have only one Axon. They are represented by drawing a line and two shaded hexes attached to any side of a nerve cell as illustrated by the figure at left. Axons can be extended by drawing additional segments onto it. The length of an axon coming from a single neuron is unlimited, but it must be all of one color (e.g The Green Team can not add segments to an axon already created by the Red Team).

Dendrites are the "receiving antennas" of a neuron. They are represented by drawing hex lines originating from the nerve cell body. The figure at left illustrates dendrites of various lengths and configuration. A maximum of ten Dendrites can be created out of any single neuron. The maximum length of a Dendrite is four segments (from origin to end) in any direction, but the ends may not touch one another. Each team uses the black marker to draw the dendrites. Either team can draw on dendrites created by the other team.

Synapses are like electrical wires coming out at the end of an Axon cable. They are represented by drawing lines at the end of an Axon as illustrated by the figure at left. Notice that once synaptic lines (up to four) have been drawn, the Axon is terminated (ended not destroyed) and no additional Axon segments can be drawn to extend it. A Synapse can be drawn at any length and in any direction.

A Synaptic connection can be made in three ways and are illustrated at left:
1. To the cell body of another neuron (a.k.a. Inhibitory Synapse)
2. To the side of a dendrite of another neuron (a.k.a. Excitatory Synapse)
3. To the tip of a dendrite of another neuron (a.k.a. Spine Synapse)

Draw a button to represent a synaptic connection. Keep a talley of how many each team makes. The team with the most connections at the game's end wins.

Ending the Game (Average 2 hours)
The game ends when no more connections between neurons can be made; when age progresses beyond 100 years; or when both teams agree to end at a specific point total. The team that makes the most synaptic connections by game's end wins.

Board Design
The playing board is approximately 2 'x 2 'and is made of a laminated material that lays flat when played, but can also be rolled up when not in used. The playing area is a grid of 45 by 47 half inch hexagons. There are 22 neurons printed asymmetrically on the grid.

Game Design
Generally the team that answers the most questions correctly should win. However depending on how the Axons, Dendrites and Synapses are drawn on the Neuron Board, one team can strategically isolate neurons or make it more difficult for the other team to make connections with other cells. Also actions printed on the Growth Cards can nullify advantages one team has over the other. Because of the strategy and chance developed in this game, neither team is ever out of contention and motivation remains high for all players.

To print rules set Page Setup to 90%
Last updated by Wayland Lim on October 19, 1995.

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