The Swedish publisher Ion Game Design mainly offers games with historical references in all variations and scientific themes. In various games, the boundaries between the two subject areas become blurred, for example when it comes to the biological development of species.

Sweden as the seat of board game publishers should probably already be familiar to everyone. A certain Terraforming Mars is also from a Swedish publisher. Also, many bring their games into a Swedish product. But that's not the point.

This article is part two in our series of publisher reviews. Here we present publishers who have dedicated themselves to a specific topic or have another unique selling point. Today is about Ion Game Design (ION). ION is a Swedish board game publisher and publisher. In addition, they also offer their knowledge and experience in game design to companies that can use games and game design to solve problems and tasks.
At ION, board games are understood as an art form. They are a collaborative experience that brings people together, are educational and offer opportunities for creative expression. The name ION is based on the charged atoms or molecules, the ions that are particularly keen to bond. Everyone who knows salt (sodium chloride) has already worked with ions.

ION has games on various topics with historical references. For example, there are games about prehistory, surviving history, natural history, or about a story that has yet to be created. In addition, scientific topics such as astronomy or biology are also represented.

From hobby to job

The story of ION begins in 2014. At the end of the year, Jon Manker founds the publishing house. He himself has been actively designing games since the age of nine from the late 1970s. Game design has been his main job since 2007. At times, the focus was also on digital games. For example, he started his own game design course at Södertörn University in Stockholm, where he has been working since 1997 and is still lecturing. With ION, he turned his love of board games into a career.

Almost nine months after ION was founded, Besime Uyanik joined ION. She is still CEO today and crowdfunded her first board game, Sammu-rammat, last year. But more on this later.
The first game released by ION was HIRÞ (pronounced at the end, like an English “th”). This was followed by this abstract 2-person game, which from its appearance could also be an archaeological find from the Viking Age Expedition Zetta. The attention to scientific detail is already evident in the history of the development of this game. The game system allows the "creation" of as many different star systems as there are in the known universe at the beginning of the game. As this number increased during the development of the game, the game mechanics were also adjusted in response to reflect the new scientific findings.

HIRÞ was the first game released by ION. Image: ION Game Design

In the years that followed, the ION team continued to grow. For example, Pål Keller Carlqvist joined the team in 2018 as COO. Today the ION Games team consists of eleven people and two cats.

Also in 2018, ION began collaborating with Sierra Madre Games. The head behind Sierra Madre Games is Phil Eklund, who designed the games in the BIOS series and the Pax series, among other things. ION is responsible for distribution of the games, while Sierra Madre Games remains independent.

Today, ION offers around 20 games. If you add all expansions and other game materials, there are over 40 different products.

What is there at ION?

In order to gain a small insight into the various games, not all of the publisher's games need to be presented in detail. That would also go beyond the scope. For a good impression, the following rough overview of the various titles is sufficient.

If you sort the publisher's games by rank on BGG, two titles from the Pax series are at the top. With the newest member PaxViking there are now five titles in this series (Pax Pamir is not one of them). What connects these games is a card market where there are these important building blocks of your own strategy. The games are themed in different eras. So plays PaxViking in the 10th century, PaxRenaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries, Pax Porfiriana and Pax Emancipation play in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and Pax Transhumanity plays in the future. All games in the series are complex to highly complex games. PaxViking is rated “easiest” on average on BGG and Pax Emancipation is rated 4.58 out of 5 possible points.

It gets even more complex with the game with the most expansions at ION. High Frontier is rated with an average of 4.82 points in complexity. There are a total of four expansion modules and one expansion for six people for this game. Based on a 1979 design that allowed players to take on the roles of space companies in 2020 High Frontier today a modular space exploration game. One of the goals is to use an engine builder mechanism to become the person who industrializes the solar system the most. allow transition rules High Frontier as the fourth, independent part of the BIOS series.

These are also highly complex games. As through High Frontier indicated, this is a series that builds on one another. The end of a game can be used as a starting position for the following one. BIOS: Genesis covers the period leading up to the Cambrian Explosion about 541 million years ago. The players start out as organic compounds and must develop slowly. In BIOS: Megafauna the development of the species continues and extends to the time of the development of the first language-based consciousness, which does not necessarily have to affect humans in the game.

About 200.000 years before the present day then takes over BIOS: Origins. Here it is then a matter of building a human civilization that specializes in culture, politics or industry. The two games are thematically similar, but take place in a slightly shorter timeframe Neanderthal and greenland. These can also be combined in this order and are also civilization development games or simulations.

In addition to the games mentioned, there are other more independent titles like the two already mentioned HIRÞ or Expedition Zetta.

The various ION games at a glance. Image: ION Game Design

What does the future hold for ION?

In the games, ION likes to move thematically into the future. Of course there are also concrete plans for the future of the publishing house.

The central educational aspect of the games is emphasized in the collaboration with the “American Brockhaus” World Book. Again and again, ION receives feedback from educators who arouse interest in the respective topics with the games. World Book has approached ION to begin a licensing partnership and collaborate on publishing games. The first product of this collaboration is the prequel to PaxViking, that the title Vendel to Viking carries. This collaboration is long-term and will include other titles, none of which have been officially confirmed yet.

In the education sector, ION would also like to offer more "add-ons" in the future, which allow the sometimes very complex and time-consuming games to be used specifically for lessons. “Education” is intended to be one of the three main fields of ION. In addition, of course, the complex and scientific games should not be forgotten. In addition, there should also be easier and more accessible games in order to spread the knowledge that is in the games.

Various titles have already been announced for both levels of complexity. For example, the space colonization and terraforming game awaits friends of complex games Interstellar. In this semi-cooperative worker placement game, players must work together to complete the objectives. Nevertheless, in the end it is important to have more victory points than the others. The BIOS series is also being replenished. Here comes the second edition of the alternate second game in the four game series. In contrast to BIOS: Megafauna is the novelty BIOS: Mesofauna more compact in the rules. Many basic mechanics and processes are carried over. Only the species you build are smaller.
Another complex novelty will be the worker placement game Galenus. Here the players try to prove themselves in ancient Rome in the medical competition and get the approval of Galenus. He is considered one of the most important physicians of antiquity.

On the side of the easier games, titles like Smarter than a Monkey, Fluffy Frontiers or Dawn on Titan. Smarter than a monkey focuses on knowledge. This is a quiz game. Dawn on Titan is like Fluffy Fontiers located in space. However, the mechanics of the two games are fundamentally different. at Dawn on Titan players must fulfill their respective asymmetric victory conditions by discovering and harnessing resources on moons and asteroids in the outer solar system. Fluffy Frontiers features a cute setting with petsonauts (pet astronauts), covertly selecting actions and conducting experiments on Halley's Comet. Other innovations are the Roll&Write StegegetS or the card game DerrocAr

From the complexity between the two ranges with a strong bias towards the more complex titles lies the novelty sammu ramat, which CEO Besime Uyanik developed himself. A full review of the game can be found here here .

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