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Chemists in the Lab Game Mark as Favorite (38 Favorites)

ACTIVITY in Covalent Bonding, Ionic Bonding, Model of the Atom, Valence Electrons, Lewis Structures. Last updated January 18, 2022.


In this activity, students will play a game that is modeled after Settlers of Catan to explore how atoms of certain elements combine in fixed ratios to form molecules.

Grade Level

High or Middle School

NGSS Alignment

This activity will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
    • Developing and Using Models


By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

  • Combine atoms in the correct ratios to form molecules of water, salt, baking soda, and hydrochloric acid.
  • Understand and apply the rules in order to successfully participate and strategize throughout the game.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of:

  • Molecules & Bonding
  • Ionic Bonding
  • Covalent Bonding
  • Lewis Structures
  • Atomic Structure
  • Model of the Atom


Teacher Preparation: ~30 minutes (longer if laminating)
Lesson: 60-90 minutes

  • Note: Game time can be shortened to fit class needs by reducing number of points needed to win the game


  • A3 cardstock or 12”x18” construction paper for printing game board, cards, tiles
  • Game piece for “Mad Scientist” roughly the size and shape of a wine cork or marker cap (1 per game set)
  • Six-sided dice (2 per game set)


  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes

  • If you intend to reuse this game, I recommend printing it on cardstock and laminating the board, cards, and tiles prior to using it.
  • You will need one game set for every 4 students (or pair students into teams to reduce the number of materials by half).
  • This game is modeled after the board game, Settlers of Catan.
  • A separate document is provided as a handout that includes the instructions and rules for playing this game.
  • It might be helpful to first show a demonstration of how to play Settlers of Catan, for students who are not familiar with it, as an introduction to the overall concept of the game.
  • I suggest using either of these video overviews:
  • There are several important differences to note between the classic Catan game and this Chemists in the Lab game. This might be helpful for comparative purposes for those teachers and students who are familiar with the classic Catan game.
    • Chemists in the Lab does not have a corollary to the longest road or largest army.
    • A board game printout is included for Chemists in the Lab, this is used in place of the hexagons that would ordinarily be shuffled and placed randomly when playing Catan.  
    • Several items used when playing Catan are not needed (and do not translate to anything) when playing Chemists in the Lab, including:
      • 6 coastal frame pieces
      • 9 extra harbor pieces
      • 2 special bonus cards
      • 18 number tokens
  • For those teachers and students who are familiar with the classic Catan game, below you can find a list of equivalences, showing the game pieces for Chemists in the Lab listed on the left, and aligning them with each of the game pieces that they are equivalent to (take place of) from Catan on the right:
Chemists in the Lab
The board game
19 unique hexagonal terrain tiles
20 salt molecule tiles
20 wooden settlements
16 baking soda tiles
16 wooden cities
60 water molecule tiles
60 wooden roads
120 element cards
95 resource cards
24 hydrochloric acid cards
25 development cards
4 chemical formula cards
4 building costs cards
1 Mad Scientist (wine cork or marker cap)
1 wooden robber pawn
  • Teachers who may feel creative could make tiny 3-D models of the water, salt, and baking soda molecules to use instead of the tiles.
  • As another option, pieces can be purchased at the Catan shop for $7/set.
  • When preparing to print and organize the “Game Pieces” document, please follow these guidelines:
    • Be sure to print page 1 in color as the tiles are designed to correspond to different teams and the colors will help differentiate between them. They should all be cut into separate pieces along each of the black lines. (I recommend using a paper cutter.)
    • The pages that contain the HCl beakers (pages 2 and 4) are intended to be a 2-sided print, with the HCl beaker on one side, and the victory points (pages 3 and 5) on the other. However, the HCl side of the card is not essential; you could print just the side with the victory points (pages 3 and 5) and then have students place those cards face down with a blank side up, instead.
    • The pages that contain Lewis structures (pages 6-15) should be printed single-sided.
    • The last page (page 16) is the game board.
  • I recommend having students play until someone reaches 10 points, but teachers can make changes as needed if time constraints are a concern. For example, a game could be played for a set time period and the winner would be the person with the highest number of points at the end of time, or the number of points required to win can be reduced.