Explosion in the Laboratory

Explosion in the Laboratory game
Explosion in the Laboratory game

Hey… be careful with those beakers! You don’t want to create an unstable mixture, or it might lead to an explosion in the laboratory!

Explosion in the Laboratory is part of a series of small card games from Weird Giraffe Games. This one was designed by Corey Andalora. With only 27 cards, it says it works for up to four players, age 8+, in 15-25 minutes.

How to Play

There are four kinds of cards used here:

  • Beaker cards track the three kinds of “mixed” chemicals (purple, orange, and green). Each time a mixed chemical is made, it gets more valuable – but also more dangerous.
  • Flask cards represent the chemicals you’ve received (and combined) on your turn.
  • Process cards have special one-time use powers. Each player starts with one Process card.
  • Lab cards are the meat of the game and determine which chemical(s) you take.

Of course, there’s also a reference card, which doubles as the turn order indicator. Turns always go from lowest score to highest score.

Set up - Beaker cards, Process card deck, Flask cards, Lab card deck, P2 process card, reference card, P1 process card
Set up for a two player game

On your turn, first decide if you want to use any “planning” powers granted by Process cards, then shuffle the mini-deck of six Lab cards and lay them out in a row.

Add together the left-most and right-most numbers from the row. These numbers are located in the middle of the card on the left and right sides`. This is the test tube you will select. Then look at how many fire symbols are currently indicated on the beakers. This is the card your test tube comes from.

5 + 1 = 6. We need to look for flask 6 on the card with the right fire level.
On card 1, flask 6 is blue.

Take a flask card for the indicated chemical. Every flask starts half-full.

If you’d like to pour more chemicals, re-shuffle the deck of Lab cards and lay them out again. The next chemical you take may either join the first one (turn or flip the Flask card to show it is full of the appropriate mixture), or start a second (or third) Flask.

Two flask cards, each showing the half-full side.
A half-full yellow flask and a half-full blue flask.

Keep selecting chemicals until you either (a) decide to stop, (b) have three full Flasks, or (c) explode due to an Unstable Mixture.

Full green Flask, half-full blue Flask
Third test tube is blue. You could add it to the yellow Flask to make green (as shown here), or to the blue Flask.


Unstable Mixtures are the result of adding a black test tube when you have any Flasks in front of you, or adding a red test tube when you have any other red-containing Flasks or compounds.

If you made an Unstable Mixture, you do not score any points this round. But you do collect a Process card. After drawing it, choose whether to keep the yellow side or the blue side.

Purple flask, half-full blue flask, and red flask
Adding a second red (right) makes an Unstable Mixture. None of these Flasks can be scored, and your turn ends immediately.

Scoring Beakers

If, however, you wisely stopped before exploding, it’s time to score your beakers!

Earn the points depicted on each Flask in front of you (yellow stars), plus points for any compound mixtures that contribute to the three Beakers (black stars). Any Beakers you score, rotate once in the direction shown by the arrow.

Green beaker, above half-full red flask, full green flask, full blue flask.
Score 7 points for Flasks (yellow stars) and 1 additional point for the green Mixture.
half-full red flask, full green flask, full blue flask. Green beaker rotated to number 2.
After scoring, rotate the green Beaker one turn. Green Mixtures are now worth 2 points each.

If you made a pure yellow or pure blue Flask (two yellows or two blues), you also earn a Process card, in the color of the Flask you filled. If you make multiple yellow or blue Flasks, you still only earn a single Process card on your turn.

full Blue flask, full Orange flask, and Process card turned to its blue side
Creating a full blue Flask awards a Process card blue side-up. But only if you stop before exploding!

Round End

Once everyone has taken a turn, rotate the Beaker with the lowest index number. The player with the lowest score starts the next round.

Game End

When a Beaker is rotated to show an X on its bottom edge, the game ends immediately. The player with the most points is the winner.

Overflowing Beakers
Orange Beaker rotates to X. The game immediately ends.


Like many games from Weird Giraffe Games, Explosion in the Laboratory is a little tough to learn. But the slightly overcomplicated rules and iconography can’t hide this game’s unique feature: a push-your-luck game that comes down to shuffling six little cards.

Six Lab cards, held in hand, with the yellow back side facing the viewer
What result do the cards hold for me this time?

Although you know there are only so many options you could get, and you have some idea of the risk (fire level), shuffling is different. It’s tactile in a much more controlled way than rolling dice or pulling items from a bag.

Like most good press-your-luck games, you can see the end coming, but you rarely know exactly when it will happen. So the tension stays high – do I try for a really good mixture that might also let me end the game? But then I risk exploding and coming in last!

And of course, the risk ramps up as the game continues. The higher number Lab cards have many more red and black test tubes, so while you might make a really high-value mixture, it also becomes likely you’ll bust on your second try! (You can’t ever bust on your first try, thankfully.)

Unfortunately, determining which numbers to add and which card to look at to find your test tube feels harder than it should. I had to re-do the calculation almost every time, to make sure I got the same result. I think the best way to play this game is for the most experienced player to play the role of teacher, handling the divination of the test tube result, so the other players don’t have to do these calculations.

Playing Solo

Explosion in the Laboratory has a solo mode by Carla Kopp. In it, you alternate turns with a robot player. They only do a single shuffle, but then take three test tubes in numerical order, to determine what kind of Flask they score this turn.

Robot scoring
Robot pulls test tube 9, then scores the combo of 9, 10, 11 – red + yellow + black = orange flask.

Playing against the Robot pushed me to take more risks, since it scores every turn, with higher and higher scores even as the risk increases. Sadly, some of the robot iconography doesn’t make sense as it is presented in the rules. I had to make a guess for one of the most common ways the robot scores.

Press Your Luck, or Step Back?

Press-your-luck games can feel unfair, and this one is no exception. I’ve played games where three or four times in a row I created an Unstable mixture on my second pull. But Explosion in the Laboratory gives me tools to try to get back in the game, even when I’ve fallen so far behind.

The biggest one is process cards. They’re a consolation prize for an explosion, or a nice bonus for making the lowest-scoring Flasks (full blue or full yellow). There’s no limit to how many you can use, as long as you only collect one per turn.

Some let you ignore or roll-back an explosion, to mitigate your bad luck. Others give you the chance to catapult ahead of your opponents by adding bonus points.

Process card, full blue flask, and half red flask.
I chose “double blue” for my distill bonus – so I’ll get an extra 5 points this turn.

Exploding out of a Small Box

Explosion in the Laboratory is best for families looking for a more challenging press-your-luck game. It packs a lot of options into a small box with a really interesting ramp up of risk and reward.

Explosion in the Laboratory slide-out box

Although Explosion in the Laboratory uses a lot of basic math skills, I wouldn’t count on it as a good practice tool, unless your kids love the game.

Find it at Weird Giraffe Games.

The Family Gamers received Explosion in the Laboratory from Weird Giraffe Games for this review.

Explosion in the Laboratory
  • 7/10
    Art - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Mechanics - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Family Fun - 7.5/10


Age Range: 8+

Number of Players: 1-4
Playtime: 15-25 minutes