Play your genes and win!

I made a science game for Portal to the Public, an NSF-funded program that connects scientists to public audiences. My game shrinks the player down so that he or she can walk along the DNA contained within a cell. In this game, you are a specific type of cell (heart, brain, heart, or lung) who wants to make the genes it needs to get to the finish line first. As the enzyme, RNA polymerase, you move along the DNA, overcome heterochromatin, transcribe genes, and avoid the obstacles your opponents will throw your way.

The game starts out with an optional intro activity to get players (especially younger ones) familiar with the concept of decoding DNA into RNA (also known as transcription). Each player first picks a specific type of cell (heart, brain, heart, or lung). Every cell has its own DNA sequence to decode. There are four RNA letters, each represented by a different colored bead (A=red, C=blue, G=green, U=yellow). As the decoding happens, each bead is added to the bracelet string in the correct decoding order, and you get to keep your decoded bracelet!

Bracelet Transcription pic
The optional intro activity decodes DNA into an awesome gene bracelet!

After the optional intro activity, the game starts, again by picking a type of cell and selecting the corresponding game piece (I had 3D-printed game pieces thanks to Kat Penzkover from the Science Discovery Program). Your game piece will be acting like RNA polymerase, moving along the DNA to get you to the finish line! Keep in mind, your cell type is important, and there will be some tasks that only one type of cell can do.

Read the instructions on the Instructions Poster. Roll the die. The player who rolls the highest goes first.

Instructions pic
Learn about transcription and the rules of the game in the instructional poster.

Transcribe Your Genes Board Game Rules:

  1. Roll the die
  2. Move your cell type piece along the game board
  3. 3.If you land on a YELLOW space, draw a gene card
    • You can play your gene card any time
  4. If you land on a GREEN enhancer space, move to the promoter at the end of the green arrow
  5. If you land on a RED heterochromatin space, miss your next turn
  6. If you land on a PURPLE promoter space, draw a transcription card
    • Successful transcription moves you ahead to the end of the purple arrow
    • Unsuccessful transcription keeps you at the promoter space
  7. The first player who finishes wins!

The DNA Game Board has heterochromatin traps to avoid and enhancers and promoters to shoot for:

Game Board pic
Move along the DNA game board to make it to the finish first!


Draw Gene Cards that can help you or hurt you. Land on promoters and draw your Promoter Card to transcribe and move along to the end of the arrow, or stay anchored to the promoter if you’re the wrong type of cell.

Get to the finish line first, and you’re the winner!

This game takes about 15 minutes for four players to play, and it’s great for elementary school and middle school kids–although I’ve seen plenty of adults having a good time playing it 🙂


CLICK HERE to access the entire Transcription Board Game Folder.


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