The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Can you keep your photon on track to collect all the frequencies of the spectrum? Test your knowledge of physics while competing with your classmates as you navigate the Electromagnetic Spectrum!

Lyford Rome


Instructional Objective

The learners will become familiar with facts, concepts and principles of the electromagnetic spectrum as detailed in the California Science Framework, grades 6-8.

Learners & Context of Use

The game is designed for middle school science students. By modifiying the questions, the game could also serve as an educational resource for high school students as well. The game could be used in the context of a guided lesson in a school classroom, or by students themselves. The game presumes a basic level of exposure to concepts of physics in order to answer questions on the cards. It may be played repeatedly.

Competing Products

There are a few online quiz style games regarding the spectrum, and a few interactive learning experiences, but I have not seen a board game. Ed Nolan's Electromagnetic Hearts card game (designed for ET670 as well) covers some of the same educational content but in a completely different form of play.

Object of the Game

The object of the game is to collect tiles representing each frequency of the electromagnetic spectrum. Players spin the wheel to jump up or down the spectrum, each turn taking an action card or question card from the stack. The first player to collect tiles from all seven frequencies wins!

Content Analysis

The Electromagnetic Spectrum CA

Game Materials

(Item name links to a full resolution PDF when applicable)
1 Electromagnetic Spectrum Game Board

external image game_board_sm.jpg

1 Spinner

external image spinner.jpg

30 Action Cards


70 Question Cards


4 Spectrum Trays


4 of each Spectrum Frequency Tile: Radio Waves (red), Microwaves (orange), Infrared (yellow), Visible Light (green), Ultraviolet (blue), X-Rays (indigo) and Gamma Rays (violet).


4 Game Player Pieces - Red, Yellow, Green, Blue.


Time Required

Game would be very quick to set up and with 2-4 players should last 30 minutes or less.

The Rules

Before Play:
  1. Question and Action Cards are shuffled and placed face down beside the board in separate piles.
  2. Each player gets a Game Piece and a Spectrum Tray to collect frequency tiles.
  3. Players may place their pieces anywhere on the board to start.
  4. Players spin the spinner to see who goes first; the highest frequency wins.

  1. The player going first spins the spinner .
  2. If the spinner lands on Action Card, the player draws an action card and reads it aloud. The player must follow its directions, and then his or her turn ends.
  3. If spinner lands on a frequency, the player moves his or her piece to that square. The person to the player’s right draws a Question Card, and asks the question of the player.
  4. If the player answers correctly, he or she collects the tile for that part of the spectrum and places it on his or her Spectrum Card and spins again. If he or she answers incorrectly, the turn ends.
  5. Play continues in this fashion clockwise until a player collects all seven symbols of the spectrum.

Motivational Issues

The elements of the game reinforce the content through many different design elements. Clever players will be able to use clues from the game itself to answer some of the more challenging questions on the cards. Competition with other players motivates the learner, repetition of questions allow for knowledge to be retained for next game.
Challenge: The game tests the knowledge of the players, and playing repeatedly will allow mastery of content.
Control: Elements within the players' control are the initial frequency one chooses and decisions regarding certain Action cards.
Fantasy: The player imagines himself as a photon, moving along the spectrum.
Competition: This is the primary mode of engagement - the player competes with others to master the content.

Design Process

The design process began with searching for an appropriate educational topic. I knew that I wanted to attempt something with a scientific angle, but was a bit concerned with how to translate the content elements into game elements. In my usual online travels, I came across an image from a spectrograph from a star. I realized that the spectrum could serve as its own "board" and movement along the board mirrored the changing energy levels of a photon. Thus I chose the Electromagnetic Spectrum as the educational content. Once I was convinced of the appropriateness of the metaphor, the rest of the game elements came together quite easily, or so I thought.

I searched online and only encountered a few games that had any content similar to my idea, none had any gameplay remotely like mine. Most were simple online quiz style games, the exception being Ed Nolan's Electromagnetic Hearts, a card game using frequency as the value of the card. The Red Shift Blue Shift game at was a board game, but dealt with the content only tangentially to a cosmology lesson. I felt confident this idea was original enough to proceed.

After an early brainstorming session over the game elements, I turned to the California Science Framework to reacquaint myself with what the actual expected standards would be on this topic. I then completed the Content Analysis using the template provided on the wiki. This was extremely helpful when it came to translating subject elements into game elements, but was a bit difficult to match content areas with the actual subject. For example, while there are procedures that would use the electromagnetic spectrum, such as tuning a radio, but were tangential at best to the actual subject standards as described in the framework. I decided to focus on Facts, Concepts and Principles, which mapped to the standards very well.

First Draft
My original idea had the visible light spectrum broken out as a separate mode of the game; players would have to "jump" to visible light to collect the colors of the rainbow to win.

I also had Frequency and Wavelength cards instead of Question and Action cards, with the movement being up or down only - increasing or decreasing frequency and wavelength by a roll of the die.
frequencycards.jpg wavelengthcards.jpg

After consulting with Bernie, it became painfully clear that the directions were way too complicated and that the focus should be on the entire spectrum and a simpler mode of play.

Second Draft
I went back to consider the spectrum as a whole and realized there were the same number of frequencies as the visible spectrum, and the concept of collecting pieces of the spectrum would still be applicable. I simplified the board and rules and set out to make new cards. I purchased a 4 sided die, thinking that that would limit access to the whole board in one throw, adding an element of strategy to play. Since it would always take at least two moves to cross the board, was it better to concentrate on one area or to jump around both up and down the frequencies?

Design and Fabrication
I looked to Wikimedia Commons for the starting point of my spectrum board. I designed it using Apple iWork, Pages specifically. It was very easy to design using a table, with each cell a different color. I made the trays and cards using Pages as well. The tiles came from foam purchased at a crafts store.

Results of Play Testing
During play testing, it became clear that there was remaining ambiguity in the rules that allowed for movement in ways that contradicted the Question and Action cards. It also became clear that the flow of the game play was too question heavy, especially if more than 2 players were playing, that it felt more like a quiz than a game. The 4 sided die proved an impediment to movement and the idea of a spinner was substituted allowing players to land on any frequency on any turn. This also afforded me an opportunity to increase the ratio of Action Cards to Question Cards, improving the chance aspect of the game. The Action Card parts of the spinner are larger than the spectrum parts, increasing the odds of them coming up. I added new Actions Cards that would force interaction between players - now players could bump others from a frequency or else take tiles from an opponent. This had the added benefit of drawing other player's attention even when it was not their turn - they could be affected by the current player's decisions.

Players were frustrated that there was only one chance to answer a question per spectrum frequency for a tile. That is, if someone already has a tile for Infrared, lands on that square again and answers correctly the game provides no positive feedback. It was suggested that players could collect multiple tiles for each correct answer, and the winner be the one with the most tiles at the end. The spectrum trays were redesigned to allow for up to 5 tiles per frequency, with the game ending when any player collects all seven colors. Further play testing proved this overly complicated, both in the sheer number of pieces to manage, as well as having the possible outcome of the first player who collects all the frequencies losing, since he or she might not have the most tiles.

Since the motivation behind this change was to keep the game moving and provide an in game reward for all correct answers, it was realized that simply letting the player go again with a correct answer would address both these points. I was initially worried that this would let someone "run the board" if they knew all the answers, but the rule that Action Cards always end a turn and the increased ratio on the spinner solved this issue.


  • Electronic*
California Science Framework

The Interactive Spectrum

Electromagnetic Hearts by Ed Nolan

The Red Shift Blue Shift Game

The Electromagnetic Spectrum Online Quiz