Multiplication, addition, substraction
If I had to choose two things in video games that don't appeal to me, calculus and memorising deck cards would be right at the top. Ever since Dr Kawashima humiliated me with his Brain Training I always tend to steer away from math in games. As much as I would like to get into card games such as Magic, the catch up work learning the most common cards and trying to design my own deck are a definite no-no.
What terrible mind could put both things together on an iOS game that I would enjoy this much? Comedy and video game writer Sean Patrick Reiley (Seanbaby) has combined retro pixel art, superb sense of humour with the math and collectible card gaming mechanics I detest to create a truly entertaining title: Calculords.
Set in a dystopian nerd future where you fight for the destiny of the universe, the game is structured in one-to-one battles scaling up in difficulty. In each turn you draw a hand of card from your deck — mostly units — and place them on the three lanes on the battle field waiting to see what your enemy comes up with. There are strategic advantages depending on the unit ability although everything is quite easy to understand at a glance.
Now, here's where the math element comes into play: with each hand of units you are given a set of number tiles placed on calculator-like arrangement on the right side of the screen. Since every card has a number, you can only deploy that particular unit if you manage to match that number by multiplying, adding or subtracting using the set of number tiles you have been given for this hand. If a unit needs a 12, you could multiply a 6 with a 2, or maybe add a 6 to another 6, perhaps subtract a 3 from a 7+8 combination. The calculator pad on the right allows you to try several combinations quickly (the keys are a bit too sticky and don't register too well) until you get to the desired number in the combination you want.
Over this first layer of equations you get two strategic ingredients that elevate the game to something else. Getting to certain numbers combining what's available on the board is easy. You naturally want to deploy as many units and spells in your turn as possible, making you think of the possible number combinations with what you have available. You don't want to be too wasteful as once a number is used it disappears. More number tiles on the board will give you more flexibility to deploy your fourth and fifth card, so you want to plan ahead.
To balance this mechanic you get the Calculord Bonus. This is received every time you clear all the numbers on your calculator pad and gets you a new hand of units and even more numbers. It's basically another extra turn! Now you can see how this is a bit like the numbers challenge on TV shows like Countdown) and Des chiffres et des lettres you might have watched back in the day. The good thing is that you are up against the game's AI and not the television nerds, making it feel way less intimidating.
Calculords finds the right balance in these game mechanics with a gameplay where you set the pace according to your math skill and how much you want to strategise. You can replay the first level as much as you want to get familiar with number combinations and to grind for cards. These will be useful to tackle more difficult bosses down the road. There's the option to make use of the IAP to get new card packs too and other permanent perks.
For someone not keen on math in video games, Calculords does a terrific job dressing everything up with a strong retro pixel flavour, theme song and very funny lines. I really liked how accessible it is, allowing you to mock around with the calculator, deploy units without much thinking and still have a great time. If you want to get more serious, you can customise your deck and try to go for the bonuses on each round. The game is free, giving you the chance to try it out and see if it works for you. I'm glad I did!