You don’t see a lot of big name “edutainment" titles on the market today. Whereas my childhood was dominated with Reader Rabbit, Number Munchers, Math Blaster and Oregon Trail, it’s rare to really see an educational game release with any fanfare these days. That’s why Calculords (Free) is so special, because the game is almost entirely based around multiplication, subtraction, and addition. Oh, and blasting aliens into the next galaxy, of course.
The way the game works is fairly simple — at first, at least. On the top of the screen lays a giant board with three lanes, and two sides. Players will mount their attack on the left side — the AI, on the right. On the bottom of the screen you’ll obtain a random “hand" of attack cards selected from a larger deck, with two separate distinctions – – one of the collections signifies your troops, and the other, numbers from zero to nine.
Each attack card has a number on it, usually in-line with how powerful it is. So lowly troops generally have values less than 10, and big-time vehicular units are usually over 40. It’s your job to take the numbered deck and use the three aforementioned mathematical operations to create new numbers, and “summon" your attack cards on the board.
Here’s where it gets tricky. You can not only divide by zero, but subtract like numbers from each other to also obtain zero, and “add" it to another value. You’ll want to do this because if you use up all of the numbers you have available, you’ll get a new set of number cards to continue your turn.
It’s genius in that it uses elements of deck building and strategy RPGs, and forces you to actually learn something to succeed. While your “times tables" were usually something most people learned in grade school, it doesn’t hurt to refresh yourself with some quick equations, and it’s a lot more enjoyable than you’d think at first glance. Calculords also sports an endearing visual style with tons of unique units and enemies, as well as a small amount of humor built in by way of the smack talking AI.
The interface is generally pretty responsive, but it can be a pain sometimes since there’s no “undo" button once you put something in motion — you just have the ability to “clear" the equation you’re currently on. Also, it’s strange that there’s no ability to utilize the division operation, which would be useful on a constant basis.
The kicker is that Calculords is free, and supports itself through a variety of in-app-purchases that are generally inoffensive. For starters, you can purchase bonus rewards and the removal of ads for $1.99, which is more than reasonable for how long the game is. From there, you’ll have access to a number of $1.99 card packs, which carry a variety of extra attack cards, usually of the powered-up/superior variety.
The good news is these cards are mostly optional and don’t really throw off the balance of the game, since you still have to “draw" them randomly from your deck — so even if you buy everything, you aren’t guaranteed success. Having said that, I say “mostly," because without stronger cards, the game can feel a bit grindy, especially after the first battle.
Simply put, when you first encounter an enemy, it feels like you’re fighting off insurmountable odds. One fight in particular had an enemy reducing my attack card deck down to a mere two cards before I could even do anything, then proceeded to instantly decimate the few units I was able to lay down in one turn. Before I could do anything, he blew me away the next turn with units that literally had double the stats of my own.
In order to come back and stand a fighting chance, I had to grind out five or six battles in previous levels instead, so I could muster up the experience and cards to take him on. It feels like this is to cover up the fairly low amount of stages currently in the game, and to elongate the progression a bit. While technically every fight operates using the same mechanics, new enemies help keep things interesting, as their units force you to learn and adapt new tactics — it’s just slightly annoying that this usually involves an advantage on their part.
Even with that occasional annoyance, Calculords is definitely still worth playing. It’s a true testament to my enjoyment of the game that I kept at it, grinding my way through old battles time after time and coming up with new strategies along the way. The retro-centric charming visuals certainly don’t hurt matters either if you’re a fan of the style.