Seanbaby has been my favorite writer since I first saw his website in 1997. His x-treme writing style has been a gigantic influence on mine, and his video game reviews are always hysterical. I think his two articles making fun of Mark Discordia are the funniest things I’ve seen in my life, the kind of stuff I’ve injured myself laughing at. So when I heard that he was making a game, it was a guaranteed purchase for me. Yes, even if it sucked. Good thing it doesn’t.
Calculords is a simple turn-based strategy game. You have a deck of cards, each of which represents units or (essentially) spells. You
summon deploy troops on one of three horizontal lines, and the computer-controlled enemy does the same. What makes the game unique is that the resources required to deploy your troops are not gold or mana or any of that crap, but your basic math skills.
Each card has a cost, and to use that card you have to match that cost exactly from a set of one-digit numbers the game provides you with each round, combined with an unlimited amount of plusses, minuses, and multiply symbols. What to do with them is immediately intuitive. Most of us don’t use elementary school math in our daily lives. And unless you like to play RTSes while alt-tabbing over to Excel spreadsheets, you probably don’t use much math in your video gaming, either. Calculords aims to change that, though in a non-threatening way.
And it works. Calculords may be the first genuinely good edutainment game ever made.
With the big variety of video games I play, it’s not often that I play one that forces me to learn a completely different set of skills in order to have a chance. Forget “atmospheric” Myst clones, this is a game that really takes me to another place. Granted, that place is grade school math class while I’m drawing pictures of dragons and aliens on line paper, but it’s certainly novel.
Every opponent you face deploys their own troops and uses their own abilities, though of course they do so automatically without the need to mentally pore through the multiplication tables. Each opponent has a different style of play, with different types of units and spells. One has an aggressive aggro deck with swarms of small attackers, another has a solidly defensive army of vehicles, and another uses tricky powers to draw out the battle while he chips away at you. You the player have this same level of variety, as you can remake your deck as you please between battles.
If Calculords used anything other than math to generate troops for your army, I would probably be calling it too simple, too easy. But the added factor of math makes it unlike anything I’ve played in 25 years. Calculords is highly enjoyable, though certainly flawed. Right from the start it asks you for more money in exchange for stronger DLC items, and you’ll probably never beat the overpowered final boss without them. The Hate Bit launches about three times as troops and spells every turn as you would be comfortable with, and I was unable to even slightly damage it before being overwhelmed. So I have to unfortunately give this game the tag of “pay-to-win”.
Despite being written by Seanbaby, the game’s text is decidedly G-rated. This is not a strike against it; I just saw it as odd coming from the same guy who still makes gay jokes, Jew jokes, and pedophilia jokes regardless of what any of his censorious bosses at Cracked.com tell him.
One area of improvement that Calculords could use is multiplayer. Either by taking turns with the tablet (no need to conceal the screen to other players) or by playing online. You could even add a time limit for expert players; having one minute per turn would make for some frantic games. Not to mention the big variety of cards that the creators could add in expansions/sequels. This game isn’t going to be the next Magic: The Gathering, but it is clever and unique in its own fashion.
Calculords is a pleasant, cheap game with even greater potential. Seanbaby doesn’t have a ton of game creating experience, but his first work is definitely a good one. And if you give him the money he deserves, he can keep going up.