Having spent many years working with and/or visiting schools, I have developed a particular interest in educational games. Too often games that are marketed as educational have an overly narrow focus and don't work that well as games. That's not a criticism that can be levelled at SpielFusion's MathTornado. This is a card game packaged in a compact tuckbox. It uses only simple arithmetic - basic addition and subtraction, although with negative as well as positive whole numbers - but it's designed to develop children's mental agility in manipulating numbers.
Cards all show three numbers arranged so that each row can be used to make a discrete equation. The 2-5 players are each dealt a hand of five cards, and three cards are laid out in a central tableau with a +/- sign between the first and second card and an = sign between the second and third. Players need to play a card to overlay one in the tableau so that it completes one of the equations. In doing so, players can freely choose whether to treat any of the numbers as positive or negative. If you create a correct equation in, say, the red row, then you will almost certainly screw up any previously correct equation in the teal and yellow rows, so another card will need to be played to correct one of those equations, and so on. Players are trying to be the first to use up all the cards in their hand.
There's more. For the red row, you're restricted to only playing cards to the left-hand column; you can only play cards to the middle column when affecting the teal equation; and for the yellow row, cards can only be played on the right. With these restrictions there are likely to be times when none of the players have a legal placement available to them. In that situation players all draw more cards into their hand.
With younger children, you could play MathTornado taking turns, and maybe initially abandoning the placement restrictions. However, designer Martin Maly's game is intended to be played as a speed game without any turns. Played this way, players are forced to cope with a rapidly changing tableau: you have to think quickly to manipulate the numbers, and that's the educational benefit of playing. MathTornado can also be played as a solitaire puzzle game.
Some argue that it's a consequence of the transition to metrication and decimalisation that has meant that schoolchildren learn only to work in Base 10 whereas their grandparents had routinely also to juggle mental calculations in Base 3 (feet>yards); Base 8 (furlongs>mile and pints>gallon); Base 12 (inches>feet and pennies>shilling); Base 14 (pounds>stone); Base 16 (ounces>pound); Base 20 (shillings>pound) and more (who remembers yards>chains, calculated in Base 22?). Others argue that it's simply due to an over-reliance on calculators. Whatever the reason, it's often claimed that current cohorts of pupils don't have the fluency in basic numeracy that was expected of earlier generations. Perhaps, then, a few rounds of MathTornado will help to sharpen children's mental agility with number and simple arithmetic.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)