Tom Vasel
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I was interested in Numbers League: Adventures in Addiplication (Bent Castle Workshops, 2007 – Ben Crenshaw and Chris Pallace) for three reasons. First of all, any game that has superheroes in it catches my attention, secondly it was about math – my favorite subject, and third – the idea of mixing and matching people (like the previous game from this company – Skallywags) is something I’ve always enjoyed. At the same time, I was certainly wary of yet another “education-game-that-is-very-drab-disguised-as-something-fun-but-really-isn’t.” The very colorful artwork looked tremendous, but the rules made me wonder after reading them.

Fortunately, although Number League is not going to appeal to some strategy gamers, I found it to be a tremendous and fun way to help younger children with their addition. It is very helpful with basic arithmetic concepts and even allows for a decent amount of strategy. But more than that, it’s a fun, lighter game to play with adults that has a bit of forward planning wrapped in an exuberant, funny theme. Perhaps the game’s lighthearted trimmings have swayed me some, but I don’t mind simply because I enjoy the layout and manner in which this mathematical game is presented.

In Numbers League, players are creating super hero teams to capture villains on the loose in Infinity city. Twenty-four villain cards are laid out on the table, each with a different number (ranging from “3” to “26”) showing their “weakness” and another number (from “1” to “3”) showing their level. A deck of Hero and device cards is shuffled, and seven are dealt to each player. Three cards are laid down to create the “sidekick”, and the remaining cards form the Hall of Heroes (deck). One player is chosen to go first, and the game begins.

On a player’s turn, they simply can either play two cards from their hand or discard as many cards as they’d like. Either way – they draw back up to seven at the end of their turn. When playing cards, players are forming heroes using three different body parts: head, bodies, and legs. Heroes can be formed in thousands of combinations, and each body part has a point value. Players can also play a device card on each hero (limit – one per hero) that adds points or even doubles the points of that hero. Players can also trade a card from their hand with a card from the sidekick. If the sidekick at any point has a head, body, and legs, it becomes “active”.

If the player plays cards (does NOT discard) on their turn, they have the option of capturing a villain. If the total on one of their completed heroes (or combination of their completed heroes) equals the weakness number, the player takes the card, placing the villain on their trophy pile. If a device was involved with capturing the villain, that is also removed from the hero and placed in the trophy pile. Players may also use an “active” sidekick to capture or help capture villains.

After a player’s turn, the next player takes their turn, and play continues until all the villains have been captured. At this point, the player with the most points in their victory pile wins! Each device is worth one point, and villains are worth points equal to their level. Players may also play an expert level of the game. More superheroes and devices are added with different numbers, including some negative numbers. The villain cards are double-sided, and some or all of them can be flipped over, increasing the range of their weakness numbers from “-8” to “39”. Other than that, game play stays the same.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Numbers League comes in a small, brightly colored box, and everything about the game screams “cheesy super heroes!” The cards are high quality and have an air of silliness about them – they’re very well drawn but certainly well suited for even the youngest of children. The game also includes some small pads of paper and a pencil for people who need help adding up their numbers. I haven’t needed this yet, but for children who have no adult supervision it may be a nice benefit. The cards are marked with small yellow (basic) or green (expert) dots to indicate which level of the game they are used in.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is only three pages, but is written in a comic book format, which is rather difficult to navigate. Going sideways and searching word balloons around a page was fairly annoying, but I was able to figure the game out. Teaching the game is much easier than that – players simply have to understand basic mathematical skills.

3.) Mix and Match: There are twenty-five superheroes included with the game and can be mixed in a large amount of ways. There is no benefit to matching the “correct” cards with each other, and half the fun of the game is the silly looking heroes that are created. Each card has a name on it, and these can be combined for silly - yet not too far from ones used in the comic – names (Gargantuan Mister Mech or Magnificent Twisty Rocket). Kids are especially delighted at putting these cards together and will play the game solely for this.

4.) Math: Playing the game with young children showed me immediately that it really was a helpful mathematically. There is a lot of addition in the basic game, and simple multiplication and negative numbers in the expert game. Nothing was mind-blowingly hard, but it was thought provoking, and the superhero artwork basically banished it from the kids’ minds, because they wanted to play again immediately. The negative numbers are better for kids a little older, but they will also be captivated by the theme. I’m personally looking forward to the expansion, which will add division and decimal numbers.

5.) Strategy: The math adds a bit of strategy to the game. In Numbers League, one pretty much has to capture a villain every round to stay competitive in the game. At first, this is pretty simple, as players will most likely only have one hero; so the choices are simple. But you can watch your opponent and their heroes and make some decisions based on that. For example, in one game I had a hero that gave me a “-5” total. I could have captured the villain with that number at any time, but I captured other heroes instead, because I knew my opponent was in no way close to getting the “-5”, while they were close to capturing others. Once players have multiple heroes, they have to assess all the combinations and know the best time to use device cards to grab the highest-level heroes. Pickings get slim near the end of the game, and players race to get the right combination of numbers out there to take down the villains.

6.) Fun Factor: I understand that many people won’t think that simple arithmetic makes for a fun game, but I think Numbers League might surprise you. With the devices and expert game, I found that there were interesting choices involved: when to trade out with the sidekick, when to make the sidekick “active”, which villain to capture each round, and what heroes to make. Players are striving to make as many different numerical valued heroes as they can; and combined with the silly superhero theme, this translates to a fun time. Yes, luck is indeed involved with the cards players draw, but utilizing those cards to maximum benefit is a fun, albeit light, experience.

Numbers League has some educational benefits and will really work fantastic in a kids setting. Yet I would own it even if I had no children, because the theme greatly appeals to me, and there is something simple and basic about the game that allows it to be a good “filler”. Those who are looking for mega superhero battles won’t find them here – the theme covers up some basic mathematical maneuvers – but the theme works regardless, and superb artwork brings a silly universe to life. Skallywags (by the same company) had a similar mechanic but was a bit too long for what it was. Numbers League brings the game down to a reasonable length, while retaining the fun of putting together ridiculous heroes.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”
www.thedicetower.com
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Tom's review is dead on. My son is 8. He loathes math, yet loves this game. Practice without pain! That alone makes me love this game. I would recommend it to parents without hesitation. The game is beautiful and plays well.
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Simon Woodward
New Zealand
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I bought this game on the strength of your review, Tom. We've tried this game several times, both with and without the expansion, but it just falls flat. It seems a real chore trying to add up the number and figure out how to catch the villains. The maths really slows the game down (and we are good at maths!)... but the art is lovely...
 
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