Dennis Klein has a knack for designing games that are both highly educational and fun. His 4th offering, Equalz will not disappoint his fans. When I got a chance to play this with Dennis at Games Expo it immediately struck me as one of the best math games that I've seen..
The game features a very simple goal. At the beginning of each round, the dealer turns 2 number cards face up, these form the target number. Then each player tries to make mathematical equations that equal that target number. The card deck contains numbered cards (0 thru 9), the four basic operators and Parenthesis cards. The game included 2 decks(one with green backs and one with purple backs) for 90 cards. With 2 or 3 three players you use one deck. With 4, 5 or 6 you use both decks.
The parenthesis cards are placed off to the side, they may be used in any quantity by any player when making equations. The remaining cards are shuffled and 9 are dealt to each player. Players will get some combination of number cards and operators. Then the top 2 cards are turned over, if any are operators they are shuffled back in the deck and a replacement card is drawn. This is done until 2 number cards are drawn. The first number card drawn will be the ten's and the second the one's forming a target number from 0 to 99. The next card is drawn to start the discard pile. Play then goes clockwise starting with the player to the left of the dealer. Players will then make expressions equal to the target number. On their turn a player must take one of 2 actions.
1)Draw the top card from the draw pile and add it to their hand
2)Take the top card from the discard pile and immediately use it in an expression they place on the table using cards from their hand and parenthesis cards(if necessary). No other cards from the discard pile may be used in this first expression. Then they take the remaining cards from the discard pile and place them in their hand.
After taking one and only one of the above actions, a player may optionally make expressions using cards in their hand that equal the target number.
Play continues with players taking turns making expressions until either a player uses all the cards in their hand or draw pile is exhausted. In either case the round ends with that player finishing their turn.
The game rules say to play to 500 points but that's totally arbitrary, you could play until any amount you wish based on how long you want the game to last. I'd recommend playing until at least 250 points.
Scoring is very straightforward, you get 30 point for each expression you make, plus the point value of the number cards in the expression, plus 5 points for each operator. No points are awarded for parenthesis. The player that got rid of all their cards gets a 50 point bonus. Players that end the round with cards in their hand must subtract the point values of the number cards and 5 points for each operator left in their hand. Wild cards(which can be used in the place of number cards only) and parenthesis cards do not count in the scoring.
A scoring example:
The target number is 53.
Susan plays the following cards to form an expression 1 0 4 – 5 1.
This would be worth 46 points, 30 for making an expression, 11 for the number and 5 points for having 1 operator.
The game box says ages 10 and up and since 5th graders have already learn order of operations, that seems very reasonable to me. If you want to try this with younger children, I'd recommend not using the parenthesis cards or possibly without the division and multiplication cards. The cards feature an easy to read font with very large print, making is easy to see what's been played.
After my game with Dennis with came up with 3 optional rules for play with younger children. The first was not to subtract points for cards remaining in your hand. This can easily lead to negative scores, and that's not good for the self esteem. This is an educational game after all. The 2nd optional rule we came after I managed to go out in the first 2 rounds on my very first play, before several players had a chance to play. This was to continue the round giving each player 1 play if the round ends before they had a chance to play. Both times that I went out, I utilized the fact that 0 multiplied anything is zero and added that to the target number. The first time I did this Dennis said I never saw anyone do that before and that it's probably a rarity. When I pulled the same lucky move in the next round, we decided you might optionally want to bar the use of multiply by zero.
Equalz is fast, simple to learn and a great way to exercise your brain. For kids its a nifty way to help them learn mathematical equations. It's like giving them homework and they don't even know it.