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Subject: [Review] Math Magic rss

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Tom Vasel
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There are some games that I can introduce to people and see an immediate curiosity. For example, when I explain that Ticket to Ride is about connecting routes across the nation, they are usually fairly interested. This, however, is not the case of Math Magic (Magic Gamewerks, 1987, Jimmy Yeoh) and Math Magic 2 (Magic Gamewerks, 2000, Jimmy Yeoh). When I mention to most people, that it's almost a mathematical version of Scrabble, many of them often shy away in horror. For me, the games were fascinating; as not only am I a mathematics teacher, I simply enjoy math.

Upon my first playing, I was very interested in the game, which had a numerical puzzle challenge to it. But I will admit, after many plays of the game, that it is at its best as a teaching tool - a game to be used in classrooms. Is it fun in those settings? Yes! Is it educational yet offers strategy? Affirmative! Game scores are close, and there's no denying that the games reaffirm basic math skills.

In Math Magic, a bag of eighty-four tiles is shuffled, with each player drawing six tiles and placing them on a rack in front of them. A large board is placed on the table composed of a 14 x 14 grid of squares. One player is chosen to keep score, and then the player who has the highest number on the first tile they drew begins the game.

The first player plays two tiles on their turn, with all subsequent turns resulting in the play of only one tile. A player may skip their turn, and instead exchange one OR all of their tiles on their rack. Otherwise, they place a tile next to any tile on the board (the first player places the first two tiles wherever they like, as long as they are connected), following these rules.
- Each tile is split into four parts - each with a color: (green, yellow, blue, or red) and a number. The player must place the tile onto the board so that the numbers face the same direction as all other numbers on the board. The tiles must also match the tiles which they touch in color.
- For every tile that is connected by the one placed (maximum four), a score is given to the player who played it. Green numbers are multiplied together, yellow numbers are added, blue numbers are subtracted, and red numbers are divided.
- When dividing, the quotient must be a whole number.
- If a player places a quadruple connection (which is rather hard), they score an additional 100 point bonus.

Once the bag has run out of tiles, and a player cannot legally place a tile, they must add up all the numbers on their remaining tiles and subtract them from their total. Once all players are finished, the final points are totaled, with the player who has the most winning!

In Math Magic 2, the same rules apply, with the following changes…
- Some red tiles show square roots and cube roots, which can only be applied if the root is a whole number.
- Some green tiles show a square marking, signifying that the adjacent number should be squared.
- Some dark green tiles are included, signifying that the adjacent number should be cubed. These tiles may only be attached to a tile with a number that is half green, half dark green.
- Some "joker" tiles are included, that show numbers in two different colors. These tiles can be attached to other tiles in either color.
- If a player uses a "joker" tile to form a quadruple connection, they only get 50 bonus points instead of 100.

Some comments on the games…

1.) Components: The boxes are a little weaker than I would like, but they do hold the components well. Only a few scoring sheets are supplied, which is less than I would like, but one can simply use a piece of paper to keep score. The tiles themselves are white tiles with the colored sections pasted on via sticker. After heavy use, the stickers do get a bit scratched. There's no telling the difference between the tiles of the two games, so I guess you could mix them if you so desired. The cloth bags are very nice (quite soft), and the tile racks are - well, functional. The boards are a bit nondescript, although they do have the different symbols printed on them with matching colors, lest one forgets (and you often will).

2.) Rules: The rulebooks are quite simple, being six small pages of rules. There are no examples, although the game is simple enough that none is probably needed. I found the game very easy to teach to people, especially kids (whom the game is aimed at). Just match the colors - even my five year old daughter did that easily, although she doesn't yet understand all the mathematical concepts behind the game.

3.) Math: Well, let's face it, the game requires a bit of math. Now, usually the math is simple, while players search the board for the highest mathematical combination that they can make. It's almost always a multiplication combo, although the addition combos can often be quite large, and even sometimes the subtraction combos. The problem with math comes from the player who has to keep track of all the scores. There is a lot of addition that must be done, and without a calculator, a mistake could easily happen. This also can be tedious to some people. Still, as I said, it's an excellent way to help young'uns to work on their math skills.

4.) Variants: A few variants are included in the games, with two of them being most important. One awards a player an additional fifty points if they reach a multiple of fifty exactly. So, if by placing two tiles together, my score is now 200, I gain an additional fifty points. To help reach these milestones, the other variant allows negative scores when subtracting. For adults, I would say that both of these variants should be required, as they add to the strategy.

5.) Tactics: At first, it seems obvious that a player should simply put down the best combination that they can, which is usually multiplication. However, there's much more than that going on. A player must watch for future tile-laying opportunities. Getting that one hundred point bonus for the quadruple connection is huge, and using the variant I just recently described is also pretty nifty. However, a player must also watch what tiles their opponent plays and must make connecting a future lucrative tile as difficult for them as they can. For example, playing a tile that has an open green "12" on one side is just asking for trouble, because a player can easily add to it and score bushels of points. I was actually rather happy with these strategic options, although I did realize that it's also possible for a player to get caught up into trying to score multiple points that they sometimes miss the obvious connections.

6.) Which?: If you are getting the game to simply teach mathematical properties to a youngster, than the original game is fine. For adults, however, Math Magic II is much more strategic and offers more options, with the powers and the bonus tiles. It's certainly the one I enjoy more.

7.) Fun Factor: Let's face it, adding numbers together isn't going to start a clamor to play with most folk. However, I DID have a lot of fun with the game, and found that once kids got into the game, they did have an enjoyable time. It adds strategy to math learning and is a useful tool in my classroom. And if I can find some adults who don't mind a little math, it makes a good game for us, too.

Still, it seems plain to me that the game will be ultimately used as a fun educational tool. If you have a student or child who is struggling with math (or perhaps enjoys it greatly), this will be a useful game for you. Because not only will the Math Magic games teach math, they also teach strategy; and we all know how important both skills are. If you're a computation lover, then this might work for you; but if you're a teacher, then this game is a must-buy.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
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