Let’s get this out of the way. I absolutely dread any kind of math. Growing up, math had always been, and still is a hurdle for me. In college it was the source of my worst grade by far, a D- in Pre-calculus and Algebra (which I had to work my butt off for). Even in the present, everyday basic calculations like figuring out how much to tip or counting up poker chips, are headaches and almost always result in a trip to my phone’s calculator. Because of my complicated history with math, I was hoping that since Calculords was developed by long time video game funny man Seanbaby, that its humor would help make the math based mechanics more bearable. While Calculords is funny, it’s worth playing and keeping for the long haul because of how great it is, despite and because of math.
At its core, Calculords is a strategy collectible card game where success strongly relies on your ability to efficiently calculate numbers in order to play cards. Players earn random cards upon each victory to use in deck building. Using addition, subtraction, and multiplication, players must make their way across a three-laned battlefield and destroy their opponent’s base while protecting their own. The art and music style that accompanies the action is reminiscent of 80s sci-fi (think pixelated Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon). While there isn’t too much dialogue or story to find here, there is a dash of Seanbaby’s humor that fans of the old Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine will remember. The silliness of it all blends together well with its strategic mechanics, adding flavor to what may appear to the uninitiated as a nerdy card game that makes you do math.
Free to Play?
Micro-transactions do exist but are done in a way that isn’t offensive. There are a number of different packs, and a one-time “Fun Club” purchase that permanently increases the number of cards obtained after victory by one and improves your chances of obtaining rarer cards. However Calculords is totally playable and enjoyable without any spending any money.
Your initial experience with Calculords will vary greatly depending on how adept you are at basic math. For people more like me, it was extremely challenging at first to properly calculate enough numbers per turn to put cards on the field, while also developing some semblance of a strategy that could win a round. Even the first opponent, the extremely polite robotic hot dog Fancybot, will rout you if you aren’t able to at least play a few cards each turn. Overcoming this challenge requires a willingness to accept a few defeats in order to develop the skills necessary to string together wins.
After an embarrassingly long couple of battles with Fancybot, I was eventually able to challenge my first real opponent, the psychotic CPL. Krak. The difficulty spiked dramatically and CPL. Krak crushed me. For many, when you hit a difficulty wall the gut reaction is to grind. Grind for more XP/HP and better cards. While grinding certainly helps, it isn’t the solution for overcoming challenges in Calculords. New cards and more HP didn’t put me over the edge when I eventually defeated CPL. Krak. Rather, after a few defeats something finally clicked for me and I was able to become more swift and clever with my moves. Instead of trying to reach numbers by using just one calculation ([8×3]=24), it’s key to plan ahead and get creative with calculations ([8×1] x [6-3]=24) so that way you can reach your Calculord bonus, play more cards, and overwhelm your opponent. This is what makes succeeding in Calculords so satisfying; it’s dependent on you playing (and being) smarter over grinding to victory.
Calculords isn’t supposed to be an educational game (although if you’re bad at math like I am it can be). It incorporates math effectively as a design choice and is great because of it. Success relies on strategy and skill more than grinding, which keeps card collecting fresh and exciting instead of becoming a chore that is required to progress. Each new enemy brings a jump in difficulty that may be intimidating and off-putting to some, especially since defeat offers depressingly little in the way of rewards. But with a little patience and practice these challenges can be overcome, and that’s what makes Calculords a wonderful strategy game for all but the most ‘mathophobic’ players.