Date: Dec 23, 2012 8:51 AM
Author: Robert Hansen
Subject: Re: Dragonbox

On Dec 22, 2012, at 7:55 AM, Richard Strausz <> wrote:

>> Anything to pretend to need computers even if it
>> means making easy
>> stuff harder. They are good (or can be) for
>> improving necessary
>> "drill and kill" (better read, "drill for skill") but
>> not much else.
>> Wayne

> Or, maybe, if an 8-year-old plays with this, it might it easier for him/her to master algebra in school later?

I downloaded the game and played it (and had my 9 year old son play it) through all 5 chapters, 20 levels per chapter. That sounds more involved than it was. For me 30 minutes of time, my son, an hour.

Good news first...

1. Decently made puzzle-app.
2. Does require puzzle reasoning.
3. The puzzle has enough draw (for a kid) but it is short lasting.

Bad News...

1. Very few of the puzzles actually involve (faux) expressions (see later).
2. Isn't mathematical or algebraic other than it being a puzzle.
3. Suffers from the "ants doing trig" issue.
4. Rather brief puzzle factor (~30 minutes)

The Puzzle...

The game starts off by splitting the screen into two sides, the left and the right. In these two sides are tiles with pictures on them. One of the tiles has a picture of a chest with a star, the other tiles have pictures of other things. The object of the game is to remove the tiles from the side that has the chest tile in it such that the chest tile is the only tile left (the other side may have several tiles left).

Obviously, you can't just remove the tiles at will, there are rules to removing tiles. If the tile has a green swirly picture then you can just click it to remove it. If not, then there are steps you can take to end up with a green swirly picture. The first step is to find another tile on that side that has the same picture but whose colors are inverted. The analogy is that the tile with inverted colors is the negative of the non inverted tile. If you drag that tile over the top of the other then they cancel each other and you end up with a green swirly picture. If there are no opposites in the playing area then there will be additional tiles conveniently at the bottom that you can use. You can even click these additional tiles and flip them (invert the colors) if needed. Tiles can be situated one over the other (like a fraction) or side by side (like multiplication) and there are rules for these situations as well.

Most of the game is with pictures, not letters and numbers. Only in the very final stages does the picture of the chest become an "x" and the swirly picture a "0". The other pictures become single digit numbers and instead of inverted colors, opposites are shown with number signs. Unlike what the article and the screen shots imply, this is a very minor period of the game at the end. The puzzle is cute and if (and only if) you already know algebra you will see the similarity between these rules and simple expression transformations.

Bottom Line...

It is an ok puzzle but it isn't worth $5.99 and it also isn't the blockbuster the Wired article says it is. It has 100 reviews. Angry birds, which costs $0.99, has 818,903. I really hesitated putting $5.99 into this. If you are familiar with apps, even puzzle-apps, you would understand. $5.99 is a lot for an app, especially one that only lasts 30 minutes. If it were $0.99 I would recommend it as a cute puzzle, but not for teaching algebra.

After watching my son play this, I think if you really wanted an "algebra" training app then I would lay down the basic rules of expression transformation, using actual arithmetic sense, not pictures, and then flash expressions on the screen starting with simple one step transformations, then two, and three etc. At least the arithmetic in transformation would be there. Or maybe this app should go there.

It is an ok puzzle.
Brief play factor.
Not mathematical except that it is a puzzle.
Too expensive.

Bob Hansen

Bob Hansen