[Review] Numbers League: Adventures in Addiplication

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"