Thursday, July 24, 2014

GJJG Game Reviews - Sum Swamp - by Learning Resources

Sum Swamp
Designer: Uncredited
Publisher: Learning Resources
GJJG Game Reviews - Sum Swamp - by Learning Resources

Game Overview:
Sum Swamp is a very basic game where you move from start to finish along a game path based on the roll of the dice.  Some spaces that you land on have some different effects.  There are also two short cuts and one endless loop that you can get stuck in unless you land on exactly the right space.  Game wise there's not much there, but that's ok because the game is aimed at young kids that are just learning basic addition and subtraction, and most likely also just learning about board games, too.  The game is recommended for ages 5+, but my son has been playing it since he was 3 and still loves it at a week shy of 5.  This review is for the game as a kids' game.  This definitely isn't a game for adults only, although parents will often be playing it with their kids, so that is kept in mind in the review.

Components & Packaging:
The theme of Sum Swamp is critters travelling through a swamp.  There's not much to it.  The components consist of a small game board, four plastic critter pawns (red snake, green frog, yellow turtle, and blue snail), and three dice.  Two of the dice are pretty standard green D6 dice, but with large, easy to read numbers instead of pips.  The third die is white with + and - symbols on it (3 of each).  The dice are what form the basis of the game's educational aspect.  All the pieces are pretty good quality.  The pawns are soft flexible plastic (or maybe rubber) and the game board and dice are nothing special, pretty standard.  The box isn't the highest quality, but this isn't a super high-end game with tons of components that need to be stored either.  So it's sufficient for what it is, although it'll probably end up needing to be taped up a few times during its life cycle (mine already needs tape on the corners).

Score: 6/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
The rules are very straight forward.  They're on a single sheet of paper and are very clear.  This is obviously important since this is a game for young children.  Players simply roll the dice and perform the mathematical operation that results (addition or subtraction of numbers from 1-6).  If a player lands on a special space he may have to roll only a single die and proceed only if it is even or odd depending on the space's instructions, or roll the operator die and move forward or backward the number of spaces indicated by the number of the space they are on.  There are also two shortcuts that players may use if they land on the entrance space and an endless loop that players must enter and can only exit if they land on the exit space.  In all it's a simple game that a younger player can learn very easily.  With such a simple game there's not much room for misinterpretation of the rules either.

Likewise, setup is a breeze.  Simply choose what piece each player wants to be and place them at the Start space on the board.  Then decide who goes first and take turns rolling the dice and moving.  This is a game that even young kids can set up and play by themselves (as long as they can do the simple math required).

Score: 9/10 x2

Gameplay is about as basic as can be expected.  It relies 100% on the luck of the dice (and I'm pretty unlucky because I think I've only won once).  There is absolutely no skill involved, but that's not the whole point of the game.  The math is simple enough that it doesn't get in the way of the game play, even with very beginning mathematicians and there are enough 'fun' spaces on the board that kids aren't always just adding and subtracting.  There is a sense of accomplishment when you roll an appropriate number on an odd/even space and can move again, and a bit of despair when you roll a - on a number space and have to move backward.  Just enough to keep the game enjoyable.  So while this isn't a game that will have older kids or adults playing it when the little ones aren't looking, it isn't as boring as some kid games are.

My kids seem to have fun with it even though they never really cared for games like Candyland, or Shoots & Ladders.  They even recreated the game in Legos, so that's saying something =)  Sum Swamp plays in about 5-10 minutes, which is a perfect length of time for short attention spans.  A 5 minute game means that it moves quickly and a winner is decided shortly after starting.  So even if your child doesn't win there's still time to play again.

Score: 7/10 x2

Educational Value:

Sum Swamp gets kids doing simple math without feeling like they are actually doing math.  Using the small numbers of 1-6 keeps the math simple, but using numbers instead of pips ensures that kids aren't just counting the dots.  And having 11 and 12 as possible results requires kids to do more than just count fingers sometimes.  The game also uses the concept of odds and evens.  Sum Swamp doesn't really teach addition, subtraction, odds, or evens, but those skills are required to play the game, so kids will learn them and have them reinforced by playing the game.  The game also teaches basic game mechanics like rolling dice, game board movement, and performing actions based on a space's action indicators.  And of course taking turns, being a gracious winner, and not being a sore loser are all parts of introducing kids to games.

One thing that is lacking from the game is the ability to make any decisions.  As I stated above, the game is 100% based on the luck of the dice rolls.  A game this simple doesn't really need any decisions, but if that could be added into the game it might make it a little more interesting.  Even if it was something as simple as two paths that could be taken, one that is longer, but with fewer spaces that might hinder movement and one shorter, but with more potential obstacles.

Score: 8/10 x1

Because the game is so quick it is easy to play several times in a single sitting with the kids.  They enjoy it and don't seem to tire of it very quickly.  It is the same game every time though, so it does have the potential to get boring for kids once the novelty of doing the math runs out.  I think having some kind of decisions in the game could change this and make the game more enjoyable for older kids, so I might think about making an expansion to this =)  I find that we usually play 3-4 rounds of it before I get tired of the game and try to redirect their attention.  But my boys can often play as many as 5-10 rounds if they have a willing participant.

Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
For adults this game isn't too much fun, but my sons love playing it.  They are getting to the age where they are looking for more interesting games though (they like cooperative games like Forbidden Island, or games like my Polter-Heist), but still pull this off the shelf on a fairly regular basis.  My nearly 5 year old son pulls this out much more often than my 7.5 year old son, but when he pulls this out his older brother is always happy to play.  My wife and I aren't always as enthusiastic about the game, but we don't mind playing.  It gives us the opportunity to interact with the boys and help reinforce their math skills, so that's what is important.

Score: 6/10 x2

Overall Value:
Sum Swamp retails at $19.99, but you can find it on Amazon and some other sites for as little as $7.50 with free shipping.  $20 seems high (the Learning Resources store has it on sale currently for $13, which seems reasonable), but at under $8 this is a great deal.  It is a great addition to your educational games collection, although it won't have long-term staying power once the kids have a good grasp of basic addition and subtraction.  So for $13 or less I think this is a good value.  Don't pay full retail for this though.

Score: 7/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Overall Sum Swamp is a great game for kids just starting to learn addition and subtraction.  The game is simple to learn and fun to play with just enough variety in the spaces to keep things interesting.  It is all completely luck though, which will keep this from enduring beyond being a basic math education tool.  The recommended age is 5+ and I think by 7 most kids won't have any interest in the game any more unless they're reluctantly playing with younger siblings.  That said, it does make learning basic addition and subtraction pretty fun.  This is a worthwhile addition to your educational games collection.

Overall Score: 71/100

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with his family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational Games will have an additional category for Educational Value which will result in Gameplay being weighted double instead of triple.  Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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