GoSum Review (iOS)

Game Review: GoSum
Release: July 27, 2012
Genre: Asynchronous multiplayer mobile
Developer: Aaptek Limited
Available Platforms: iOS
Players: 2–4 (1?)
MSRP: Free, $0.99 iPhone, $2.99 iPad

GoSum, a game originally created to help teach the game’s designer Colin Thompson’s children math, can easily be described as Words with Friends but with mathematical equations, but that would be kind of missing the point. Much like if you swap the bacon out on a BLT to some other kind of meat, you still get a sandwich, but it is also very different on a fundamental level. Simply by using numbers and operators, you still get a digital board game of sorts but with drastically different results.

Played with two to four players (or one, I guess, if you’re feeling saucy with the Pass & Play option), each player starts out with eight tiles at the beginning of each turn. They can be swapped out either partially or wholly at the cost of your entire turn, but you will always get back six numbers (one of which might be a valueless blank tile) and two operators that, for the sake of sanity and an easily understood game design, are limited to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

While after the opening turn, you can leave any board space empty to signify your intent to use it as an equals sign, you must start on the center square and like Words with Friends, you must continually branch off of this original train to play your tiles. There are special score spaces like double or triple sum or digit as each number tile also has its own point value. So far it sounds pretty much like Scrabble, right?

But there are a few wrinkles in the otherwise rote fold. Namely, because it’s based on elementary math, everyone pretty much starts on a level playing field. Rather than whoever with the biggest diction having the greatest advantage, now it’s just whoever can piece together the most valuable equation is the one that wins.

Basically, instead of an analytical play of letters and words, it now becomes a creative play of numbers and symbols. Instead of pulling from a set of known results, you are operating within a mathematical structure to create new results. It’s like playing with Legos that way. And because you aren’t limited to only ginning up equations with left- or top-sized operands as in Scrabble, you can manipulate the board in more creative ways.

You can, however, only play operators on one side of the equation. This seems like a real missed opportunity as being able to work both sides of the equals sign would drastically increase the possibilities. I felt like too many times trains died simply because they were capped by stag numbers. In fact, I’ve had several games end precisely because of this limitation in gameplay expressions rather than running out of tiles or board space.

The error messages, by nature, are also vaguer. Whereas Words with Friends only has to concern itself with words and thus only has to produce one piece of feedback (hey, that’s not a word, dummy!), GoSum has to deal with such a wide swath of possibilities that you can’t really fault it for just coming back at you saying “that doesn’t work.” I encountered this problem of obfuscation while trying to determine whether or not order of operations mattered. Apparently it does, but there were a few puzzling instances early on where the game erroneously rejected an expression with what might as well have been a “nuh uh, son” and a finger wag.

GoSum also has the usual asynchronous multiplayer trappings that you’re used to now: invite Facebook friends, turn notification, etc. It doesn’t add anything new to what you already know or would otherwise expect, but I guess it doesn’t really need to. iOS versions also have Game Center support. There aren’t any achievements, but you can at least track friends’ scores.

In my case, though, the number of friends I could keep tabs on with GoSum was precisely zero. 99 cents seems like a lot these days for a game that doesn’t appear to do anything different than a game you’ve already poured hours into (on the surface, anways), so picking up the iPad version for $2.99 is even more unlikely. It also doesn’t help that all three versions (there’s a free one, too) have the same icon with the HD ribbon on it.

And I actually managed to coerce a few friends into downloading the free version, but according to them, the ads were so intrusive that they found it more pleasant to stop playing altogether rather than deal with them. I’ll take their word for it, though, as I personally can’t stand ads in my games.

GoSum is a rather straightforward game; take Words with Friends, swap out the tiles, and name it GoSum. That alone is probably enough to make some people roll their eyes, but if you haven’t played the Scrabble knockoff/one of the most successful apps in the history of apps, then GoSum can be a good time. Maybe it’s just because I was a math/computer science major, but despite writing for a living, I prefer numbers to letters, especially in this case.

If you can convince some friends to spend a dollar on a very familiar but fundamentally different mobile game, then maybe give this one a chance, but you’re also not missing out on anything if you can’t.

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