Even as someone who owes at least some of his maths skills to computer games (I played L in the late 80s and would love to see it resurrected, and there’s a lot to be said for the mental arithmetic in something like Football Manager), my heart still sinks a little when I see something described as an educational game.

I shouldn’t. Done well, games should be educational, and often are. The trouble is that so many aren’t done well. Another poorly disguised times tables test? Forgive me, I have some television to watch.

However, Sumaze is done well. Very well.

The aim of the game is to take your block (marked with a number), and use the surrounding resources (usually arithmetic blocks that transform your number – guess what a block marked +9 does?) to figure out a way to the end of the level. You need to pass through condition gates (your number may need to be a certain value, or satisfy an inequality, or some other criterion), possibly collect keys to unlock doors.

The hundred levels are arranged into categories – starting with basic arithmetic and negative numbers, passing through powers, inequalities and modulus, then logarithms and number theory, culminating in the fiendish Fermat’s Rooms, the last two levels of which have lost me more sleep this week than two infant children.

I have two minor criticisms: on the gameplay side, I found the swipe-to-move mechanism a little frustrating (especially when needing to go back-and-forth onto the same square several times in a row), and on the mathematical side, I’d have liked to go beyond integer arithmetic and explore fractions a bit. That said, the constraints on numbers (such as thou shalt not go bigger than 1000 ((I did manage to go below -1000, though)) ) add an interesting wrinkle to some of the puzzles.

What I like most about Sumaze is that it doesn’t just test your arithmetic: it tests your problem-solving skills, it tests your persistence, and it tests your willingness to try something and see if it works. In short, it’s an educational maths game that makes you think like a mathematician.

More like this, please. More like this.