Review: Junior Arithmancer

IFDB page

You are the first ever candidate in Arithmancy – a field of magic involving manipulating numbers. You are judged by the fair and impartial Morkan, the more emotive and reactive Berzia, and, most importantly, the rude and irritable Teraboz. Armed with your spell book, sheet of numbers, and list of tasks, it’s up to you to win over your superiors by scoring as many points as you can.

While traditional IF can be fun, I really enjoy more experimental games as well: there’s an unusual core mechanic that you have to work with, and its execution can make or break the game. Junior Arithmancer in particular reminded me of another game I really liked, Threediopolis.

The main appeal of Junior Arithmancer is that it’s about manipulating numbers in surprisingly fun ways. You are given the digits of various well-known functions, such as pi, e, and gamma, and you need to reach these numbers in sequence with your spells. You can’t use a spell more than once, but you can attach prefixes to certain spells to make things easier. Your accomplishments will earn you tokens that you can trade in for more spells, unlocked linearly. Once you have all the skills at your disposal, it’s up to you to finish as many tasks as you can before you submit your final score.

Junior Arithmancer is a game where it’s satisfying to get something right. I was intrigued by knowing what my next spell could be, and how it could help solve my problems. By the time I got them all, I just wanted to keep optimizing my techniques and returning to old sequences with new tools. Everything feels fair; the spells work consistently, the game logic is easy to follow, and you don’t have to memorize any number sequences because they’re all included on the sidebar. I never felt like I was lost with how the game worked.

Besides the framing device, there’s a little story running through the game. Whenever you return to your exam room to trade in tokens, you’ll overhear Morkan, Berzia, and Teraboz talking about the academy. Most of the story is carried by Teraboz; she feels that the test has become too easily accommodating for new people, she starts a debate over whether the word “witch” is offensive, she gets in trouble with the fearsome vice dean Merlena. Outside the story, Teraboz reacts in exasperation at your mistakes, which I thought was a fun way to tell me when I was doing something wrong. She even delivers the final line of the game, quitting the academy now that you’re a part of it. Teraboz gets way more dialogue and action than the other two characters, which is a shame, because I’d have liked for Morkan and especially Berzia to have some spotlight moments.

Despite the unbalanced character focus, I’d say I liked this story more than I didn’t. It’s secondary to the puzzles, and even developed in an interesting direction I didn’t expect. And with that said, I’d recommend Junior Arithmancer. It’s a light, fun game that’s easy to grasp, but hard to perfect.

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Nice review, I enjoyed the character analysis.

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I’ve had this game on my to-play list for a while now. I really like math but I’m really bad at it, lol. The premise of the game seemed really fun.

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As the review noted, JA works so well as it encourages trial-and-error as opposed to saying “you’d better find the right way through.”

Hope it’s okay to dump my own thoughts here. Since I was a tester it’s tough to write an actual review, because bias, etc. (also, thanks for the shout-out to my game) and I think it’s safe to say I have a relative advantage at this sort of game (more literary type games, not so much, though I appreciate people who do, and who explain something I missed, or why I like parts I liked) so I may be talking down from my ivory tower.

But one thing I noticed immediately in testing JA was that it encouraged trying different stuff right away. I had a lot of “I don’t get it” moments but I never felt stuck.

Also one bonus for me was how it showed me numbers and concepts I already knew, but it put a new spin on them.

To beat a dead horse, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code really made me cringe with its treatment of the Fibonacci sequence, and JA cuts out all the mystical nonsense while maintaining a fun sort of magic. I agree about Teraboz as an effective antagonist. I think we’ve all had that one teacher we knew hated us, but what could we do?

That said it’s gratifying to punk Teraboz’s tuff-person act by dividing zero by zero or UNDOING.

(Also, I find the “Mivey” character referred to as interesting. I doubt there’s any grand satiric takedown of academia involved here, but as the author, Mike Spivey, is Spike on this forum, I appreciate the spoonerism–and I think it shows the author is on your side in a winking sort of way, without being too obvious.)

On replaying, I managed to forget to put tokens in slots several times, which 1) is proof there are alternate passage through and 2) evidence that the puzzles are worth looking at for their own sake.

That’s ideally how exams should work–not with a Teraboz looking down at you, but being hopefully prepared and actually showing some insight and thinking on your feet.

I realized JA contains the sort of thing A Beauty Cold and Austere hinted at, but didn’t quite fit in the game (might have made it too long,) since it was a more general overview of mathematics. JA allows not just the ability to tinker with stuff, as with the calculator you needed to make overflow, but a focus on it.

As for replaying JA–I forgot enough of the original solutions that rediscovering them was a fun challenge. So it’s eminently replayable. I know what you mean about performing tasks like “solve everything in under 6 spells.” The tasks complement each other well.

Funny story: for the white light, I assumed it was powers of 30 as well without checking -1 and making an imaginary number. So with all that technical stuff, it’s still important to prioritize first things first so you don’t have to twist your brain! (Humblebrag: I was able to get 3 different white numbers my own convoluted way. I felt accomplished.)

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