The (Insert Skill) for Dummies series of books was created to help us succeed in skill areas where we were previously deficient or incompetent. So when I heard about Brain Training for Dummies, my first thought was, "How could they make a game that was How Not To Be a Dummy… for Dummies? Well, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Capitalizing on the burgeoning-yet-ambiguously-named “brain training” style of games, Brain Training for Dummies is a series of 15 games that are designed to build mental acuity and keep your gray matter sharp. Actually, according to the game, it is designed to help increase something in your brain called “dendrites” which apparently build and maintain various pathways in your brain. If you don’t exercise your brain enough, your dendrites die off, so it’s very important to keep your brain nice and sharp. When explained that way, yes, it sounded a little creepy to me too.

Part of the recent for Dummies series of games developed by Beanbag Studios in conjunction with Wiley Publishing, the game is set up like one of the well-known books, complete with similar layout and overall vibe. The game keeps track of your progress, illustrating it on a Brain Gauge. If you fail to play for a few days, the gauge begins to dim, reminding you of the Massacre of the Dendrites inside your cranium. You want to keep those dendrites alive, don’t you?

To help you on your Dendrites Preservation campaign, Brain Training for Dummies works on six different brain skill sets: Memory, Reflexes, Mathematics, Language, Logic and Spatial. You can play the games in different modes: Full Circuit (play all the games), Mini-Circuit (play some of the games) and Skill Circuit (focus on one skill and only play those games associated with it). Each game has a series of instructions to guide you, and can be played individually to learn and master.

However, unlike many other training titles, Brain Training for Dummies feels a lot less contrived. The reason is that each game is designed to test two of your brain’s skills simultaneously.

For example, the “Lightning Letters” game features a series of lettered tiles that descend Tetris-like from the top of the screen. You have to click on letters to form three- to -five-letter words to win. However, you have to complete the words before the tiles disappear from the bottom. As you can see, this game tests both the Language and Reflex skills.

Many of the games have a very clever slant to them. “Reason Recall” tasks you with looking a some colored shapes, and after memorizing them for a few seconds, are asked a series of questions. At first, the questions are very simple, like “which shape was red?” However, as the difficulty level increases, some numbers are added to the mix beside each shape. Now, not only do you have to remember the shape, but the number in a different context. I was asked “Which number is found on a clock face?”

Other puzzles are a bit more obtuse, but once you understand them, are extremely engaging. My favorite game ended up being “Math Matrix.” In this game, which tests Mathematics and Logic, a series of tiles in a grid appear in an equation. Some tiles are lit, some are not. You have to figure out which tiles are lit and which are not based upon the illustration. At first, I thought it was trying to replace numbers with an image. But once I realized how the game worked, I actually felt smarter.

Part of the problem in figuring things out is the games are not always clearly-explained. This problem, while not serious, is similar to that found in Sudoku for Dummies. I sometimes had to re-read the directions for a game several times before I understood it completely. Another odd issue is the title of a game. One of the games was called “Word Wend.” I’ve never gone wending, but it sounded painful. Turns out that “wend” means “to move in a particular direction.” However, there is no wending in Word Wend. Rather, it’s like Boggle except the letters don’t have to be beside each other. Perhaps a better name for the game would be “Word Search.”  

These complaints are minor, though. Brain Training for Dummies is a solid brain trainer that stands out from the crowd. With clever, fun and challenging games, Brain Training for Dummies is something that can be easily added to the daily routine. Just don’t break out the “Save The Dendrites!” t-shirt. Your family may not understand.