Reiner Knizia’s Yoku-Gami makes math fun

At this point I shouldn’t be, but I’m still surprised when a puzzle game comes along that has a fresh take on the genre. This expectation of mine probably stems from the fact that, for a very long time, puzzle game basically meant Tetris. Though it’s true that I love Tetris, I also love variety. Lucky for me the iOS has almost provided us puzzle fans with a renaissance of the genre, with new territory being broken in every direction.

There’s no doubt puzzle games are a serious weakness of mine – I just love them. And while I could never get tired of the blissful simplicity of line clearing a la Tetris, it’s nice when there’s an additional wrinkle thrown in. Yoku-Gami reminds me of Bookworm Adventures, except for math fans. Instead of combining spelling with pattern recognition, Yoku-Gami combines adding and patterns. It’s a devilishly simple concept that allows for pretty open and intense gameplay.

Reiner Knizia's Yoku-GamiReiner Knizia's Yoku-Gami

Yoku-Gami was designed by Reiner Knizia, a game creator who made his name in the board and card game world, but has had a hand in a fair number of excellent iOS titles recently, like the adaptations of his board games Samurai and High Society. He’s quite good at what he does, so whenever I see his name pop up in the App Store I tend to sit up and take notice. Knizia seems to have a knack for making math super interesting and fun, and Yoku-Gami keeps that streak alive.

The game takes place on a 6 by 6 grid of numbers. In each turn you’ll select adjacent numbers in a grid that add up to the highest number in the highlighted group. So for example a successful turn could be you selecting the numbers 1-1-5-10-3, since all the numbers add up to 10, which is the highest number in the group. This will score you points and remove the numbers from the grid.

What happens when you clear numbers depends on the game mode you’re playing in. In Endless, the blocks vanish and the numbers above fall down into their place so everything is filled in Bejeweled style. In Arcade and Level modes the spaces stay empty, making it pretty difficult to clear the whole screen in one go. I prefer the Endless mode myself, since the longer you play the higher the numbers get, and I like the escalating difficulty.

I would’ve liked to have seen a timed mode of some kind to amp up the tension. Either a set time with a race to a high score, or maybe something where successful clears add time onto an ever dwindling clock. Something like that would’ve really helped the game in the longevity realm, as some puzzle fanatics like working against the clock.

Reiner Knizia's Yoku-Gami Reiner Knizia's Yoku-Gami

I was blissfully surprised at how much I enjoyed this game, since I’m usually so averse to math. There’s something about adding up the numbers that gave me an immense amount of satisfaction when I strung together super long chains. It makes me feel number smart, which deep down I really don’t think I am. Reiner Knizia’s Yoku-Gami makes math accessible, and that’s pretty high praise.

The game’s look is pretty cutesy, with a strange little colorful mascot jumping around at the top of the screen while you play. I can’t decide if this look helps or hurts the title. It might help younger players want to try it out but I worry it would scare away puzzle game fans that judge the game based on looks alone. The retina supported graphics do pop, however, looking great for what it is.

Yoku-Gami is a success in the generally over-crowded puzzle genre. I may download and play a lot of them, but very rarely do they last on my iPhone very long before their inevitable deletion. Yoku-Gami will live on the front page, ready to steal away lazy and otherwise wasted minutes. Reiner Knizia’s Yoku-Gami is a true winner of a title.