The story behind this game is that you are board of your cushy job. You work as a commodities trader at a bank. It pays well but the most action that you get is managing paperwork and spreadsheets in a cubicle. Now, you are inspired to seek out the adventure aspect of trading by renting a truck and hitting the road. Along the way you hope to experience Canadian geography.
You begin in Toronto Ontario with a million dollars and your truck. The game ends after 30 days unless you reach an earlier ending. In fact, 30 days lasts awhile in this game. At each main stop the player can sell or buy goods, rest at a hotel, refuel, and sightsee. Between destinations are smaller stops where the only options are to rest and refuel. The strategy comes in the form of managing these resources while you travel.
The gameplay is built consistently and is bug free (as far as I could tell). But it is also repetitive and bland and would have benefited from some variation. There are no surprise events or sub-storylines to build upon the game's portrayal of a cross-county journey. You just do the same action of shuffling from one location to another. The closest to a storyline is (Spoiler - click to show) if you pursue is the Iqaluit ending. In fact, you can skip trading all together because you have more than enough money to pay for gas and hotels. The Iqaluit ending is the most interesting one to pursue but also involves the most backtracking since it is tied to specific locations rather than the money you accumulate. You visit Fredericton and High Level to acquire a wooden nickel and Spider-Man comic book before traveling to Inuvik. With these items you can then drive to the Arctic Circle and end up in Iqaluit, ending the game.
The author provides a helpful map and "teacher's guide" walkthrough that I strongly recommend using. The walkthrough includes a chart of buyable and sellable items at each destination. You will find it helpful in deciding where to visit rather than hoping that the next stop will allow you to unload those excess engine pallets that you have been hauling around for the past ten days. The supplemental map drastically makes the game easy to play. Without it the player is stuck visualizing the location in their head. I would end up travelling in a circle without branching into the other areas. The map allows you to gauge your location and where you want to go. While it would have been cool if the game came with map graphics built into the gameplay the supplemental map is easy to read and adds a hint of realism.
Desmos Activity Builder.... Never heard of that one before. I just had to play it. I love seeing how people can make interactive fiction in unexpected ways. Of course, no matter what format you choose the game should strive for quality. Let’s Explore Geography may be light on substance, but it does feel like a completed piece. The draw is its unique development system. Though the content is unremarkable playing a game made by “Desmos Activity Builder” software is its own memorable experience.
I played the post-comp version that opens when you click the “Play Me” button on the IFDB page. The competition version is nearly identical except for the class registration steps. It involves using a class code to access the game on the Desmos website. You do not actually have to sign up for anything, but the game’s instruction sheet gives you gives the impression that it is more than just an interactive fiction game. When I saw, “Thank you for purchasing Let's Explore Geography! Canadian Commodities Trader Simulation Exercise. We're certain your students will enjoy this engaging, interactive virtual activity,” I had to look twice since it really does look like a teacher email. I prefer the post-comp version because it is faster, but if you want to take advantage of the immersion than consider the original.
Its appearance is a simple beige (or white if you play the original) page with a multiple-choice format, just like taking a test. I am not sure about design limitations in Desmos software, but the game could have greatly benefitted with some visuals, particularly photographs of locations. This visual aid would alleviate some of the repetitiveness in the gameplay while also staying true to its focus on learning about Canadian geography.
Is it educational? Sort of. Not in terms of understanding trade and economics, but it does sprinkle some Canadian history and culture into the gameplay. The education part comes from each main stop having a landmark of Canadian culture for the player to experience such as going fishing at Grand Rapids. This was a clever idea, though there is not much meat on the bones in terms of content. And if you use the handy supplemental map, it gives you a basic familiarity with geography. If anything, it is more of a sight-seeing simulator than an educational tool.
The game does have strong points. There are multiple endings, and the gameplay is bug free. The author makes up for some deficiencies with genuinely helpful supplemental materials. The downside is that the gameplay is nothing remarkable. Nonetheless I still think it is worth a try. If anything, give it a go because it is something new.