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Brilliant game about integers, March 28, 2021
In Junior Arithmancer, we play a prospective student of magic doing an entrance examination in arithmancy, which is more or less the magic of the integers. More or less: the range of numbers is restricted to a finite interval, with overflows wrapping around; and the laws of magic turn out to have a curious in-built preference for the decimal system. Anyway, during the examination we are supposed to learn and then cast spells that add, subtract, multiply, and so on, in order to create specific sequences of numbers. Meanwhile, three examiners comment on our progress.
It is really only that last element that turns the game into a fiction: the comments of the examiners form a satirical story about university politics and cast severe doubt on the wisdom of trying to enter this particular academy. (Unless we like indoor swimming pools.) It’s fun, but there’s not much here, and if someone were to complain that Junior Arithmancer is hardly interactive fiction at all… well, I wouldn’t have a principled counterargument, although I certainly could point at similar puzzle games that are part of the IF canon.
Because it’s all about the puzzles. And if you like puzzles about numbers, then these ones are glorious. They’re brilliant. At first, the aim is to use your limited repertoire of spells to get as far as possible in recreating the given number sequences. Then, as your repertoire grows, it’s all about completing the sequences. And once you have all the spells at your disposal, you have to try to optimise your solutions and solve an entirely independent set of puzzles that are all about getting to a specific end point. (And about factorisation.) It’s great fun, and I think the difficulty scales up nicely: most(?) players will be able to get to a winning ending, and diehards can try to achieve a perfect score.
I’m a diehard, and I did get a perfect score.
Junior Arithmancer is certainly not a game for everyone. You have to like number puzzles. (I won’t say ‘mathematics’, because the puzzles are not really mathematics. If I had been required to prove that a certain sequence is the only one you can solve in three moves, that would have been mathematics. Equally glorious, but a lot harder to turn into a game.) But if you do, well, Mike Spivey has prepared a real treat for you. Highly recommended.