DragonBox ‘Big Numbers’ Makes Math Addictive

DragonBox Big NUmbers

DragonBox is back with a new app to get your kids hooked on addition and subtraction: Big Numbers.

In case you’re new to DragonBox, it’s a company from Norway that burst onto the scene a few years ago with an app that teaches algebra in a truly innovative way—I still recommend it as one of the best math-based apps I’ve ever seen. Since then, there have been a few other apps, teaching geometry and simple number skills. The latest release is Big Numbers, and it’s a sort of world-building game that brings in the Nooms (from the Numbers app) and gives them various places to work and play. It’s $7.99, and is available from the Apple App StoreGoogle Play Store, and Amazon. For teachers, there’s a version that will allow you to give access to your students—click here for more about DragonBox EDU.

DragonBox Big Numbers
Pick apples, add them to your stash.

The app starts off pretty simply: there’s a tree, and apples are growing (rather rapidly) on it. When you pick the apples, they go up to your inventory—but they don’t get added to your total until you tap them, at which point you get to add up the apples. In the screen above, I had four apples and I picked 3 more. You drag all the apples down to the sum section—once they’re all there, the “window” closes and the app lets you trace the number “7” to finish it up.

DragonBox Big Numbers
Drag and drop to add.

Meanwhile, there’s a grey Noom standing near the apple tree, and he’s asking for 5 apples. If you give him the apples, he starts digging away—and when the countdown finishes, he’s got a big present. (Spoiler: it’s another apple tree.) But what do you do with all these apples, anyway?

DragonBox Big Numbers
The world is waiting to be completed.

Well, there’s an eggplant character in another part of the world who also wants apples—and he’ll turn them into crystals. Fill in the shape with crystals, and it unlocks another section of the world: now you can sell apples for gold coins, or spend them to get into the rock quarry, where you tap on big boulders to break them into small rocks. Collect those, and you get some more addition problems—and you’ll find that there are other Nooms out there who need rocks.

DragonBox Big Numbers
Eventually you’ll be adding and subtracting numbers with several digits.

As you play, the addition and subtraction problems will take on other forms: sometimes you drag and drop the objects, and sometimes you’ll just get numbers, and you write the answers yourself. (If you wait too long or give the wrong answer enough times, the app will prompt you with hints.) When you get 10 of something, you’ll bundle those up into a batch, like a bag of apples or coins—and so on. If you’re subtracting and you need to “borrow” the 1 from the next column, the app shows you what’s going on conceptually by having you open up a bag of 10 apples.

There are several sections of the world to unlock: the first requires 6 crystals, then 5 crystals, and so on. And as you play, the cost of the crystals (and other things) starts to increase, but so does your production. When you first start the game, you’ll look at something that costs 2 coins and wonder how you’ll ever be able to afford it. By the end, you’ll be spending hundreds of coins in one transaction.

DragonBox Big Numbers
Which is the better deal?

Early on, the transactions are fairly simple, and the exchange rate doesn’t change. Later, there are Nooms who will give you more than one offer to choose from: do you want to sell 2 ice creams for 9 coins, or 1 ice cream for 12 coins? I like the way that this concept is introduced later—now you’re doing some comparison shopping, and not only are you doing arithmetic, but you’re making some decisions about what’s a better deal.

I don’t want to give away too much, since a lot of the fun of Big Numbers is the exploration and discovering what each new world will bring. The app allows for up to four profiles, so a few kids (and you!) can each have your own world to play around in. There is a little bit of a farming aspect to it, in that you’ve got to wait for the apples to grow so you can collect them, and the amount of time a Noom has to dig or build to unlock things tends to get longer as you progress through the game. However, unlike Farmville and games like it, there are no in-app purchases to spend real money to speed things up—you just wait for it, or come back later when the apples are ripe again.

Like Farmville, Big Numbers can get pretty addictive, simply because you want to see what the next thing is. You’ll want to keep checking on your apple trees, or whether the Noom is done digging, and so on. Okay, yeah, I may have played a bunch after my kids were in bed, and then used my older kids to farm apples and rocks for me over the weekend. But, you know, it was research, so I could explore the entire world before writing it up, right? I can confirm that it will take several hours of play to unlock all of the available areas—and that’s if you can add and subtract quickly. My three-year-old will certainly spend longer doing the math problems and tracing the numbers than I did. And DragonBox already has an expansion in the works, so there will be even more to explore in the future.

Although I didn’t find Big Numbers as innovative as Algebra, it’s definitely effective and a lot of fun. It’s a fun way to get kids to do “real world” math while playing a game, and getting them thinking about transactions. The recommended age is 4 to 9, but both my 10-year-old and my 13-year-old were enjoying watching me play and setting up their own worlds as well, though the math problems were much simpler for them. If you’ve got kids who are learning addition and subtraction (or could use some repeated practice to solidify their skills), check out DragonBox Big Numbers!

Disclosure: I was provided a free download of this app for review purposes.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.