Product Review of The Pack – NYSCI
Made by the New York Hall of Science, The Pack – NYSCI is a coding/algorithm puzzler in the form of a game where players take care of and expand an ecosystem. Set on the world of Algos, where water and food are scarce, the game challenges players to locate seeds and expand water resources to help fix the environment. Despite the dystopian-sounding premise, the graphics are beautiful, and players have no time limit for completing levels, allowing for free exploration. They can’t venture too far from water sources, however. For that, they need help; members of their Pack can travel to dry areas.
Players start alone, but as they gather food, they’ll soon encounter potential members of their Pack. By feeding these beings food, the beings join the Pack. Each type of being has a special skill that can be used, alone or in combination, such as digging up seeds, moving boulders, grabbing items, or repeating instructions, all of which take additional food. Food regularly replenishes itself, so if players run out, there’s always more to gather. After a player’s Pack includes more than one type of member, players can create algorithms where members of the Pack do tasks in combination to solve more complex problems.
There’s a mini-map on the screen as you play, and there’s a larger map where players can see the whole explored world, helping with navigation and planning. Players tap and drag the screen to move around, but the interface is a bit clumsy, and it’s hard to move with any finesse. Also, it’s easy to lose track of an algorithm already in progress that players have forgotten to end. Options to access, edit, or stop algorithms that are still running are difficult to find in the game. The game includes a screen with player achievements and a travel log, keeping track of the stats.
Educators can use The Pack – NYSCI in science, logic, or programming classes. The app has six saved game slots, so learners can share devices, or they can work together to solve the game’s challenges. The game includes three difficulty levels, but players new to the game should begin on Easy to become familiar with the premise, game controls, and options. The game includes a lot of visual details, and many of the food items look very similar in shape and color, so it’s best played on larger screens, such as tablets or computers.
Educators should play the game themselves before having learners play so that they can help learners when they get stuck — or answer any questions. If learners have no previous coding experience, a quick primer on designing algorithms would be helpful.
Keep in mind that the game includes the ability to test an algorithm before committing food resources to running it, but it only shows players the order in which the Pack members will carry out their abilities; it doesn’t run the test in the world itself. Remind players to end an algorithm (if they don’t need it to keep running) before moving on, so that they have those members of their Pack to use for the next algorithm.
The Pack – NYSCI teaches combinational and computational thinking, encouraging novel solutions and allowing for more than one way to solve problems. Its open-ended nature will appeal to learners who like to explore.
There are few instructions on how to play the game; learners must intuit most of what to do. There’s the occasional bit of guidance, reminding players to keep looking for seeds or suggesting which Pack members might be helpful in the next algorithm. There are no instructions for how to construct the algorithms, however, so players with no coding experience might use up quite a bit of food while experimenting. But there’s always more food to gather, so they can keep trying. Frequently used algorithms can be saved/named for future use.
While this game is great for middle and high schoolers, younger learners might have difficulty figuring out what they’re supposed to do without a lot of guidance. The game would be improved with a better movement mechanic and additional explanations of what each of the Pack members can do. Educator resources could extend the learning outside the game.
Overall User Consensus About the App
This visually appealing game puts players in control, allowing them to explore the ecosystem without a time limit, with plenty of flexibility for how to solve puzzles.
Curriculum and Instruction
Learners must figure out what problems there are to be solved, then take basic building blocks and arrange them to solve the problems. There’s some trial and error, but savvy learners will catch on quickly.
There are only minor in-game hints/instructions that players must piece together themselves. There’s an online “tips and tricks” guide, but more Pack member description and rules for algorithms in the app would help.