Common Sense Review
Updated October 2013

Farm Blitz

Mixed-genre browser game sows fun, harvests financial literacy
Common Sense Rating 3
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 3
Pros
Match-3 game mechanics keep learners engaged even when bookended by tougher concepts.
Cons
Savvy gamers might find ways to ignore concepts and still achieve "Farm God" status.
Bottom Line
You'll be hard-pressed to find another free web-based game that offers this much fun on the way to financial literacy.
Marc Lesser
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Match-3 games are accountable for endless screen addictions, so "tending" the crop can become an obsession. Luckily, matching isn't all it offers, and tinkering with farm finances won't feel as forced as you might think.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

Despite narrator Kyra's constant coaching, even wonky concepts like compound interest don't feel force-fed, and players are given room to fail. As in life, "aha" moments that sink in deepest come from making mistakes.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Tips and tutorials play out during the start-up narrative and appear regularly as mouseovers on the money-management screens. Help is ample, but it's all text-based, so struggling readers might get frustrated.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Resist temptation to assign this as homework and make it more social. Like other content areas, financial literacy is one where concepts are better attended when students can chat, ask questions, and tap one another as research partners. Start by grouping them into threes (a thematic fit for the game) and have them rotate through roles as they play the game. One will record terms and concepts, one plays, and another will research confusing aspects of the onscreen info ("What's APR?"). After 30 minutes, introduce The Blitz Challenge. Based on their experience and research, teams create a Blitz of their own, mirroring the terminology, concepts, and challenges of the original, but rearranging them into a new analogy (think Sneaker Blitz). Students obviously won't program an entire game, but should put together a "pitch" for the class (consider making things like storyboards a requirement).

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What's It Like?

Farm Blitz is a mashup of game genres. On one hand, it's a casual match-3 game with a farmy backdrop—grain elevators and all—and on the other it's a serious financial literacy simulation in which players practice essential skills for managing money by experimenting with their agribusiness earnings. The great news for learners is that the game is highly playable thanks to the clever pairing of casual mechanics with more serious lessons. Gamers won't rush to buy it for mind-blowing visuals or an action-packed online collab experience, but they wouldn't have to. Blitz is a free, browser-based experience by the non-profit Doorways To Dreams Fund. It is but one in a series of titles (see Groove Nation) aimed at building the financial literacies of youth and adults.

At the outset of the game, players get a narrative walkthrough from Kyra, a friendly coach (uncertain how she got involved in family business) who pops in  throughout the game primarily to provide tutorials. Turns out Crazy Uncle Felix figuratively bought the farm and left his crops (primarily vegetables), orchards, and unpaid debt all to you! During each round, players purchase seeds to sow new crops that pop up in a familiar match-game grid. Pair three or more eggplant, tomato, or cabbage icons together and players earn cash for the farm. The catch: Buying the seeds causes debt, cleverly depicted by evil bunnies who can later eat up crops. Players must manage cash, savings, and debt to reach "Farm God" status and own the farm free and clear of its creditors.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Definitely. There are few financial literacy games with the potential to hook learners long enough to have the basic—but most crucial—lessons really sink in. Farm Blitz is one of them. And though it may seem shifty to use the contagiousness of match-3 games as a hook, most kids won't mind swallowing a little medicine when it tastes more like candy. Players who stick around for more than one round won't mind a bit that they're being exposed to ideas like APR, finance charges, and savings interest.

There's no voiceover for Kyra, the narrator, whose words appear in comics-style speech bubbles, nor any audio options for mouseover text that explains terminology (especially key in the simulation, where players are working to balance the books) so it's not a game for early or struggling readers. There are also moments where notices pop into view, like "high-interest short-term debt can get you into trouble," but no real explanation of what that means. But despite a few minor shortcomings—the Flash requirement might be red flag for some—Farm Blitz does an impressive job helping players experience the basics, not just hear about them.

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