Common Sense Review
Updated April 2016

Little Alchemy

Flex alchemical muscles in discovery-based puzzler
Common Sense Rating 3
  • Mix elements to create all new items.
  • Players begin with only four elements: fire, water, air, and earth.
  • Play right in your Web browser or download the app versions.
  • Right-click to learn more about a created element, and then share it online.
  • Rack up achievements.
Tons of fun, allows for extensive experimentation, and can fit into a variety of classes.
Wasn't designed for classrooms, so teachers need to get creative. Kids likely will need hints.
Bottom Line
While it won't teach much out of the box, Little Alchemy can be a great way to amp up the fun and build interest in math, science, history, and even literature.
Caryn Swark
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

A simple, addictive game, Little Alchemy sucks players into mixing and matching elements to try to create new ones. The logical and humorous combinations keep players engaged.

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

Critical thinking, creativity, and a sense of humor help players do well in this game. Content is sparse, but framing gameplay as a learning experience leads to lessons in factoring, scientific history, and critical thinking.

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

Little Alchemy doesn't need a lot of support because it's an intuitive game about experimentation and creation, but there's a built-in hint system, and guides and wikis are available if players get really stuck.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Little Alchemy lends itself well to a number of subjects, but it isn't meant to teach any particular one. Teachers could have students assign a prime number to each of the four basic elements before they play, then work backward to make factor trees for the items they created (you can always see what went into each element by right-clicking it in the bank screen). Teachers can also latch on to elements such as minotaur, sphinx, and pirate, discuss how they were created in the game, and then extend that to literature or history lessons.

Although the combinations of elements aren't scientifically accurate, they would provide a good starting point for discussing how what's represented in the game -- or actual elements -- do combine scientifically. Students could analyze the difference between, for example, how an atomic bomb is made in the game (by combining energy with an explosion) with how it's actually created and why the game designers may have chosen these simplified elements as representative of the actual scientific process. There are also opportunities to discuss symbolism in literature and language: At first, elements are more concrete, but over time players discover more metaphorical ideas such as love, time, sickness, and death. Teachers could have students extend these ideas, talking about why Little Alchemy equates these concepts with specific elements; students can even make their own combinations and perhaps even their own games.

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What's It Like?

Little Alchemy is a puzzle game available on the Web, iOS, Chrome, and Android. Players start with four basic "elements" -- water, fire, air, and earth -- on the right side of the screen. Players can then drag and drop these elements to the workspace on the left, combining them pair by pair. When the correct elements are combined, they create a brand-new element; there's generally a logical, if not always a scientific, reason for the combination. For example, mixing water with air creates rain, and mixing rain with earth makes plants. The element combinations often add a dose of humor, such as mixing a wild animal with time to make a sloth or a human with a (sine) wave to make a surfer. Every time an element gets created, it gets added to the collection column on the right and can be used to make new combinations and elements. The concept might sound simplistic, but it's a highly addictive experience. It's easy to lose minutes or hours figuring out new combinations and discovering new elements. The game has recently been updated with sharper graphics and additional elements, bringing the total to 560. Players can right-click on elements to learn the ways they can be created and aim to complete achievements. There are also random built-in hints to help players when they inevitably get stuck.

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Is It Good For Learning?

On its own, Little Alchemy encourages kids to think creatively and critically, trying to predict which combinations might create new elements. While students won't be learning real science, their thinking will be challenged. Students are completely in control, and it sets up a good basis for discussions of how things –- numbers, elements, chemicals –- combine in real life, not to mention some more abstract but interesting discussions of why combining certain elements results in others (for example, why does combining two people give you the element love instead of hate, fear, or community?). It'll require some teacherly help to get kids thinking in this way, though. Still, Little Alchemy provides an absorbing and interesting launchpad for creative teachers and students.

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