Review by Caryn Lix, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2016

Little Alchemy

Flex alchemical muscles in discovery-based puzzler

Subjects & skills
  • Math
  • Science

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Tons of fun, allows for extensive experimentation, and can fit into a variety of classes.

Cons: Not designed for classrooms, so teachers need to get creative, and 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.

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 to represent 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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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 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 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.

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.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

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 Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

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 Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

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.

Common Sense Reviewer
Caryn Lix Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 3 reviews) (3 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Megan M. , Other
Sugar Creek Elementary
Fort Mill, United States
Create your own unicorn and zombie with Little Alchemy
I think it is a fun and addictive game. You quickly find yourself lost in it while you create a unicorn, zombie, or simply outer space. While I didn't directly teach the game to my students, I did need to circulate and expose some students to a few of the features. Some of the computers in my lab would save previous students' progress and students needed to know how to reset the game. I'm always looking for the next, new game to show my students and this was one they enjoyed - at school and home.
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