Aa, ag, qi, pa, xi, ti. These are words. Tiny little words. They’re mostly innocuous. You’ve probably never even heard of most of them. Why would you? They’re pithy and generally irrelevant in day to day life. Unless you’re a serious Scrabble player. Then they become weapons. Tiny little daggers in which to eviscerate your opponents and carve out your position on the board for those delectable double and triple word score bonuses. They are invaluable to the serious Scrabble player and the bane of more casual players. What if there was a game that shunned the concise and appealed to the verbose? What if there were a game for the rewarded you dropping a 12 letter word bomb instead of three letter word firecrackers? Welcome to Wordsy.
How It Plays
Wordsy is played over a series of eight rounds in which players will write down the highest scoring word that they can come up with. Once a player is the first to have written down a word, they flip the sand timer and all other players will have 30 seconds in which to write down their words after which, scores will be tabulated for all the words written.
Every round, a 2 x 4 grid of letters cards is placed on the table. Each column designates the letters to have a value of 2-5. Your word will earn points for every letter according to its corresponding value. It is OK to use letters that are not showing, but those letters will earn no points. Additionally, if you were the first player to write your word down, you’ll get a bonus point if you manage to have the highest scoring word for the round. If you weren’t the first player, but outscore that player for the round, you’ll get bonus points as well. If a written word is not an actual word, it scores no points.
When the round ends, 4 of the letter cards are replaced and a new round begins. Whoever was first that round is given the no flip card and is not allowed to flip the timer in the following round. At the end of the game, players will eliminate their two lowest scoring words and add together their remaining word scores to determine the winner.
The Trouble with Trouble
I remember a childhood summers where temperatures nearing 115 would force us inside. When television or video games would inevitably loose its iron grip on our attentions we would turn to the stack of mass market board games in the closet. Trouble, Sorry, Monopoly and, my personal favorite, The Grape Escape were mainstays in our household. And while I had fun with them at the time, I can’t ever imagine going back to them now. They were children’s toys meant to keep kids out of their parents’ hair for an hour or two. If the bright primary colors weren’t a clue to this fact, the reliance on dice and luck would certainly convince you. There was no real challenge. They were time wasters and I had plenty of time to waste.
But even as a kid there were the games that I knew to be adult. Not that type of adult, but games for grown-ups. And of those games, Scrabble stood out as the most grown up. It had words and words are for smart people, AKA adults. It was distinguished and refined in the way that crossword puzzles were. I didn’t dare approach it in my youth and I never got around to it as I grew older. Then came along Words for Friends, an unabashed Scrabble clone that allowed me to flex my lexicographical muscle against hundreds of my closest Facebook friends. I was hooked.
After a few weeks of play, I began to realize that board presence was was vital to winning Words with Friends and so was knowledge of obscure 2 letter words in order to squeeze into the nooks and crannies. My interest waned. I didn’t want to spend my time memorizing charts of words I wanted to be flashy, I wanted to show off! To me, there’s nothing more flashy than dropping all 7 of your letter tiles in a single move. It’s bold, audacious and it makes a statement. Wordsy repeats that moment over 10 to 15 minutes and, for the most part, it works.
Wordsy taps into the appeal of the big word. It’s the same rush that kept me swiping away at SpellTower for so long. Big words are just more fun than little ones. By not restricting your letter choice, Wordsy opens the floodgates for the longest words you can think of. So what’s to stop you from writing down antidisestablishmentarianism every round? For starters, words cannot be used in subsequent rounds and that applies to all players. But most importantly, the scoring criteria as dictated by the letter grid makes it so that word choice is more important that pure word length. With 8 available scoring letters, it is in your best interest to think of a word that has as many of those words as possible. Having no limit on your letters gives you the freedom to deep dive into your mental word bank, while the scoring keeps you focused on the goal. It balances an open game space with with scoring constraints.
Word games, in my experience, tend to appeal to a certain type of people. Game designers have tried to rope in people with an aversion to word games by layering all sorts ideas on top whether it be area control, deck building, or bananas. Wordsy adds a speed element. If there’s anything more divisive than word games, it’s speed games. I have nothing against either and given the structure of the game, some sort of time element is needed to keep the game from stalling out. Just let it be known that the if you have issues with word games or speed games, Wordsy won’t change your mind on either front.
Wordsy rewards fast play with points. If you’re the fastest and have the best word, you get some points. If you’re not the fastest but manage to have the best word, even more points. It introduces a hurried tension to the game that I welcome. Rushing to be first can make you sloppy. It means you might overlook that perfect word. It means you might lose out on points. It also introduces a time constraint on your opponents so they begin to feel the same pressures. It’s not a huge pressure since the bonus points are relatively minor. 1 to 2 points per round. But it’s just enough to possibly swing the game and introduces just the right amount of tension.
My biggest gripe with the game comes in the form of the no flip card. If you write your word first in a round and flip the timer, you receive this card and are not allowed to flip the timer the next round and are ineligible for the first player bonus. Even though you can still get the bonus for having a better word the the person who flipped the timer, it still feels as if you’re being punished for being quick. Flipping the timer isn’t just a means to set yourself up for bonus points, it’s also the method for direct interaction with the other players. Flipping the timer turns the screws on everyone else to come up with a word. It’s your declaration to everyone that they need to put it out on the table. I understand why the no flip card is in the game. It’s meant to reign in the player that’s clearly quicker than everyone else and give them a chance at being first. I can see how it would be frustrating to play with someone who’s much better than you, but you know what? If they’re better, they should win! Ultimately, it’s a philosophical debate and one that I can overlook because of the short playing time and slightness of the experience overall.
(The no flip card also dissuades someone from writing whatever comes to a person’s mind and flipping the timer as quick as possible regardless of their score. The real solution to this problem is don’t play with who don’t respect the spirit of the game.)
Aside from that, there are clever bits of design in this little game. Half of the letter cards remain from round to round, though they are shifted to the lower scoring columns. As I probe my mind for words, I find that I latch onto certain letters and run permutations of it through my head. Since those letters stick around for a bit, it’s not a complete wipe and there’s a bit of an anchor point for me to grasp onto. And the end game scoring has you eliminate your two lowest scoring words (though you keep the speed bonuses) which is a good way of handling those inevitable moments when you a draw a blank.
Wordsy is a stripped down word game that delivers on its title. It’s not a world changer, but it’s certainly entertaining and sure to please the word game fans out there.
Review copy provided by Formal Ferret Games.