I’m not normally a big fan of word games and due to that I was very pleasantly surprised by Letter Jam, a cooperative word game from CGE.
Letter Jam isn’t all about who can come up with and spell the biggest words, rather it’s more about finding the right clues that provide just enough information to help out your fellow players, and I love that.
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What is the cooperative card game Letter Jam all about?
Letter Jam was designed by Ondra Skoupý and published by Czech Games Edition in 2019. This party game plays from two to six players with each game taking half an hour to an hour depending on how much deliberation time the players use coming up with clues or trying to decipher the clues given by other players.
Letter Jam is a cooperative word game where players are trying to figure out the letters they have in front of them while providing single word clues to the other players that will help them guess what letters they have.
After multiple rounds of clue giving, if all of the players not only figure out their letters but can also spell a word with them, then the entire group wins. If players run out of clues before everyone is able to do this, the group as a whole loses.
One thing that really impressed me about this game is the component quality which you can see for yourself in our Letter Jam unboxing video on YouTube.
I was impressed by everything that came in this box. The quality of the letter cards, the clarity of the rulebook and the fact that the game came with a full set of pencils for each player and a sharpener.
The most impressive bit by far though are the poker chip style counters for identifying each letter card’s place in your clue word. These are weighted chips, similar to the ones that came in the original printing of Splendor.
The production quality here is way above what you would expect from a card-based party game.
How is a game of Letter Jam the card game played?
A game of Letter Jam starts with each player taking part of the deck of letter cards and picking five that form a word then mixing up and passing those five cards to the player on their left. That player must not look at these cards and instead lays them out in front of them face down. They then take the first card and, without looking at it, place it in a plastic stand so that all of the other players can see what letter it is but they can’t.
When playing with less than six players you set up a small stack of cards for each missing player (the number of cards in each stack is based on how many players are playing). The top card from each of these non-player stacks is placed into a stand so that all of the players can see it.
In the end, every player should have one hidden card standing in front of them and be able to see five other letter cards, regardless of how many players you are playing with.
The wildcard and any remaining letter cards are placed in the centre of the table along with the appropriate flower card based on the number of players playing. Red and green markers are placed onto this card. One green token is also placed with each stack of non-player cards. The game says to put these underneath but we found it easier to just put them beside the stack.
Each player takes a worksheet and folds it in half so that the other players can’t see what you will be writing. This worksheet gives you a place to make notes and to write down the clues given each round. It also has a list of what letters are in the deck.
You won’t find less often used letters like J, Q, V, X or Z in the deck. If players want to use those letters when giving clues they will have to use the wildcard.
Once everyone is set up, players then decide who will give the first clue. This clue will be one word that can be spelt with all of the letters they can see.
There are a number of communication rules that come into play here. Players can state how long the word they have chosen is, how many players it helps but not which ones, how many non-player stands it uses, and whether or not it uses the wildcard. When coming up with a word it’s important to note it can be any length, even only two letters, any single letter can be used more than once. It’s also possible for multiple players (or the non-player stands) to have the same letter and the clue giver will decide how to allocate those, by either using one player’s letter more than once or by spreading them out.
Once the players decide who they think has the best clue, the clue giver takes the numbered tokens and places them one at a time to show which position each letter is in their clue. There are eight of these tokens included with the game, but players can give longer clues by using some other method to track the additional letters.
In addition to using letters they can see, players can also use the face-up wildcard in the centre of the table. The wildcard can be used each round as one single letter, which could come up in the clue multiple times.
Now that the clue tokens are out, everyone who has a token placed in front of their letter will write down what they know on their worksheet. They will then use that information to try and guess what the letter in front of them is. They don’t say this out loud but rather just note it on their worksheet. If they are confident they know what letter they have, they place that letter card face down on the table and place their next unknown letter face up in the stand in front of them (again being careful they don’t see what letter it is).
Each time a player gives a clue they have to take a token from the flower card in the centre of the table. When you give your first clue you have to take a red token, the green tokens cannot be taken until all of the red tokens are gone and red tokens must be evenly distributed between the players. This system makes sure that it’s not always the same players giving out clues every round. If at any point you run out of tokens, the game is lost.
At the end of each round, someone picks up all of the clue tokens and any non-player cards that were used in the last round get discarded and are replaced by new cards from the non-player decks. Whenever you deplete a non-player deck, the group earns another green token (thus getting them more clues overall). From that point on you will draw cards from the main deck for that non-player spot.
If at any point a player has guessed all of their letters, they then start each round by drawing a random card, which they don’t get to see, and placing that in a stand in front of them. If the player is able to guess what their new letter is, they place it face up in the centre of the table next to the wildcard. Going forward anyone can use that letter during a clue, but if this bonus letter is used it’s discarded at the end of the round.
If everyone has guessed they now use their worksheet to form a five-letter word out of their guesses and rearrange their cards to form that word. Then players reveal their cards and if everyone has a valid five-letter word in front of them they all win.
You can also make larger than five-letter words using the wildcard and any bonus letters still up at the end of the game, though each letter, including the wildcard, can only be used once.
There is also a scoring system included that I have to admit we didn’t pay much attention to.
Those are the rules for a game of Letter Jam at normal difficulty. To make things easier you can play with less than five letters, going as low as three, or you can make things more difficult by playing with as many as seven blind letters.
If you are looking for a party game with some weight and depth to it check out Letter Jam
I remember hearing a lot of hype for Letter Jam when it was first released back in 2019. Quite a few of the podcasters I listen to seemed to be rather smitten by it. Personally, as many of you know, I’m not a big party game fan. While there are a few I do enjoy, like Concept and Medium, most party games do not interest me. I also don’t really enjoy word games.
So, I thought a word-based party game wouldn’t be of much interest to me. However, a little while back I was talking to CGE about potentially reviewing one of their other games when they offered to send me both Letter Jam and Trapwords and I thought this would be a good chance to give the game a try (and I have to say I’m really glad I did).
As other reviewers before me have said, Letter Jam is a really solid cooperative party game experience. There are a number of things that make this game stand out from other party games and also from other word games.
First off, as already mentioned earlier in this review, the component quality is top-notch. Letter Jam is a card-driven party game. This is the kind of game that could easily have just been a pad of worksheets, a deck of basic cards, and some stands and cardboard counters.
Instead, they’ve gone all out by providing super high-quality cards, a full-colour worksheet, and some of the best poker-like chips I’ve seen in a board game.
The next thing that sticks out to me is the brilliance of the gameplay in Letter Jam. This game reminds me most of Hanabi, and like Hanabi, it does a fantastic job of using the concept of players having information that only the other players can see. Now in Letter Jam, it’s only one card at a time that you can’t see, unlike having to manage a full hand in Hanabi, but in this case, I think that’s perfect as trying to figure out five letters at once would be almost impossible.
My favourite part of Letter Jam is the clue system. I love everything from the way you give clues to the restrictions on what you can and cannot talk about. What I love most about this system is that the best clue often isn’t the longest word. A good clue leaves the guessing players with no doubt whatsoever over which letter they have in front of them. While this system does reward players with a big vocabulary, that vocabulary doesn’t have to be long, obscure, words.
In addition to this, the rules for what words you can and cannot use are the loosest I’ve ever seen in a word game. Basically, anything your group thinks is a word is a word. That can be a proper name, an abbreviation, or even the name of your favourite anime character. The words don’t even have to be in English (or whatever your native language is). The last time we played Sean managed to form a valid French word with his letters, and that counted for our final score.
Letter Jam is a lot thinkier than most other party games. It takes a good amount of thought to come up with good clues, especially ones that will help more than one other player and use up any non-player letters out there.
There can even be some long-term strategy used, where you know you can’t make a player completely sure of a letter in one clue but you can with two.
Along with this is the deduction required to guess your personal letters. You will be using the current clue, along with past clues, as well as knowing that certain letters aren’t on the cards and the fact that you know in the end you need to be left with letters that together spell something, to figure out what the letter in front of you must be.
Finally, I was very surprised to learn just how well this game plays even at low player counts. Most party games don’t really work when you only have two players, but this one worked surprisingly well. While I will admit the game felt quite different with only two players, it still worked. This is mostly due to the fact that no matter how many players you are playing with you will always see five letters in front of you through the use of non-player decks and stands.
I do have to admit that I preferred the game with more but I love having the option for Deanna and I to break this out for a board game date night.
Overall I was very impressed by Letter Jam from CGE. This is an extremely solid and impressive cooperative word-based party game. It features excellent components and surprisingly deep and engaging gameplay. I greatly enjoy the fact that this game rewards players for choosing clever clues and not just for being able to form the longest word they can. This is a very neat and surprisingly thinky group puzzle that is a ton of fun to play, whether you more or less win or not.
If you are a fan of word games, you really need to pick up Letter Jam. While Letter Jam is a bit on the complicated side and may intimidate non-gamers, I also think it would be a great game to play with fans of games like Scrabble or Boggle, though I recommend an experienced hobby gamer be the one to teach and introduce the game.
If you are looking for a heavier than usual party game Letter Jam would be a good choice. Letter Jam would also be a good choice for players who like word games but hate losing all the time to players with better vocabularies or those who have memorized official word lists.
If you hate word games of all forms and shapes, you can probably pass on this, though I would still suggest trying to play a demo game at some point, as Letter Jam just might win you over.
I’m always surprised when I find a word-based party game that I actually enjoy. Check out my review of Medium, for a look at another party game that surprised me in this way.
Do you enjoy party games? How about word games? What are your favourites? Let us know in the comments below.