Long time fan of the show Brian is wondering if there are any good word games out there. Brian is in luck because there are a sold number of very good word based boardgames.
Brian Kurtz asks,
“Are there any good word-based games out there besides Scrabble? In your opinion, is this even a category? Does it include word-guessing games like Taboo or Charades or word-defining games like Balderdash?”
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There are some great word-based games and don’t discredit mass market games.
Brian should be pleased to know that I think that word games definitely count as a category. There are plenty of mass market word games, like Scrabble, but there are also a significant number of hobby or designer board games that use words as a major part of their gameplay. While there may not be a ton of word games out there and they are often overshadowed by the latest miniature game or some hot new deck builder or civilization game, there are plenty of great hobby word games to be had. There is enough variety out there that I’m pretty sure they cover all the game types Brian mentions above; word spelling, word guessing and word-defining games.
A slight diversion to talk about mass market vs. “hobby” games. I just want to point out that there’s nothing wrong with many of the mass market games that are out there. This seems to be especially true as far as word games are concerned. I’m personally a fan of many of them. I think this is an important thing to note for the hobby overall, not just for word games.
Just because a game isn’t sold in mass market stores, is from a famous game designer, features that game designer’s name on the cover, and is considered a hobby board game, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a better game. Similarly just because I can pick up a game at Walmart, Target or even my closest Shoppers Drug Mart, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad game. This seems to be especially true of Word games. Word games seem to have much more universal appeal than many other types of games and seem to have more market penetration.
Below I’m going to list some of what I think are the best word-based games out there, starting with some classic favourites you should be able to find almost anywhere.
There are some great mass market word games!
Scrabble – This one is a true classic. Unlike many older popular games, this one hasn’t been broken by things like families passing down house rules for generations. Scrabble has always been and still is a very solid game. My only real beef with Scrabble is playing against people (or AI opponents digitally) that have the entire Scrabble Dictionary memorized and like to use all those two letter words that I’ve never heard of for maximum scoring potential.
Upwords – Upwards was my wife’s favourite word game growing up. She was the one that introduced me to it. It has a lot of similarities to Scrabble. Besides not having special scoring spots on the board, the big difference from Scrabble is that you can put letters on top of existing letters. This gives you way more options and ways to play your tiles. Scoring is also much simpler, being based on the number of tiles used and how high they are stacked and not which letters are used.
Boggle – Of the games mentioned so far, this is my personal favourite. Shake up the letter dice then rush to spell as many words as you can, only scoring the words that no one else has guessed. It’s this last bit that is the killer part of Boggle. Easy to spot and spell words are often guessed by all players and thus aren’t actually worth any points. Personally I prefer to play this one digitally, where you can click or just tap on the letters you want to use or type out the words you find.
Quiddler – In this game players are given a hand of letter cards and must try to spell a word. If they can’t form a word with their hand they discard a card and draw a new one, giving up their turn. The neat bit here is that the game starts off with a hand of three letter cards and continues to go up by one card each round. Thus requiring players to spell bigger and bigger words as the game ramps up. It reminds me a bit of the trick taking game Wizard in that way.
Tapple – This is the most gimmicky game on my list. Tapple features this big frisbee looking thing with letters all around the edge and a big red button in the middle. You pick a category then pass the disc to the first player, they have to say a word that matches the category and then press in that letter. That player then passes the machine to the next player who has to say another word tied to the category but using a different letter. As the Tapple disc gets passed around fewer and fewer letters are available. At the same time, the thing has a countdown and if you don’t pick a letter quick enough a buzzer goes off. If the buzzer goes off on your turn you are eliminated.
You can usually find these great word games at educational toy stores.
Word on the Street – This is a rather unique word game where letters are placed on a board representing a street. The letters start on the median in the middle of the road. A keyword card is drawn and teams try to say words that match the keyword. When a team selects a word, they get to move all the letters in the word toward their side of the street. If a team can get eight letters off the street they win.
Kerfuddle – While I didn’t play Kerfuddle myself, this game was hugely popular at a recent wedding I attended. During that event, I saw multiple groups playing the game through the night and I didn’t see this game get put away until the evening was over. Based on what I read of the game, it sounds to me like an advanced version of Boggle without the gird and with some card play that changes how each round works as well as a die that determines the minimum length of words for that round.
Bananagrams – In Bananagrams tiles are spilled out onto the table and split between the players. Players must then use those tiles to make a crossword. It has a lot of similarities to Scrabble but without the pain of figuring out scoring, instead, it’s a race to use up all of your tiles before your opponent. The game also includes a bunch of a variant ways to play, with even more easily found online. One of the highlights of Bananagrams is that it requires no pencil, paper or board to play.
Designer or hobby world games are also a thing.
Pictomania – This one is from Vlaada Chvatil and is a “gamer version” of Pictionary. Instead of one player drawing at a time, all of the players are drawing at once. While drawing players are also betting on which opponent is drawing what. The secret here is that everyone is drawing from the same very limited set of words each round. What this does is allow for actual deduction and tactics when playing.
Knit Wit – I call this one the Venn diagram word game. Players put out a number of spools, those are looped with various coloured threads. Attached to each thread is a word. It’s up to players to come up with a word or sentence for each spool that applies to every thread surrounding that spool. It sounds simple enough but coming up with something for all spools can be very tough. Once all but one of the players has finished everyone has to stop, so there’s also a rather unforgiving timed element to Knit Wit.
Hardback – This is a deck building game. Players start off with a basic set of letters and two random letters (giving the game some asymmetry). Players form words with their cards and get currency used to buy new and better letters and thus create higher scoring words. This is actually a reimplementation of another game called Paperback. The main change between Paperback and Hardback is that in Hardback cards can come from one of four book genres. If you play cards from the same genre when spelling a word then a special ability goes off. This mechanic will be familiar to people who have played some other deck building games like Star Realms.
Train of Thought – In this game, players try to get other the players to guess a word giving only a three word clue where one of those three words must be from a prior answer. For each clue, each player can make one guess. If none are correct the clue giver comes up with another clue using one of the other player’s guesses and up to two other words. In this way, the clues chain together, thus the train theme.
Codenames – In this team based game, a grid of cards is laid out and lead players on each team are trying to get their team members to select all of their cards while not picking the opposing teams cards and while also avoiding the assassin card, which when picked causes that team to lose instantly. Clues given are one word or a short sentence and the number of cards on the field that apply to that clue. This is one of the best modern word based party games out there and is much easier to understand once you actually see it being played. It has the added bonus of being able to play almost any sized group (ignore the player count on the box) and that there are a number of different editions available in a variety of themes.
Letter Tycoon – This is another card driven game where you get cards representing individual letters and play them to spell words. The neat bit here is that this is combined with a stock based economic game. Players score points and stocks for forming words and then can use the money they gain to patent one letter in the word they made. In the future, if any other player uses that letter then the patent owner earns money. In the end, it’s all about who has the most money. This is the most gamey word game I’ve played and I love it.
Just One – This is the new hotness when it comes to word based games. It’s not one I’ve personally played but it’s on my wishlist. In this game, all but one player knows the goal word. Everyone else has to take that word and write down a clue. The clues are compared and any duplicate clues are removed. The player then has to try to guess the word with the clues that are remaining. This one sounds fantastic and I just keep hearing more and more positive buzz about it online.
Letter Jam – This is another word game that I haven’t personally tried but that I wanted to include on the list because it’s unique. What’s unique about Letter Jam is that it is a cooperative word game. Players work together to form meaningful words from the cards spread around the table. Letter Jam completes this by using the Hanabi mechanic where players can’t actually see the letter card they are personally holding. Players, in turn, say how long a word they can spell with the letters they can see. Then there’s a bit with placing tokens and indicating which position in the word each player has, and in the end players have to try to guess which letter they are holding. It sounds rather fascinating to me and I would love to see this game being played.
Werewords – The Werewolf/Mafia word game. Players try to guess a secret word through the clue giver answering yes or no questions. The group tries to figure out the word before time is up. The trick is that one of the players is secretly a werewolf who is working against the team and they already knows the word. Even if the team isn’t able to guess the word, they can still win if they correctly identify the werewolf, which means the werewolf can’t be too obvious. The game also includes other roles, taking from the normal Werewolf game.
Trapwords – This is a team based word game that is an evolution of Taboo. The big twist in Trapwords is that the opposing team is the one that picks which words you can’t use. So your team has no idea which words are the traps and what to avoid. Trapwords also adds an interesting fantasy theme to the mix, though it doesn’t seem to affect play all that much. If you are looking for a next step game from Taboo this would be it.
Do you like to play word-based games? What’s your favourite? Did it make my list? Do you have a game that you think should have been on this list that I missed? Let me know in the comments!