One category of games that has been popular for a very long time is Word Games. While there are some great mass market games out there that everyone knows, like Scrabble, Scategories and Boggle, today I want to highlight some lesser-known word games. We will be looking at a mix of mass-market games and games that are limited to the hobby supply chain.
Word Games can be perfect for a gaming event or party where there’s a mix of gamers and non-gamers present. So here is a list of what I think are the best word-based party games.
Uncle Rico is looking for some word driven party games:
Today’s topic comes from an unusual source. While I normally get questions all the time through the firstname.lastname@example.org email address or by people clicking on Ask The Bellhop at the top of the webpage, today’s question comes from a new source.
Uncle Rico tagged my @Tabletop_Deals Twitter account to ask:
“@Tabletop_Deals any good word based party game recommendations?!? I LOVE Decrypto”
@Tabletop_Deals is a Twitter account where we share deals on board games, card games, miniatures, gaming accessories, RPGs and more. It’s not where I usually answer gaming questions.
That’s not going to stop me though, so below you will find my recommendations for word-based party games.
I limited my choices to games that involve words in some way, word guessing games, spelling games, etc. I also specifically picked games that played with higher player counts. For example, A Little Wordy, which we reviewed recently, is a great quick word game but it’s two-player only, so I didn’t put it on this list.
I also specifically looked for games that are social and get people interacting and having fun together. While Scrabble may be the world’s most popular word game, staring at letters and looking at a board trying to figure out how to maximize your points, isn’t what I call a party.
For a more in-depth look at this topic, be sure to check out Episode 140 of the Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast – What’s in a Word?
What are the best word-based party games?
The following list is in no particular order.
Codenames – When talking about party games, this is one case where I’m going to actually recommend the base game of Codenames over the cooperative Codenames Duet version. While Duet works great as a team game with two or three players per team it falls apart after that. Once you get to higher player counts the original Codenames is the way to go.
This is a game you can really play with any number of people as long as they can see the cards on the table.
For those that don’t know this game, it’s a team based word guessing game where code givers are trying to get members of their team to guess specific words in a grid of cards on the table before the other team guesses their own, different, set of words, with both teams trying to avoid the dreaded assassin word.
Trapwords – This is another team based word game that is also from CGE, the same publisher as Codenames. One unique part of this game is that it’s a word game with a dungeon crawl theme.
Teams advance through the dungeon by guessing clue words given by members of their own team. The twist in Trapwords is that the other team gets to set a number of trapped words, if your team uses one of those words while trying to guess a clue the trap goes off and you fail to advance through the dungeon.
There is also a system of curses that act as a catch-up mechanic as well as end game boss fights with additional limitations added to gameplay. If your team manages to get to the boss monster and defeat them before the end of the game they win.
This one sounds more complicated than it actually is and ends up being rather simple to play once everyone is on the same page.
You can read more about this word game in our Trapwords review.
Taboo – Taboo is obviously the game that inspired Trapwords and while I personally would rather play Trapwords, I can’t discredit Taboo as a great word game.
Where Taboo differs from Trapwords is that the words you can’t use are on the clue card and not determined by the opponent’s team. When playing this I’m always shocked by how hard it is to come up with clues while not using any of the taboo words.
While I prefer Trapwords, this word guessing game is much more accessible to a broader range of players and better for non-hobby gamers.
Balderdash – This classic game from the 80s is still a ton of fun today. Part of that is because at some point they updated the rules with the release of Beyond Balderdash. This new version became so popular that it replaced the original and now every version of Balderdash you can buy is actually a copy of Beyond Balderdash.
This is a game where everyone gets an obscure word and has to write down their own definition for that word. Then everything is shuffled up and players vote for the definition they think is correct including the actual dictionary definition.
While there’s a bit of a meta game here in writing down definitions that sound like they come from the game, and the game doesn’t work all that great with younger kids or with people with limited vocabularies, I still have fun playing this classic.
Bananagrams – When I started making this list I didn’t think I would be mentioning Banangrams. I always think of this game as being a great two-player or low player count game and was surprised to see that it actually plays up to eight players.
Now I will admit I haven’t tried it myself with that many players. However, I do dig this quick tile-laying game and am willing to admit that it might play well as a party game. It plays a lot like Scrabble, except that players are taking letters from a central word pile and making their own crossword of completed words.
Medium – This is one of my favourite games on this list. One issue with Medium is that we’ve found it to be best at a maximum of six players through you can play with eight. The problem is downtime between turns. Each pair of players is going to play up to three guesses and that can take a while to get around the table with the higher player counts.
This is a game where players have a hand of cards and pick one to play face down in front of them with a partner. Then both players try to make a psychic connection and say the word that is the medium between the two words on their cards. They do this simultaneously and if they say the same word they win the round and get points.
If they fail to make a match they get a second chance but this time they are working off of the words that they just said and if they win they will get fewer points. If they fail again, they get a third shot using the words from their second guess.
Check out my Medium review for more information on this party game that gets us laughing every time.
Tapple – This is the most toyrific game on my list today.
Tapple features this rather large disc-shaped thing with a big button in the middle and a set of lettered switches around the outside. A category is drawn from a deck (we usually skip this and just come up with our own geeky categories like Star Trek Alien Species). Then the game turns into word-based hot potato.
When you get handed the Tapple disc you say a word that matches the category, press down the letter that word starts with and pass the toy on. You can only say words for letters that are still up and there’s a timer. Eventually, the game will buzz and the player currently holding the Tapple disc gets eliminated.
This simple gimmicky game is way more fun than it has any right to be and I love it.
Knit Wit – This is a two to eight player word game that really reminds me of Venn diagrams.
At the start of each round players place down a numbered spool and then place a string around it and clip a random word to that string. Each new string placed has to loop over the spool just placed but can also surround any number of other spools already on the table. In the end, you end up with a table of spools each of which is inside the loop of one or more strings.
Next, players need to come up with a word for each spool, and this word must fit all of the words tied to the strings that the spool is surrounded by.
While this one isn’t very highly rated and you don’t see it on many word game recommendation lists, I really dig it. I love trying to come up with words that fit multiple incongruous categories like Cute, Purple, and Sharp.
To me, this is the biggest hidden gem on this list.
Apples to Apples – In a game of Apples to Apples you start each round by drawing a random description card. Then every player secretly chooses the thing card from their hand that they think best matches that description. The active player gets to pick what they think is the best pairing. That’s pretty much it.
This classic word game has gone on to inspire any number of knock offs and variants including almost all of the popular white text on black background party games, many of which are NSFW. I personally have had way more fun with the original, where any “adult” connections are implied and not overt.
Train of Thought – In this sadly out of print game, two six word clue cards are drawn at the start of each round. One goes on the table and the other the clue giver keeps a secret.
A die is rolled and the conductor (the clue giver) looks at the two clues at that number both on their card and on the face up card. They then need to make a train of clues from the word on the face up card on the table to the word on the card in their hand.
They create the train by giving a three-word clue that has to include the face up word. People then guess the word. After the first guess, the clue giver gives another three word clue this time having to include at least one of the guessed words. This train of words continues until the timer runs out or the conductor gets someone to guess the destination word on their in-hand card.
Letter Jam – When working on this list I wasn’t sure if I was going to include Letter Jam or not. Once I realized just how few great word games I’ve played I decided to include it, despite the fact that it can be rather thinky and only plays up to six players.
Letter Jam is a mix of a spelling and a word guessing game and also includes deduction aspects.
In this cooperative game, players can’t see their own letter cards. Each round someone gives a clue word and players try to guess what that word is using the letters they can see, knowing only what order the letters in the clue go in.
In addition to guessing the clue, players are also working to figure out what their own personal letters are. At the end of the game if everyone can spell a word with their personal letters you all win.
Honourable Mentions, More Great Word-Driven Games:
The games below didn’t make the main list. For most of them, this is due to the fact I haven’t gotten to play them myself.
Just One – One of these days I’m going to get myself a copy of Just One or get to play it myself so I don’t have to keep tossing it into the honourable mentions section of these game recommendation lists.
This is a party game where one player is trying to guess a word and everyone else is giving clues, with the trick being that each clue given has to be unique. If two players give the same clue they cancel out.
This game sounds great. I have heard pretty much all positive things about this game with one caveat, I have heard that it may not work well when playing with younger kids due to them having a more limited vocabulary.
Decrypto – When Decrypto came out at cons back in 2018 there was a ton of buzz and, unlike many games, that buzz hasn’t completely died down.
This quick party game plays with up to eight players, broken into teams. Each round one player on each team is trying to pass on a secret code to their partners with the opponents getting a chance to potentially intercept that code between rounds.
This is another one I would love to try out at some point.
Werewords is basically a game of twenty questions, where one of the players is the werewolf who knows the answer and is trying to mislead the rest of the players. If players don’t guess the word before time runs out, they get one more final chance to win, by identifying the werewolf.
Honestly, I should give this one a shot at some point, it sounds like it’s different enough from Werewolf or Mafia and that I might actually enjoy it. What I will say is that there are a large number of people out there that love this game, and I know I’m the outlier when it comes to the original Werewolf game as well.
Spell Smashers – As implied by the name, this is another word based spelling game, where you combine letter cards to spell words.
What’s interesting in this game is that those words are used to battle monsters and acquire treasure. You get coins for damaging monsters and if you manage to defeat a monster you get more letter cards to use in future rounds. Between rounds, you can even go shopping in town.
This sounds like a rather fun word game, though without having played it I can’t tell you how much of a party element it has. It is only listed as playable with up to five players.
When I Dream – This dream-based game plays up to ten players in under 40 minutes. This is the most unique game on my list today.
In each round of When I Dream, one player is the dreamer who is blindfolded while other players play sprits. The spirits draw dream cards and give one-word clues describing their cards while the dreamer tries to guess what dream elements these represent.
After each round, you get a very improv storytelling element where the dreamer will now use the words guessed to tell the story of their dream. There are also some rules where there are different types of spirits and they have powers that can impact the gameplay.
This is another one that seems like it would make a lot more sense seeing it in person. The combination of word guessing and storytelling elements is really appealing to me.
Word on the Street – This is a lightning-quick, simultaneous play, team based word game where there’s a street board with most of the English consonants placed down the centre. Each round the team is given a category and sets a timer. For each word that they say before the timer runs out they move the letters in that word one step close to their side of the street. If they manage to get a letter off the board they claim it. The first team to claim eight letters wins.
All of the games above seem to me like they would be great party games. For a similar list of great word games without a focus on them also being party games, check out my 18 of the Best Word Based Board Games article or check out Episode 75 of The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast, Can I Have A Word?