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Subject: More options and easier scoring than Scrabble rss

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Upwords is a tile-laying word game by the makers of Scrabble. It's unique because you can stack letter tiles on top of existing tiles to change a word.

Contents:

Gameboard

100 plastic letter tiles
- 1 each of J Qu V X Z
- 2 each of K W Y
- 3 each of B F G H P
- 4 each of C
- 5 each of D L M N R T U
- 6 each of S
- 7 each of A I O
- 8 each of E

4 tile racks

The new edition, pictured in this review, is 10 x 10. Originally, the board was 8 x 8.

The 10 x 10 edition tiles are cream colored with maroon letters.


Setup:

Turn all of the letter tiles face down, and mix them around (or place them in a bag).

You'll need pencil and paper to keep score, and a dictionary to check any challenged words.

Each player takes a tile rack.


How to Play:

Each player draws 7 letter tiles, and places them in their letter rack.

The first player must make a word that covers at least one of the four textured squares in the center of the gameboard.

The four textured squares in the middle of the gameboard.


Words that are one tile high score two points for each letter in the word. "Cadet" is worth 10 points.


New words must connect to existing words, like in Scrabble. "Soot" is worth 8 points.


Letters can be stacked to create words, to a maximum of five tiles high. Once a letter has been stacked, each tile in that word is only worth one point. "Loot" is worth 5 points.


After making a word, you draw tiles to replace the ones you played, so that you have 7 again.

You have the option to pass or exchange a letter tile on your turn, in lieu of making a word.

The game ends when all of the letter tiles have been played, when no one can make a word, or when all of the players pass consecutively. Each tile still in your hand at the end of the game is -5 points.


Pros and Cons:

Most people are familiar with Scrabble, so you don't have to start from scratch.

The scoring is simpler than Scrabble - letters are worth 1 or 2 points each. You don't have to figure out a triple letter score and then a double word score.

The letter tiles fit onto the raised squares of the grid, so they stay in place.

The option to change a previous word takes some of the pressure off, and can make turns go faster. Tends to play faster than traditional Scrabble, with less AP and downtime.

The instruction booklet is brief, well written, nicely laid out, easy to reference, and useful.

The components are plastic, and nothing to write home about, but they are reasonably sturdy and well made. The dark teal of the 10 x 10 edition is an odd color choice, but is not terrible.


Conclusion:

I prefer Upwords to Scrabble because of its quicker gameplay and tiles that stack neatly. There's less pressure to make long and/or exotic words - making "horse" into "house" will do the job. It's affordable and readily available at retailers such as Target. A good game for holiday get-togethers with family and friends.
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Darrell Hanning
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Just to provide the proper perspective, I'm not a big fan of Scrabble. For one thing, I think the downtime is acutely painful - and I'm as guilty of it as anyone. For another, playing it well means playing the board tactically - not setting up others for the big scores, which, in turn, just means more downtime.

But in the two times I played Upwords, I felt like I was playing Scrabble...with training wheels. I thought it was too easy - not even a challenge enough to warrant investing the time in it. And what the stacking does, essentially, is only reward one-upmanship. (Granted, a player with an 'S' in Scrabble is imbibing in the same thing, but with a much lower frequency than one finds in Upwords.)

In other words, if I have to pick, I'm going to pick playing Scrabble every time, because as much as I'm not a fan of watching the grass grow, at least when it's my turn, I have to fire a few more synapses to fare well.
 
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Jeff Kunkel
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I think there's more to Upwards than you're seeing, Darrell. It requires skill to play well, just a different set of skill than Scrabble requires. Scrabble rewards those who can shoehorn their high scoring tiles into the static bonus squares. This can definitely be challenging. Whether or not it's an interesting or annoying activity is a matter of perspective.

Upwords rewards those who can see where on the board the most scoring potential is and how to best utilize those areas while denying them to your opponents. Since these areas change from game to game you have to be alert for them.

Also, Scrabble definitely rewards obscure word knowledge more than Upwords (since you have to do things like get your "X" in a word that hits the Triple Word Score), so if that's what you're after Upwords will not be satisfying. Upwords, in contrast, focuses more on clever tile placement and managing the tempo of the game. Capping a square can be a critical move, since it may prevent a word from being changed again. Knowing when to start stacking tiles is crucial since initially it will actually decrease the value of a word. Finding ways to modify TWO words with a single move can be huge if they both have enough stacked tiles.

If you play it like Scrabble, it will surely seem overly simplistic. It doesn't demand that you know all the words that begin with "Q" and are not followed by U, and you don't need to memorize all the three letter words you can make with an "X". It is the inferior game for showing off your vocabulary, but the better game for rewarding superior positional play.
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Jim "git yer stinkin' themes offa my mechanic" Puccio
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DarrellKH wrote:
But in the two times I played Upwords, I felt like I was playing Scrabble...with training wheels.

You really hit the nail on the head there. I've played Upwords more than a few times, but always found it very much in the shadow of its predecessor. There are excellent reasons why Scrabble is still the queen of positional word strategy games, and the yardstick by which all others continue to be measured, over 60 years after its invention.

I love word games, and try to play every one that crosses my path (if I can find people who want to play them), but most pale by comparison. A telltale sign of dumbing down, for lack of a better term, is when a game treats "Qu" as a single token, as Upwords does. It is both limiting (what about "faqir," for example?) and an insult to the player's intelligence.

I picked up Upwords and the Parker Brothers game Option back when they came out in the early '80s, and got vastly more enjoyment and replayablity out of the latter. Later in the decade, I was lucky enough to encounter WRDZ at my FLGS, an unfortunately now quite rare game that is something like a crosswordized version of XGhost. Now these are worthy successors to Scrabble, not just a couple more in a long line of bland wannabes.

All this notwithstanding, Upwords is still the game I thrift the most often, for very ghoulish reasons.
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Jeff Kunkel
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The Abstractionist wrote:
I love word games, and try to play every one that crosses my path (if I can find people who want to play them), but most pale by comparison. A telltale sign of dumbing down, for lack of a better term, is when a game treats "Qu" as a single token, as Upwords does. It is both limiting (what about "faqir," for example?) and an insult to the player's intelligence.


That's not dumbing down, it's reducing the impact of luck. Having a "Q" with no "U" severely reduces a player's options. Upwords is not about forming obscure words, it's about using the words you know in clever ways. The emphasis of the game is on positioning, not an impressive vocabulary. I suspect that's why Upwords is so often criticized by Scrabble fans - the word game is secondary to the positional game. It's just not about knowing how to spell "faqir" - any why should it be? We already have Scrabble for that.

There's no question that Scrabble is challenging of course. I just don't find it an interesting challenge. Wracking my brains to find a word in which an "X" or a "Z" is two spaces after an "A" or three spaces from an "S" so I can grab one of those Triple Word Scores before my opponent is just not fun for me.

In Upwords, in contrast, I'm looking to see how I can capitalize on the fact that my opponent just started stacking on a particular word and if, in doing so, I can make HIS attempt to capitalize on it more difficult. I'm watching to see which areas are likely to be hotly contested over several turns, thus conserving certain letters that will be useful there, rather than playing chicken around a bonus square that can only be used once. THIS is the true game of Upwords, not knowing how to spell "faqir".
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Jim "git yer stinkin' themes offa my mechanic" Puccio
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jeffk wrote:
That's not dumbing down, it's reducing the impact of luck. Having a "Q" with no "U" severely reduces a player's options.

"Q" is supposed to be difficult. I want it to be difficult. Making it less so reduces the thrill and satisfaction of being able to use it.

jeffk wrote:
There's no question that Scrabble is challenging of course. I just don't find it an interesting challenge. Wracking my brains to find a word in which an "X" or a "Z" is two spaces after an "A" or three spaces from an "S" so I can grab one of those Triple Word Scores before my opponent is just not fun for me.

Ah, but it is enormous fun for me. And tremendously interesting as well: I'm simultaneously solving a geometric constraint problem, playing a positional strategy game, and exercising my linguistic abilities. It's a better, more total workout. I love that. ... But I also love solving the Sunday Times' crossword puzzles.

jeffk wrote:
In Upwords, in contrast, I'm looking to see how I can capitalize on the fact that my opponent just started stacking on a particular word and if, in doing so, I can make HIS attempt to capitalize on it more difficult. I'm watching to see which areas are likely to be hotly contested over several turns, thus conserving certain letters that will be useful there, rather than playing chicken around a bonus square that can only be used once.

Yep. That's a decent summary of Upwords.

jeffk wrote:
THIS is the true game of Upwords, not knowing how to spell "faqir".

Well, they actively prevent you from doing so, even if you otherwise could. I find that aspect of the game limiting, annoying, and frustrating. But hey, that's Milton Bradley for you, at least in those days. Parker Brothers by contrast, felt like they were treating me more like an adult with Option, which was released at about the same time, and which shares much of the feeling of play that you just detailed above.
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John Farrell
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In some respects I find Upwords to be harder than Scrabble. There are 100 spaces and 100 tiles, so you're forced to build up. At the end of the game it can be hard to make a move. In Scrabble there's usually plenty of space for small words, even at the end. I also find that in Upwords long words are disadvantage because they're harder to build on. If you've started the game with QUIXOTIC it's really hard to put anything on top of that at all. For a game which is thought of as a dumbed-down version of Scrabble, it has a lot to offer.
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Jim "git yer stinkin' themes offa my mechanic" Puccio
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Friendless wrote:
For a game which is thought of as a dumbed-down version of Scrabble, it has a lot to offer.

This is true. It is a good game; I don't think it is as deep a game as some of its competitors, but it is worth playing, and I won't turn it down. To some extent, this is like comparing Chess and Checkers: a little unfair, in that both have their place.

Also, in the original version of Upwords, there were only 64 spaces, so the pressure to stack rather than stretch out was even greater. I haven't decided yet whether increasing the board size was a good idea or not. I'm leaning toward not, because that upwards pressure really is the essence of the game.
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Jeff Kunkel
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The Abstractionist wrote:

jeffk wrote:
There's no question that Scrabble is challenging of course. I just don't find it an interesting challenge. Wracking my brains to find a word in which an "X" or a "Z" is two spaces after an "A" or three spaces from an "S" so I can grab one of those Triple Word Scores before my opponent is just not fun for me.

Ah, but it is enormous fun for me. And tremendously interesting as well: I'm simultaneously solving a geometric constraint problem, playing a positional strategy game, and exercising my linguistic abilities. It's a better, more total workout. I love that. ... But I also love solving the Sunday Times' crossword puzzles.


I can totally see why people would enjoy that aspect of Scrabble. I just fund it tedious. I have a very good vocabulary, but there are so MANY constraints in the game (which letters in your hand score the most, which bonus spaces are available and which letters are available for use on the board) that it feels like a puzzle that leaves me little room for inspiration or creativity. Upwords, which is far less constrained, is a more inspirational exercise. Scrabble rewards more of a "brute force" approach, which is not one I enjoy.

In the end I think the games cater to very different skill sets, which is why people who really like one tend to not like the other. Their similarity is actually more superficial than one might think at first, and the real differences in the games are not apparent until you played each several times.

Quote:
jeffk wrote:
THIS is the true game of Upwords, not knowing how to spell "faqir".

Well, they actively prevent you from doing so, even if you otherwise could. I find that aspect of the game limiting, annoying, and frustrating. But hey, that's Milton Bradley for you, at least in those days. Parker Brothers by contrast, felt like they were treating me more like an adult with Option, which was released at about the same time, and which shares much of the feeling of play that you just detailed above.


I've never heard of Option, but I'll have to take a look at it. Thanks for the link.
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Jeff Kunkel
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The Abstractionist wrote:
Friendless wrote:
For a game which is thought of as a dumbed-down version of Scrabble, it has a lot to offer.

This is true. It is a good game; I don't think it is as deep a game as some of its competitors, but it is worth playing, and I won't turn it down. To some extent, this is like comparing Chess and Checkers: a little unfair, in that both have their place.

Also, in the original version of Upwords, there were only 64 spaces, so the pressure to stack rather than stretch out was even greater. I haven't decided yet whether increasing the board size was a good idea or not. I'm leaning toward not, because that upwards pressure really is the essence of the game.


I haven't played the 8x8 grid, but I think I agree. I suspect people found that small play area too hard, but in the end it just reduced the true essence of the game. In the end the 10x10 grid only encourages people to play it more like Scrabble, which is destined to be a disappointment.
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elliot rudell
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UPWORDS - some history
Howdy. I invented UPWORDS back in 1982. One goal of UPWORDS was to purposely keep already-played spaces alive, with the during-game potential to morph one word into another by stacking letters. The intent, from the beginning, was to bring strategy into a word tile game, and not simply have it be a battle of longest-word vocabulary.

I liked Scrabble (grew up on it) but always felt like I was laying out permanent floor tiles.

At the time of UPWORDS' invention, Milton Bradley Company did not have a letter tile game in their product line. Scrabble was owned in the U.S. by Selchow & Righter, then Coleco, until it was purchased later by Hasbro Games, who combined Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley game lines.

Inspiration for the game came from an unsuccessful colored stacking game called DOMINATION, where hemispherical tiles were stacked atop one another. It had nothing to do with letters or words.

The original 8x8 UPWORDS gameboard had 64 tiles, and the 10x10 has 100 tiles. They are therefore pretty much the same intensity for play strategy (one tile per grid space). I prefer 10x10, as do most folks. Hasbro Europe first went with 100 tiles (and a 10x10 board) to accommodate the European versions, particularly German, and Czechoslovakian (they had national tournaments). Their words are often longer.

Upwords was just recently released as an app for iphone and ipad (Jan 2013). It is one of the most downloaded new apps. The play is authentic. I did get to work closely with the developers on the app. I'm addicted already.

re: Qu tile. I often thought that picking the Q tile in Scrabble (particularly near the end of play) was the kiss of death. Since tiles have similar (stack height) value in UPWORDS, I felt that the infrequency of Z usage still would present a viably tough challenge, and that a user would appreciate the U attached - since they'd have enough issues finding a home for the tile if it got picked towards the end of play.

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Thanks for the inside scoop, Elliot!

Is that Sid Sackson's Domination you're referring to (the stacking game)? It's actually pretty well regarded here.

This review / discussion is making me want to get a copy of UpWords. I always did enjoy it as a kid and reminiscing, it does seem like it would be a better word game to play against people with vocabularies of wider varieties.

It certainly tests a different skill set, and actually one that I really enjoy a lot now (in Torres, Tigris, Taluva, etc).
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Sue A
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Thanks Elliot, for creating such a fun and challenging game! So I have a question about a rule. I can't find it addressed in the instructions or anywhere else on the internet. I hope I can explain it clearly:

I know it is allowed to build a word that is, actually, not connected with any word on the board when making a plural. For example, if you add "s" to "trend" then that's ok as long as the s makes a word (for example "sail"). So in this case sail was not connected to any word previously on the board - it only is now connected because you added the "s" to the word "trend". So this is allowed in the case of a plural, but is it allowed in other cases?

For example of the word "mop" is on the board (let's say it is laid vertically), then could I add the letter"e" at the end by creating the word "egret" horizontally? So the word "egret" would not have connected to the word "mop" as it had been played. It only connects now because "mop" is turned into "mope".

Thanks Elliot - or anyone else who knows the answer!
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John Farrell
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Yes Sue, you can definitely extend a word in that way. That's considered more legit than just adding an S.
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