Ender Wiggins
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Introducing What's My Word?



In my early teens, I just loved a game that we called "Word Mastermind", and our family played it a great deal. It was played with pen and paper, and the aim was to figure out your opponent's 4 letter word before he figured out yours. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, that in highschool I even created a BASIC program to enable me to play the game against the computer.

With this background, you can imagine my great pleasure when I discovered the new 2010 release "What's My Word?", which is essentially a form of word mastermind, cleverly implemented as a game with points scoring. The game is a reprint of the game "My Word!" that was first published in 1972 by Joli Quentin Kansil (better known for creating the two-player bridge variant Bridgette). The new edition is part of the Gryphon Two-Player Games series along with En Garde and 2 de Mayo, and features quality production values that make the game a real pleasure to play. Let's go find out more!



COMPONENTS

Game box

Like the other two entries in this two player series, the box is constructed of sturdy cardboard. The cover appropriately features the tag-line "The Classic Two-Player Game for Word Lovers".



As well as illustrating the key components, the reverse side of the box tells us some interesting history about the game: "What's My Word? was first published in 1972 by Gamut of Games under the name My Word. This classic game has been called `the best two-player word game ever invented' by more than one critic. An easy-to-learn and challenging-to-play fast-moving game of word deduction, What's My Word? is a two-person race to detect each other's secret word by piecing together clue after clue."



"The best two-player word game ever invented"? Can the game stand up to such high praise? Let's open the box and find out!

Component list

At first sight, there's not a great deal inside the box: simply two player binders, and a set of rules.



Player binders & score pads

Each player (red and purple) gets their own `binder'.



Inside each player binder are two pads. On the left hand side is a score pad for a 6 letter word game (round 1) and on the right hand side is a score pad for a 7 letter word game (round 2).



These quality of these binders is quite impressive, and I especially liked the flap at the top that you can use to hide your own word - this is a fine touch! There are about 40 sheets in each pad, which should keep you going for quite a number of games. All in all, the player binders give the game a distinguished, stylish and executive look.

Rulebook

The rulebook is a double-sided tri-fold booklet that features six sides of text-intensive material.



In reality the game is fairly easy to learn and explain, and a significant part of the rule booklet is taken up with strategy tips, game variations, as well as an illustrative sample game.

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

A full game consists of two rounds, as players first simultaneously try to guess their opponent's six letter word, and then repeat the process for a seven letter word, but you can just play a single round if you prefer. At the start of a game, each player gets their own binder, and selects a "Gameword" of six letters that they write at the top of their game sheet. At no point in the game may you use proper names, foreign words, slang expressions, or hyphenated words. Here is Purple's score sheet at the start of the first round (6 letter gameword):



Flow of Play

In turns, players will guess words which their opponents will `score' using a Mastermind mechanic - in this case, 1000 points for a letter that's correct and in the right place, and 250 points for a letter that's correct but in the wrong place. As you play the game, you can use the alphabet on the margin of the score-pad to help you eliminate certain letters and help figure out others. The rules recommend circling letters that are correct and in the right place (and worth 1000 points), underlining letters that are correct but in the wrong place (and worth 250 points), and striking through letters that are incorrect (and worth 0 points).

Another interesting feature about the game is that you get a series of 11 guesses in total, but you may only guess a six-letter word on your last guess - your earlier guesses must be shorter words in the designated areas, as seen in this example:



In the above example, the opponent's gameword happened to be FLOWER, so the first guess of AT scored 0 points (meaning that the gameword had neither an A or a T). The next guess of POD scored 250 points, because the one letter was correct (in this case the `O'), but was in the wrong place. The sixth guess of ODOR scored 2000 points for the letters O and R, both of which were in the correct place.

Scoring

The game proceeds with both players guessing and scoring in turns, and it's amazing what you can figure out by a process of elimination and deduction. If you do figure out the word before your last guess, you'll try to come up with words that use the letters in the correct place, because these will maximize your point scoring. If you guess the word correctly on your last turn, you also get a 3000 point bonus. Score for a round is the total points earned for all the guesses that round. If ever it's discovered that a player scored incorrectly, 2000 points are awarded for each turn in which the error went undetected - a perfectly fair penalty. You need to be very careful to ensure that you score guesses correctly, because otherwise you risk mucking up the entire process of deduction! (it will happen on occasion).

In the example below, the Purple player has earned a total score of 19,750 by guessing his opponent's word NEPHEW. The RED player on the other hand has earned a total score of 19,500, despite not guessing the word BALLET.



If you are behind on the first round, all is not lost - you can play a second round with a 7 letter word, and the final score is the cumulative total of both rounds.

Online

If you're interested in sampling the game, try the solitaire implementation online here:
http://www.projectgrid.com/MyWord/playMyWord.cgi



It's not quite as satisfying as a pleasurable battle of wits against a human opponent, but it may help you decide whether or not this is the kind of game for you.

NB: A GG tip to the first person who correctly guesses what the actual six letter gameword in the above online game was! (please use spoiler tags)

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

It has a broad appeal. I've enjoyed this game immensely, as have my wife, older children, and extended family. So it can satisfy a broad range of people, especially those who would consider themselves non-gamers. Where modern games fail to please, I can see a game like What's My Word? might be successful in the mass market alongside classic games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Mastermind, since it would appeal to a similar audience, one that is much less of a niche than euro-games. In fact, being a modern gamer is no guarantee you'd like this game, because it is geared to please a different kind of taste.

It has a familiar mastermind feel. The mastermind style mechanic is familiar enough to most people, and will be instantly recognizable. I don't see this as a disadvantage - rather, it will help make the game accessible to a wide range of people.

It has a novel scoring element. Not only is the game different from traditional mastermind in that it's about guessing words rather than coloured pegs, in What's My Word? the mastermind mechanic been recast in a new and interesting way by using a point scoring system that adds new elements of competition. The point-scoring element works well both as an alternative to the usual black peg/white peg method of Mastermind, but also adds competitive scoring elements not present in the original classic. In most cases, discovering your opponent's word within the 11 guesses is manageable (for us it was quite rare not to deduce the word in the allotted time), so the challenge isn't just to guess the word but to score as many points as you can along the way. I really like the way that this works, because both players must use their full series of guesses before coming up with the solution.

It rewards good vocabularies without being impossibly difficult. Certainly having a good vocabulary will make this game easier to play - but your skills of deduction are probably more important than your vocabulary. This is not like Scrabble, where he who has memorized the most obscure words often becomes the winner. You'll need to choose your words carefully to try to deduce which letters are in your opponent's word, and where they are located. Limiting the size and location of words during the series of guesses is a clever mechanism, because it keeps the game from bogging down by having players look for a tiny needle in a massive haystack (as can sometimes happen in Mastermind) - information about letters in smaller sized words gives more manageable data and clues to work with. But there's skill required not only in guessing, but also in selecting a Gameword - words with multiple occurrences of the same letter like BANANA or BIKINI can be particularly challenging to figure out.

It is a thoughtful game. Because the heart of the game is about deduction, What's My Word is not an intensely social game where there's constant banter and chit-chat. Instead, it's more of a thoughtful and relaxed game that might see two players in arm chairs beside the fire, or in deck chairs beside a pool, engaged in silent contemplation, carefully trying to figure out their opponent's word. It's not the kind of game for everyone, admittedly, but those who enjoy logical deduction, especially with words, will find much to appreciate here.

It has a classy feel. Remember the old Mastermind cover artwork, featuring the distinguished and intelligent looking man, thoughtfully contemplating his gameplay? That's the kind of feel that this game evokes, and it's heightened by the quality of the components. It all comes together nicely in a game that is very satisfying for fans of logic and words games, and the high production quality of the components and particularly the player binders make the game a pleasure to play.

It is very portable. You don't need to carry much with you, aside from the two player binders and two pens/pencils. That makes this game an excellent choice for travelling, or even for hotels and restaurants. And if you're disturbed mid-game, it's easy enough to pack everything up and continue where you left off at a later date.

If you are part of the target market for this game, there's good reason to expect that you'll find much to appreciate here. I tend to be somewhat reserved in my expectations of games that are older than I am, but in this case What's My Word? proved to be a pleasant surprise!



What do others think?

There's really not a lot of negative feedback about this game - rather, most people who have played it express surprise that it's so good considering how long ago it was first published, and wish they'd discovered this gem earlier. Here are some of the positive comments about What's My Word:
"Marry a word game and a deduction game and the result is What's My Word?, a clever and challenging two-player game from Joli Quentin Kansil. Truly is one of the best word games ever designed." - Greg Schloesser (gschloesser)
"Very good word game reminiscent of the old Mastermind game." - Kevin Duffy (Grildensnork)
"Mastermind meets Hangman--a fine-tuned & improved Jotto. Very nicely designed: Progressive scoring adds a layer of strategy; even if you solve the word early, you have to exploit it by offering high scoring words to fill the remaining boxes." - Jonathan Kandell (jkandell)
"This is just about as good as two-player word games get." - Kevin Nunn (kgnunn)
"This is good. Logic, vocabulary, point maximization. How has this remained so unknown?" - (garygarison)
"One of the best word games ever. Plays like Mastermind, but with words." - Jack Bennett (pusherman42)
"Probably the best two-player word game I could ask for. Very engaging and rewards both deduction and the delight of playing with words--a creative mix that means a lot for replayability. The fact that the game rewards players for points scored along the way rather than just for "who is first to guess the other player's word" makes it highly tactical and rewarding. Components are high quality. Highest marks!" - Alf Seegert (alfseegert)
"My Word! needs a huge command of language ... it is also demanding in terms of logical thinking, and it requires as well good timing to beef up scores. This might sound like an unbelievably heady game, but it's actually very crisp, very replayable and perfectly portable. It's as challenging as it is satisfying. For fans of word games it's absolutely essential. " - Antonio Recuenco-Munoz (Ottia)
"One of the best two player word games ever created. I love it!" - Ed Holzman (Bearcat89)
"Mastermind for word junkies. Very fun little game! I am rather biased against "older" games because they tend to be as stuffy and boring as they look. However, this one is an addictive treat and an absolute gem. A real keeper." - Nataline VF (Metaphora)




Recommendation

So is What's My Word a game for you? That will depend somewhat on your tastes, but if you are among those who enjoy logic or deduction games, and don't mind playing around with words, you'll likely find a very satisfying game in this box. There's good reason that it was deemed worthy of a reprint after first appearing almost 40 years ago! Gryphon Games have done well to release the game not just with a simple score pad, but in an attractive folder that makes for a very pleasing and classy looking package. Recommended.



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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Nathan Morse
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Powell
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I believe the Word Mastermind you played could have been a derivative of Jotto. ...or, of course, your family could have just rendered Mastermind to a word game. We certainly played home-brew Jotto at many a restaurant, but the boxed game merely collected dust on the shelf.
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Aaron Silverman
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Nice writeup! Is the mystery word
Spoiler (click to reveal)
whites
?
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mateenyweeny
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EndersGame wrote:

NB: A GG tip to the first person who correctly guesses what the actual six letter gameword in the above online game was! (please use spoiler tags)


Great review. Looks like a great game from a Mastermind fan.
I do have a guess for this.
Could it be
Spoiler (click to reveal)
whites?




edit: beat to it!
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Ender Wiggins
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DJ Kuul A wrote:
Is the mystery word
Spoiler (click to reveal)
WHITES

Very good guess, because this is a theoretically correct possibility from the point scores given. But it wasn't the gameword in this particular instance, so guess again! I suspect that there are very few other possibilities, if any, aside from the actual gameword.
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Nathan Morse
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Spoiler (click to reveal)
TRITES
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Rob Vespa
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What a great review! I enjoy word games and plan to look into this game.
 
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Aaron Silverman
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"Trites" is not a word.
 
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Nathan Morse
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Well, it's apparently in the dictionary/wordlist that the online game uses. Perhaps it's in there due to the Trite genus of jumping spiders. [shrug]
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Aaron Silverman
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Slick!
 
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Bjarne Aagaard
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Spoiler (click to reveal)
frites
 
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Jack Bennett
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Rougemont
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Nice writeup. Of all the games of my childhood other than what we played with a deck of cards, this is the only one to have survived. We play this on every vacation, long car trip, or stormy night. Our old edition is worn to hell, falling apart and faded, with our own score sheet we created when we ran out of the originals.

Great game.
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David
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Any word on the answer?
 
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Ender Wiggins
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loofish wrote:
Any word on the answer?

Nathan Morse was correct - it was TRITES.
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