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My Take on Letter-Based Word Games
Raymond Gallardo
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Underappreciated on BGG, letter-based word games are one of my favourite genres of games. I like how they rely on logical thinking as well as general knowledge.

What I like in letter-based word games:

Emphasis on making long words
Emphasis on making a lot of words
Quick turns
Cool structure of words built at the end. Ending up with a complete, interlocking grid of words is gratifying.

Here's a list of letter-based word games I've played, and what I think about them.
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1. Board Game: Upwords [Average Rating:5.69 Overall Rank:5733]
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Favourite word game!

More tactical than Scrabble because it's much easier to form high scoring words. When I play word games, I want to make words. I don't want to think about rack management, trying not to open up the board to my opponent -- in other words, Scrabble has too much strategy that gets in the way of forming words!

Side note: I own four copies of this game. The first copy I got when I was in France. It was a travel version that you can't find in North America. But it sucks to play it in English; the letter distribution is off. The second copy I found at a garage sale. That I play with my mom a lot. The third and fourth copies I got while I was in Switzerland (both travel versions you can't find here as well). I got two because they were German editions. I then combined the two games so that I could create a proper letter distribution to play in English.
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2. Board Game: WYPS [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked]
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Word game that I want to play the most!

A cross between Iago (which itself is a cross between Scrabble and Othello) and The Game of Y.

Each letter tile is black on one side and white on another. One player plays words in white, the other in black. When a player builds a word on the board and uses one or more of his or her opponent's tiles already on the board, he or she gets to flip those tiles to his color.

A player wins if he or she manages to create a path of tiles of his own color that connect all three sides of the board.

Finally played this game!

Finally played this game on an improvised board with tiles from a travel version of Scrabble and pieces from Othello. I must make a more permanent version of this game for myself! Flipping an Othello piece underneath a Scrabble tile is fiddly!

Far, far less AP than I expected. Boggle rules instead of those of Scrabble make it much easier to find a word to place on the board. No scoring especially helps!

What's even more impressive about this game, compared to Scrabble, is that it eliminated many of Scrabble's annoyances: heavy reliance on two letter words and the incredible power of the letter S.

Perhaps my only criticism is the end result isn't as spectacular as Scrabble. In Scrabble, you get a interlocking grid of words. In WYPS you get a mess of letters :-)

Update, March 2015: This might overtake Upwords for my favourite word game! My mom finally understood the basic strategy of this game. The best thing about this one: it's possibly the only letter-based word game where there's no scoring!
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3. Board Game: Jarnac [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:4841]
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Second favourite word game. Multi-player solitaire done right

Players ensure that the game moves quickly. Every time you create a word, you take another tile and take an extra turn. If you can't create a new word, you pass. However, if you take too long before you pass, your opponent has a better chance to find a new word that you missed -- and can steal that word!

This is the game you should play if you have Bananagrams and only have two players. However, I own the Blackrock Editions version that comes with plastic player mats in which tiles stay in place; these boards make this game a joy to play.
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4. Board Game: Montage [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:3516]
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Game that feels most like creating and solving a crossword puzzle

Montage is basically Password or any other clue-giving party game, except your words are constrained by a crossword puzzle grid. If you were actually filling a crossword puzzle grid with actual letters, then this game would be impossible to finish. The ingenious thing is that instead of filling the grid Scrabble-style, you're filling it with coloured tiles, where a colour could represent any one of 5-6 letters.

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5. Board Game: What's My Word? [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:2656]
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Best word deduction game

Incredibly good word deduction game. So much better than its ancestor, Jotto, and its progeny of TV fame: Lingo.

The biggest difference between this game and Jotto is that you have a very good chance of guessing the word by the 11th turn. Jotto, on the other hand, can go on for an agonizingly long time, while Lingo, because it's Jotto for TV, requires at minimum a computer interface to play it. (Jotto, by the way is very, very challenging.)

What also makes game play faster is that you're trying to guess your opponent's word with much shorter words, which greatly speeds up the game.
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6. Board Game: Word Squares [Average Rating:6.81 Unranked]
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Best pencil-and-paper word game

Classic pencil-and-paper game that has a lot of published, commercial versions. An example of a commercial version is Quizzle. This version is played on a larger grid, and players can call a black square instead of a letter.
 
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7. Board Game: Last Word [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
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Ingenious pencil-and-paper word game.

This game gives you an anagram fix without the hassle of carrying a lot of letter tiles or dice.

This game is really, really AP-inducing. Although each player only plays one letter during a turn, it can be any letter you want. In addition, players are making words in three, four, or even more words at once.
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8. Board Game: Wordsearch [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:6394]
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The love child of chess and a word game

Brain-burning, but excellent word game. Very, very AP-prone. It's too tough to plan your move during your opponents' turn since by the time it's your turn, the board has changed dramatically.

One thing that this game possibly lacks is any long-term strategy. It's a purely tactical game; you're trying to create the highest score on your turn. You can force your opponent to make a particular move to improve your next turn. And usually, your opponent changes the board so much that every turn presents you with a totally different challenge.
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9. Board Game: Scrabble [Average Rating:6.29 Overall Rank:1455]
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Best components for a word game. Game I played solitaire the most.

The advantage of incredibly popular games is different versions and editions are available. My favourite Scrabble edition is a travel version with magnetic tiles, which I only could find in Europe (I bought mine while flying to London in a British Airways plane).

I don't particularly like playing Scrabble because it's too strategic for my tastes and the downtime is too much for me. However, I've played this solo many times with these rules:

1. Draw 25 tiles.
2. Arrange all those tiles according to Scrabble rules. Tiles already on the board (i.e. excluding the tiles you have just drawn) cannot be moved.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you run out of tiles. If you manage to place all the tiles, you win!
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10. Board Game: Big Boggle [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:1532]
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Second best components for a word game

The shaker mechanism is ingenious.

I don't like playing Boggle often because I suck.

I've played this variant I created because we were too lazy to write down words: In Boggle, you create moves as if you were moving a chess king letter to letter. Imagine instead using a chess queen to move all over the grid of letters. This variant is like Ricochet Robots: Players try to find the longest word they could make by moving from letter to letter like a chess queen. Once a player has found a suitably long word, all other players have to find a word that's longer.
 
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11. Board Game: Super Big Boggle [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:6413]
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Best word game sequel ever! -- even better than the transformation from 8x8 Upwords to 10x10!

Why play Boggle, or even Big Boggle, when you can play Super Big Boggle!

Growing up, I played copies of Boggle and Big Boggle from the 1980s. I miss their wooden dice and embossed letters. The version of Super Big Boggle from Winning Moves features plastic dice with letters simply printed on them; I'm afraid that the ink will wear off the dice over time.

Super Big Boggle has a die that contains digrams only (Qu, Th, In, etc.) Other than the Qu, I wished that they chose more common digrams like Es and Ai. Also, there's a die that contains a black square (or rather a blue square) that acts like a block; no word can use one.

I would have preferred if the dice did not contain digrams or those blue squares, or at least extra dice so that you can choose whether or not to use them.

One note about using larger boards for Boggle: Yes, the chance of finding long words increases, but so does the chance of large clumps of unusable consonants or vowels

I think regular Boggle will always be more popular because (a) it's cheaper to produce (b) more recognizable and (c) casual word game players prefer easily finding many short words quickly rather than pensively looking for long words.

However, for younger gamers, the bigger the better -- let them use 3-letter words as they are much, much easier to find on larger boards!
 
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12. Board Game: Palabra [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:5663]
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The only letter-based card game I own

The game is very simple: from your hand of seven cards, form a word and score it. Draw replacements back into your hand. Repeat until the game is over. Players score bonus points (and screw over their opponents) in numerous ways, most of them luck-based. For example, there are certain cards in the deck that cancel the score for an opponent. Players can score very big in this game; many cards contain multipliers that are cumulative. Another odd feature is "point-shaving": Opponents can dock points from you by discarding cards that match letters in your last played word.

Still, the cards are of very good quality.
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13. Board Game: RSVP [Average Rating:5.25 Overall Rank:12947]
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Perfect information word game!

Luckless, quick word game! Tactically devious game that gives players the opportunity to form long words and create large, filled areas of letters.

In this game, players play only one letter (of their choice) onto (actually, into) the grid. Unlike Scrabble, players are not required to form a word on each turn; they only have to be thinking of a possible word. Yes, players have free choice of which letter to put into the grid, but there's a limited number of each letter! So near the end of the game, blocking tactics become more insidious!

There are two more clever twists to this game:

1. Because the board is set up vertically between players, one player is forming words left-to-right, while the other is forming words right-to-left (from the perspective of one player). So it's easier to form long words without your opponent hampering or taking advantage of your efforts.

2. Unlike Scrabble, you don't have to place a letter adjacent to previously played ones. A letter must be placed in the same row or column as a previously played letter. If you place a letter in the grid that is not adjacent to any other previously played letters, then you have to be able to form a word (with existing letters) either in the row or column of the newly placed letters. So this adds more blocking opportunities!

 
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14. Board Game: Jitters [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:7100]
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The most clever dice-based word game

Multi-player solitaire word game, like most dice-based word games. The game comes with an oversized deck of cards on which each is printed a simple, blank crossword puzzle grid. Players try to fill in as many cards as possible with the letter dice. Players can reroll the dice as many times they want, but they must fill in cards one at a time. There's a push-your-luck element in this game: After a player completes a card, he or she could stop the timer and score for all cards completed during that turn, or he or she can start another card. If he or she can't complete a card, he or she scores zero for that round!
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15. Board Game: Perquackey [Average Rating:5.97 Overall Rank:7675]
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Seemingly unoriginal mechanics combined with clever Bridge-like scoring create a tense multi-player solitaire game

The game is simple: Form as many words as possible with the letter cubes. What makes this surprisingly tense is the scoring mechanism. In order to earn huge bonus points, you have to complete a quota of words of a certain length.

Even though Perquackey is multi-player solitaire like Yatzee, it feels like a co-operative game because your opponent writes down the words you find.
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16. Board Game: WRDZ [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
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Word game that I want to play the second most!

Too bad this game has been out-of-print for a very long time.
 
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17. Board Game: Last Word [Average Rating:5.62 Overall Rank:11137]
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Boggle killer! But setup time is too long and components are fiddly to use

The most ingenious rule here are the wild spaces that you can use more than once in the same word.

The 10x10 board gets cramp very fast!
 
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18. Board Game: WildWords [Average Rating:6.81 Unranked]
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Game I want to play the third most!

The gimmick with this game is that the wild tiles can represent between one and any number of consecutive letters. In that sense, it's similar to WRDZ.
 
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19. Board Game: Option [Average Rating:5.54 Overall Rank:12067]
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Scrabble with 14 letter racks! Best aesthetics of any word game!

Option is essentially Scrabble with double-sided tiles. Cleverly, the tiles are replaced with triangular prisms, which enables players to see both sides of each "tile" at the same time.

So what ends up happening is that it's much easier to play long words than Scrabble. However, Option adds two scoring bonuses that I'm not fond of because I feel that they hamper clever word formation:

* You get a double word bonus if you play a 5+ letter word with letters that are all the same colour (each prism has a dark letter and a light letter). This bonus tends to be much bigger than playing all 7 prisms from your rack (which gives a measly 15 points).

* You can "flip" prisms already played on the board to create new words. Each prism flipped gives a bonus of 25 points. In game play, this amounts to players avoiding words that can be modified as such.

I love the look of the game! The board is all plastic with slots replacing grid squares so that the prisms lock in place. I love also the use of burgundy and off-white as the colour palette and the decidedly late 70s/early 80s font, which looks like Souvenir.
 
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20. Board Game: Word Yahtzee [Average Rating:4.91 Overall Rank:14443]
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Best minimalist word game so far

It's an intriguing game for only seven dice, a timer, and a score sheet.

I made my own version of this game. However, in my version, on each die face, I also indicate what letters are on all the other sides of the die. This enables you to more easily calculate the odds of rolling a particular letter (or even the odds of rolling a consonant or vowel). I really like this push-your-luck element of the game.

And as with Yahtzee, the score sheets enable you to mitigate bad die rolls, to an extent.

Still, I find dice word games in which you have to form a crossword formation with about 15 dice more satisfying.

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21. Board Game: Quickword: The Ultimate Word Game [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:9656]
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Best Scattergories/Boggle/Perquackey/Facts in Five type game!

Two things that are great about this game:

* Four kinds of challenges: they range from general knowledge (recalling words that fit a category) to Scrabble-like challenges: finding words that start with a particular letter and containing two other letters in a specified order. The variety of the challenges keep the game interesting throughout, especially considering it's almost like multi-player solitaire.

* 90 seconds per round! This keeps the game moving fast. Games of this genre usually have longer time limits.

I own the travel version; the quality is mediocre but still playable (bring your own paper and pencil, though).
 
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22. Board Game: Spill and Spell [Average Rating:5.18 Overall Rank:13430]
Raymond Gallardo
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Best scoring system, which encourages very long words

Basic dice-based, multi-player solitaire word game. You roll all fifteen dice and create a crossword formation with those dice within a set time limit. Each word scores the square of its length. Jarnac shares the same scoring system. (Wordsearch and Bali add upon this; the value of the word is the sum of the value of its letters multiplied by the length of the word.)
 
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23. Board Game: Ordleg [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked]
Raymond Gallardo
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Cheap, easily available crossword dice game. Most disingenuous way to make a game multilingual

I found this game for 7 Euro at Flying Tiger, a chain based in Denmark. It's a dollar store with a strong Ikea aesthetic.

I bought four copies of this game so that I could replace the cubes from my copy of Super Big Boggle (the letter distribution is poor) and Scarabeo Express (the Italian letter distribution has way too many vowels).

The game comes with instructions in 20 different languages, including Greek and Russian, but only uses the Latin alphabet on the dice. The game comes with 100 blank stickers, enough to cover every side of the 15 dice.
 
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24. Board Game: BuyWord [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:2760]
Raymond Gallardo
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Peculiar game; the game is quick because players pass more often than creating words

Improves Spill & Spell's scoring system!

This game offers an original scoring mechanism and an emphasis on the creation of long words. A value of a word is the total value of its letters, squared. That elegantly rewards players for both creating long words and using rarer letters.

However, The game itself doesn't compel players to create words during every turn; players can pass their turn without any penalty! I think that's the reason why this game is so fast paced; players don't form many words! One of the most important decisions players must make is whether to purchase or not purchase the letters offered to them. The value of letters to be purchased is the same as how words are scored. This means that often players are passing on their turns rather than creating words.
 
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25. Board Game: Worldmaster [Average Rating:6.20 Unranked]
Raymond Gallardo
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Most bizarre mash-up ever

This is a combination of Risk (or rather, an area majority game) and Scrabble Junior.

The board consists of a Risk-like simplified map of the world. Countries are labelled like words on a Scrabble Junior board; each letter is enclosed in a box the size of a Scrabble tile. Each country also has a numbered circle indicating half the length of the country’s name (rounded up; two circles for countries whose names have an even number of letters). Each player (or partnership) receives a bag of letter tiles, which contains just enough to cover all the letters on the map.

Very, very light and luck-heavy, but there is an element of strategy to it. Some "tough" decisions are:
* Leaving common letters on your rack for later or playing them right away
* Whether or not to invest more tiles in a country so that your opponent can't share it with you

Surprising amount of tension as well as players wait for an elusive letter "K" to conquer Kazakh.

 
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