This space for rent.
This review originally appeared on my blog, Boards and Bees. A review copy was kindly provided by Tom Jolly.
WayWord was originally published in 2011 by Battle Bunker Games. In this word game, 2-4 players will be laying tiles in order to make words. What makes this game different than other word games is that players are moving pawns in order to make those words, and thus have the potential to block others from using a tile.
WayWord comes with 71 hexagonal tiles, 4 pawns, and a six-sided die. In the beginning, seven tiles are laid out in a super-hex (one central hex with six around it). At least two of these tiles should be vowels, and they all should be green or yellow (one or two points). All player pawns are placed on the central hex. You’ll then take 24 tiles and make a draw stack, removing the others from the game. Each player draws a tile, then rolls the die to see who goes first.
On your turn, you place your tile so that it is adjacent to at least one other tile. You then move your pawn to an adjacent tile from your current position to start a new word, moving to adjacent tiles for each letter in the word. You can use the same letter twice, and even use it as a double letter. When you reach the last letter of your word, you score it and write the word down – no one else can use that word for the rest of the game. There are also special tiles that can add to your score, move you around on the board, or be used as any letter. These can only be used once per word, and you can’t end your move on them.
When all tiles have been played, the game is over. The player with the highest score wins.
COMPONENTS: The main component in this game is the letter tiles. They are hexagons, and fairly solid, which is surprising considering that there are on very thin white cardboard. The tiles are all color coded, with one point tiles being green, two point tiles are yellow, three point tiles are red, and special tiles are blue. There is nothing printed on the back of the tiles – just plain white. The pawns are standard plastic pawns (no miniatures?!? FAIL!!!), and are in green, yellow, red, and blue. While they don’t necessarily blend in with the letter tiles, it is odd that they are the same color scheme. I would have liked to see some more contrast in the colors there.
Overall, the quality of the components is quite good. There is no art, just text around the edges of the tiles reminding you of the points. The only real complaint I have is the die. A single die is included in the game for the sole purpose of determining the start player. A member of my group came up with what I think is a better solution – flip over tiles, and the player closest to the beginning of the alphabet goes first. That at least wouldn’t mean that there’s a random die that you hardly use in the box.
THEME: It’s just a word game, there’s no other theme.
MECHANICS: Word building games tend to have players staring at letters in their hands trying to rearrange them into words that will score the most points. In WayWord, you are staring at letters that are already on the board, trying to find arrangements that are already present (plus maybe one letter from your hand) to score the most points. It plays very differently from Scrabble and its ilk in that you are not limited to what you can play. You don’t even have to include the letter you have in the word you are trying to form. You just have to find a combination that is near where your pawn is, and exploit it for as many points as you can.
Moving your pawn around is a very important mechanism in the game. Where your pawn ends up affects what other players can do. In that way, it’s almost an area control game – I landed on this S, now no one else can use it. This is the primary thing that sets WayWord apart from other word games – I don’t know any others that use this movement mechanism. Because players can move around on the board and make new words, the rule that you can only use a word once in a game becomes a necessity, primarily so players won’t find a loop that will keep scoring them the same points every time.
The special tiles add some spice to the game as players are constantly trying to figure out how to incorporate them into their words. The Wild tile counts as any letter, but doesn’t score points. Teleport can move you anywhere on the board. +2 adds points to your score. x2 doubles your word score. Jump 2 moves you over some unwanted spaces. It’s interesting trying to work them into your plans.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was the quantity of tiles used in the game. After the 7 initial tiles are placed, there are 64 remaining. From these, you select 24 at random (20 in a two-player game) and put the rest away. This means that you can’t be sure you’ll ever see a letter, and the game will end after each player has made 10-8-6 words (with 2-3-4 players). It is good that there is a limit, because after playing incorrectly, going through all 64 would be waaaaay too long. At the same time, I think that 24 might be a little too short. There’s no reason why you can’t go up to 36 tiles, or something like that, just be aware that there’s a reason to take stuff out.
STRATEGY LEVEL: Word games are inherently lucky. You are very dependent on what you draw, and are usually relying on your anagramming skill to come up with the right combinations. WayWord addresses that by only having you draw one tile, but the luck is almost completely taken away in that you have to work with what has already been played. Strategy and tactics have been introduced through the movement of your pawn – not only are you trying to figure out the optimal move for yourself, you’re trying to block crucial letters from your opponents and trying to set yourself up to make a good word on your next turn. There are a surprising number of decisions to make throughout the process, especially considering that you just have one tile.
ACCESSIBILITY: WayWord does involve a certain amount of mental gymnastics as you are trying to build words through all kinds of twists and turns. Anyone who has ever played a word search should be comfortable with the experience (though this one is not as linear as that type of puzzle). It’s not complicated, and I think a wide range of players will be able to get into it – word game fans will be attracted to the word building aspect, while gamers might be more attracted to the tactical possibilities of the system.
REPLAYABILITY: With the modular setup, this game becomes very replayable. You never know what letters will be out there, and you can’t count on any letters or special tiles ever showing up. There will always be new combinations of words to discover.
SCALABILITY: This game plays from 2-4 players. Because it’s turn-based, I wouldn’t want to try adding any more than that. Four players didn’t seem too bad, but the nature of the game means it’s going to slow down in later rounds (something combatted with the limited tile set). You can also set it up and try it as a solo game, attempting to get the highest score possible.
FOOTPRINT: WayWord does not take up much space at all. You will need some table space to allow for growth, but the playing surface never gets too big.
LEGACY: The most obvious game to compare to WayWord is Scrabble. Both are games where you’re trying to make words for points. However, while Scrabble is very strict in its setup and very linear in its play, Wayword is more flexible and has lots of tactical decisions to be made. I’m sure it’s not a Scrabble killer, but I think it has more to offer for me.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. WayWord is a very good word game, and one I’d highly recommend to people who like that type of game. And even if you’re not a big fan of the genre (like me), you’ll still find some interest in the tactical possibilities of the game. It’s a very unique design, and one I’m glad to have gotten a chance to play.
As a wordplay & word game fan, I was curious about WayWord.
t-bone's review is right on. Unique game play, esp the pawn covering/eliminating (temporarily) choice tiles/letters makes it very interesting. I enjoyed it.