W. Eric Martin
This review first appeared on FunandBoardgames.com.
If you've watched more than 20 picoseconds of a psychiatry session on television or in the movies, then you've seen a troubled soul going through a word association session. The psychiatrist presents the patient with a series of words ("Father," "tool shed," "hedge trimmers"), and the patient responds with the first thing that comes to mind ("domineering," "unbearably dark," "I confess, it was really me, I'm so ashamed!"). The idea is that the patient's mind, operating automatically and without forethought, will present the psychiatrist with the keys needed to unlock his troubled soul.
Game designers are crafty, if not necessarily troubled, souls, and Chris Handy has transformed the essence of word association into a quick-playing word game. Linkity comes with a 90-card deck, seven of which are dealt to players at the start of each of the three rounds, and a pile of point markers. The cards each have a single letter in the corners, along with a picture of a bug shaped like the letter.
A player is chosen randomly to open the round, and she throws out a letter card and says a single word that starts with that letter, say, "L" for "landmine." Each other player then races to play a letter card on top of the "L" and give a word associated with landmine that starts with their played letter, for example, "V" and "Vietnam." Once "V" is on the pile, each player other than the V-player raced to play a card: "S" for "southeast," "G" for "Georgia," "P" for "peaches," and so on.
If someone gives a two-word phrase or a word of questionable association with his letter card, another player can challenge the play. The game pauses for a moment, the challenging and challenged players can briefly present arguments, then players vote for whether the play was valid. The player who loses the challenge draws two cards (and picks up his originally played card, if the challenged player lost), then restarts the round by playing a card and giving a word. Words can't be repeated within a single round.
When a player runs out of cards, the round ends and players take one penalty point for each card in their hand. Repeat the process twice more, and whoever has the lowest score after three rounds wins.
As with many word games, Linkity can suffer from disparate play between those who have big vocabularies and those who don't know what "disparate" means. Open a round with "tumescence," for example, and half the people will stare at you and say, "James, what are you talking about?" Everyone has to work to keep the game at an appropriate level for all players.
Another issue is that players can easily fall into ruts. If someone names a color or gives the word "color," players will often take off on a ride over the rainbow, which gets rid of many cards from the hand but is boring after the third or eighth time. We lightly chastise players to head in more interesting and unique directions—although anyone who links "naked" to "Mom" will likely be viewed as a bit too unique.
The bug theme is somewhat puzzling. The publisher probably felt they needed a cute way to sell the game because otherwise they're pitching a deck of cards and a few cardboard scoring markers. They still are, of course, but at least they now have pictures of bugs on them.
Bugs or no bugs, Linkity is a fun quick game that goes over well with both strangers and friends—and if you do learn a bit more about someone in the process, don't hold it against them. Just quietly call the police and stall until they arrive.