My long delayed Kickstarter copy of Unspeakable Words (Deluxe Edition) arrived a couple weeks back and I finally got it to table with my lunch time game group today. It was well worth the wait! Both component quality and game play were superb. Kudos to designers James Ernest and Mike Selinker and the fine folks at Playroom Entertainment.
The game comes with 40 plastic Cthulhu pawns, 5 each in 8 different colors to act as sanity markers. IIRC, getting these right was the chief delay in getting the game produced, but they came out well. They look great on the table with just the right combination of menace and cute.
Two of the sets are "glow in the dark", but I have not put that to the test yet.
The 20-sided die used to roll sanity checks after playing each word is also "glow in the dark". It features a Cthulhu silhouette in place of the number "20" since rolling 20 is an automatic success on the sanity roll. The die seemed well-balanced and the numbers were clearly inked.
The game includes 148 USA Standard sized cards with different letters of the alphabet. Each features entertaining artwork of Great Old Ones and other Lovecraftian horrors by artist John Kovalic of Dork Tower fame (e.g. "C is for Cthulhu", "T is for Tsathoggua", "I is for Ithaqua" and - I love this gag - "H is for _____"). A couple of the cards have special properties explained on the card text. The cards are printed on good quality card stock in vibrant colors and should hold up well to repeated plays.
The rules sheet is concise, unambiguous and provided with concrete examples of most game situations.
And - though it's not strictly needed for game play - it comes with a beautiful drawstring bag for storing the plastic bits.
Gameplay combines elements that will be familiar to Scrabble players with press-your-luck and resource/risk management elements added on. Each player gets a hand of seven letter cards. Letters - like Scrabble tiles - have numeric values. Each turn a player plays a word from his hand, scores the total of the value of the letters (usually) and replaces cards used from the deck.
Or, if a player can't make words out of their hand, they can discard and draw. However, unlike Scrabble, they must discard their entire hand and replace it. Also unlike Scrabble, letter values are not based on frequency of occurrence in English, but on the number of angles in the letter! C, S and 0, for example, are worth nothing, but A is worth 5, H 4, T 2, and so forth. This is a little play on the Hounds of Tindalos, fearsome inter-dimensional beings who use angles to get around. Get into a perfectly spherical chamber and they (theoretically) can't get to you.
Now, here's where the press-your-luck and resource/risk management comes in: after you play your word, you have to roll equal or better than your score on the d20, or you lose one of your five Cthulhu sanity pawns (unless you roll a 20, which is always a success). Lose them all and you're eliminated. Winner is the first player to 100 or last person standing. You score for your word even if you lose sanity - unless that word puts you over the top. So do you go for the high-scoring words and risk losing sanity, or do you play it safe? This clever little mechanic also provides a play balance mechanism - you're most likely to break out into the lead at the cost of your sanity. I lost both times on sanity, the first time on the final word I needed to win. Hilarious!
Unspeakable Words (Deluxe Edition) is a beautifully-produced, light-hearted, Lovecraftian themed word game that was well worth backing and well worth the weight. It is likely to become one of my favorite fillers. If you like word games, games with Cthulhu references or John Kovalic's artwork, you will like this, too. If you don't like player elimination, that may be a drawback for you. But the games really do play in 30 minutes or less, so those eliminated won't be sitting around for long.