Number of Players: 2 - 6
Length of Game: 30 - 45 minutes
Difficulty of Game:
Popularity at local game night:
The game of Palabra is best summarized as I did with my subtitle - it is like Scrabble with cards. There are some minor differences, but that will get you started. You will have a hand of cards and the way to victory is usually to make the longest words you can by using those cards. The effect you can have on other players is minimal, but there are a few things that you can do.
As far as I have been able to tell, there are two editions to this game. I have the second edition, which contains a deck of laminated cards as well as two quick reference sheets. The deck of cards has held up pretty well after multiple shuffling and games. The main thing is that the plastic laminate covering the backs of several cards has started to peel off. This does not affect the cards much; they just tend to stick together a little bit. Otherwise, the cards are in good condition.
You start play by having seven cards. In fact, every time that you play a card you will draw back up to seven. Each of the cards has a color (sometimes two), a letter, and a point score. Some of the cards have two or three stars on them as well. These stars are multipliers and are useful for scoring really large points. There are also two types of special cards: a joker and a wild card.
Each player has a chance to make a "pre-play" and a "play". The pre-play is optional, the play (even if it is a "pass") is required. On the pre-play you have a couple of options. You can play a joker, which enables you to cancel any player’s last word. Or you can shave points off of the last word played. You do this by playing an identical card; this allows you to steal points from that player. After your pre-play, you draw back up to seven cards.
Then you have a play. The most common play is to make a word. There are other options available - a straight (ABC or DEF for example), a flush, adding on to someone else’s word, exchanging cards, or playing a bunch of vowels. In most cases, you total up the number of points and then multiply by the number of stars. This is who points increase immensely. If you have a word that has two three-star cards and two-star card, then you will total up the points and multiply by 3 * 3 * 2; 18. This is how you immense large point words; I think the largest point word I have seen is over 400 points.
If you do use all seven cards in one word, you also get a 70 point bonus. You can get double the points if all of the cards in your word are the same color.
Then you draw back up to seven cards and play continues to the next player. When all of the cards in the deck are used up, then the game enters its final rounds. Play continues until either one player gets rid of the last of his or her cards, or everyone passes. At that point, any points in your hand (including star multipliers) are deducted from your score.
As you can see from the section above, the amount of impact you can have on other players is very minimal. Pretty much the strongest influence you can have is by canceling a player’s amazing word. There are only two jokers in the entire deck. Yes you can shave points from another player, and while this happens often, it doesn’t usually have as much of an affect as you might expect. It is still worthwhile, but it just is not as momentous as you otherwise might expect.
The most obvious play for you in this game is usually pretty straightforward. Unless you have a reason to believe that someone has a joker or is holding similar cards for shaving points; you should always make the strongest point play that you can. This game does not exercise strategy so much as it exercises your ability to form words and make the best scoring play that you can.
This is a very quick and easy game to explain to people. It is one that works well with people, especially those who are wordsmiths but are not necessarily gamers at heart. I do enjoy it more than scrabble because it is more portable and easier to use - you just have a deck of cards and a piece of paper for keeping score. You also don’t find yourself constrained by the board because of neighboring letters or anything like that. I view this as a positive thing.
The game itself is also very quick. So, it is nice to use it to fill some space when you want to play something but you don’t know what you want to play or invest a lot of time in it.
I find the lack of strategy to be somewhat disappointing. I like more strategy in my games and like to spend more time thinking. This game tends not to have a lot of options. Most of your time is spent trying to form the best word that you possibly can, which strikes me as not that different from doing the jumble. That is a little bit harsh, and I admit that so you will take it with a grain of salt. But, I do find myself often bored if I am playing this game more than once or twice in a day.
This game is an enjoyable game, if you can find it. But, you have to keep in mind that it is not a very strategy-minded game. If you are looking for something strategic, I would recommend you pass this by. If you would enjoy a game where almost all of your time is going to be spent trying to form a word from a collection of letters, then I recommend this. The reason that I enjoy it and have it is because it works well when you want something very light hearted and don’t want to invest a lot of time. But as I said before - I would limit it to one or two games of this a day. A nice addition - but not a must-have.