Dan Edelen
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WayWord
- Designed by Tom Jolly
- From Battle Bunker Games
- ~$20 MSRP, ~$15 Street
- For two to four players, ages 10+
- 60 minute play time


Box contents shown above right, with instructions; green 1-pt., yellow 2-pt., and red 3-pt. letter tiles; blue special function tiles; die; and four player pieces. (Large and small zip-style baggies for tiles and player pieces not shown.)

I purchased WayWord as an inexpensive, Scrabble-like word game that plays more quickly and adds some opponent screwage to keep things exciting. WayWord certainly fulfills those qualities, but it includes another that I did not foresee given the low end of the suggested age range: This game is exasperating for anyone who lacks a comprehensive vocabulary.

My wife, 11-year-old son, and I sat down for our first play and drew the requisite seven letter tiles. These large, colored, hexagonal tiles contain letters with point values based on their frequency in words in the English language—green (1 point), yellow (2 points), and red (3 points). Special blue tiles add points, point multipliers, wilds, the ability to jump a certain number of tiles, or “teleport” to another part of the tiled “board.” All the tile backs are white.

The first tile of the seven drawn is placed at the center, with subsequent draws placed around it. Players roll a die to see who goes first.

Our Session


The image at left depicts the horrid opening draw. Since each player must move through a contiguous set of tiles to form a word, that Qu is a massive obstacle to overcome.

I immediately realized three things:

First, the word romeo would be a good play.

The instructions mention nothing about valid words except to say to use a dictionary to check spellings after a play or to verify a word exists. Do proper names count then? I would assume they do, so WayWord differs from Scrabble. That said, romeo doesn’t have to be a proper noun.

Second, my son, despite having two to three times the vocabulary of the average fifth grader, would be frustrated quickly. Before anyone had moved, he exclaimed, “I don’t like this game.”

Third, Given the initial set of word options, I could see we were going to have a problem. After a few lackluster plays and much grousing, I swapped out the Qu for another tile. It turned out to be a +1, which would give an extra point to any word played. Not that it helped much, but it eliminated the roadblock posed by the Qu.

Each of us on our turn placed a tile, then moved our player piece to form a word, then drew another tile. Tiles went down, the board expanded, and words formed. Small words. Smaller points. Nothing like the 6-12 points the game said would be average. We pulled too many tiles that made for tougher combos considering our initial setup. Vowels, though prevalent in the tiles, didn’t come into play this session. An X. A C. A Y. Yikes. Can I buy an E? Please?

I kept hoping for a Teleport tile, which would enable players to navigate around the roadblocks on the board or jump to different letters. One of the fun mechanics of WayWord is that a player cannot use a tile that contains another player’s playing piece. Players don’t start spelling based from the tile they are on, either, but one of the adjacent tiles. In addition, players can’t use the special blue tiles as the start or end of a word sequence, only the middle, which added yet another layer of difficulty. One of the few mercies is that a player can “double land” on a single letter to count it as a double letter. They can also use a letter more than once by doubling back through it at any point in the contiguous path.

While those rules force one to think and to constantly trace paths around the tiles, searching for an elusive word, even my head was starting to hurt in my attempt to form anything from the pile of tiles played in this session.

Looking down at the score sheet and the played word list (once played, a word is out of use, though variations of it—plurals, -ing endings, etc.—may still be played), I saw that no one had scored a word longer than four letters, plus no play was more than seven points.

By now, I was praying that any blue tile would come out to lend a hand, but I was not drawing any from the predetermined pile. Not all tiles are used every round, only a portion based on the number of players. This works to keep the game length down, but a bad initial draw pile could make for a long game.

Though I readily see how a game of WayWord will fit within the 60 minutes suggested game time, most of that will be analysis paralysis. For Scrabble players, I suppose this is par for the course, but part of the allure of WayWord is promised snappier game play. I don’t think we experienced that, but with an initial draw of 24 tiles for our three-player game, it wasn’t going to turn into an epic snoozefest like most Scrabble games do—at least for me. Plus, WayWord does allow for some player screwage, which ups the ante over Scrabble. That said, given the wickedly hard set of tiles we had drawn and were forced to play, I think all three of us were more focused on forming even a single word that scored more than four points, with screwage the least of our concerns.

The Lesson in Frustration Ends

In the end, we ran out of time, as my son's bedtime intruded. After I coached him to a 10-point word score, the highest single play in the session, he essentially won. (I think that one high point value single-word play may be enough to determine a winner, since most of our plays were in the four to five point range.) I don’t think the win helped my son get over his initial pronouncement, though. Getting him back to the table for further sessions might be an issue.

Conclusions

My wife, who is not a gamer, was not sold on WayWord, though she will certainly give it another try. Perhaps we’ll have better tiles to choose from next time.

I like the game, though the aggravation level for this session ran high. Truth be told, some aggravation flared during the unboxing. The tiles, though nicely done and well-made, did not fall out of the cardboard sheet like some other publisher’s tiles/chits do. Worse, most didn’t want to come out without risking tearing the tile backings. So out came my X-Acto knife and out went 75 minutes of my life as I carefully cut through the sections of tile backing left uncut by the die punch. Argh.

WayWord seems to me to be a game that would best appeal to word mavens, not the typical gamer (or even nongamer). The kind of folks who memorize Scrabble dictionaries and can recite every two-letter word in the English language. In other words, well…hardcore Scrabble players. The question is whether Scrabble players would abandon their favorite game to play WayWord. Though more confrontational and with a more dizzying selection of routes to play from than most contenders for the word game throne, WayWord may be considered either too fiddly or too populist by Scrabble fans, though I certainly don't hold those opinions myself.

Final Thought

I think WayWord is a fine, challenging word game that I will choose over Scrabble any day—though the ultimate challenge may be finding enough people who will want to play it with me.
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Tom Jolly
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Unfortunately, your game was heavily influenced by missing out on an important rule during setup: "If you draw any red or blue tiles, put them back in the draw pile and draw again - the initial starting group should only be yellow or green letters." This is listed in the SETUP portion of the rules. This is, of course, to eliminate the very problem you had at the start of the game, a grid with uncommon letters that are hard to use. Also, at least two letters must be vowels. You had that, but the red letters are killers. Sorry your first game missed out on that! This rule is listed again in the "QUICK START SETUP" at the end of the rules. I hope you enjoy future games of WayWord.

Tom Jolly
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Dan Edelen
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Thanks for the clarification, Tom! I appreciate hearing from the game designer. I definitely like the game, though I think the low end age should be about 12, even if we compensate for the error.
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Tom Jolly
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edelen wrote:
Thanks for the clarification, Tom! I appreciate hearing from the game designer. I definitely like the game, though I think the low end age should be about 12, even if we compensate for the error.


Yet another option is to deal out all the tiles beforehand, face up, take turns placing your pawn, then take turns moving until someone has 100 points. This would eliminate all the time spent selecting your tile placement, and each player could plan their move well ahead of time. Of course, vocabulary is always useful in all games of this sort.

Tom
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