Sunday, 6 October 2013

Review - Get A Letter

Get A Letter

Get A Letter
Published by Tomy
Designed by... Committee... At a bar... During a lunch break... Probably
For 2 players, or 2 teams

There are some games you don't need to play in order to know you will hate them. You can just tell. You can look at the box, read the description, glance through the components... And you just know.

Get A Letter is one of those games.

My wife found it for me in a charity shop, and to be honest, I couldn't have been less excited. As a writer, I own more than my fair share of word games, and I don't find any of them particularly interesting. Scrabble, Boggle, Unspeakable Words... They're all okay, but they don't compare to romping through dungeons slaying dragons, or hunting down Dracula, or creating an empire. Because the thing is, I don't write books about words, I write stories. And I don't want games about words, I want games that create stories.

Put simply, there is something very mechanical and sterile about word games. Or in the case of Get A Letter, something electrical.

Oh, yes. Electrical.

This is a game made by Tomy, so it is mandatory that you need to put batteries in it somewhere.

Get A Letter Rules
The rules basically tell you how to change the batteries. Never a good sign.

In this case, the batteries go into a red button. A big, red button with an exclamation point on it. Like a warning sign.

Like a warning not to play this game.

Get A Letter big red button
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do...

The button, as it turns out, houses a timer. When you press the button, you get a little countdown sound, and eventually a buzzer sounds to mark the end of a round. This is, obviously, a completely pointless gimmick. A gimmick being used to disguise the fact there isn't really much of a game here.

So, how does the game play, exactly?

Simple. That big red button has two "arms" coming out of it, which house all the letters of the alphabet on little flaps. At the beginning of the round, you draw a card, and printed on that card are different categories, like "Capital Cities." I think you can see where this is going... You select a category, and then you press the big, red warning button. The timer starts, and now you and your opponent have until the buzzer sounds to shout out words that match the category on the card. Whenever you shout out a word, you move the flap containing the starting letter of that word towards you. This scores you a point, and also denies your opponent the chance of using that letter. At the end of the round, you count up how many points you scored. Highest wins.

That's it.

Get A Letter cards
You can select the category you want from each card you draw.

The electronic timer, the big, red warning button, the plastic flaps... It's all window dressing. The game is simply shouting out words that match a category. You can play it with a deck of cards, scratch paper, and an egg timer. And there's no real structure. No rules. Just shouting, and pulling down the flaps as quickly as you can.

Of course I was going to hate this game.



I was sitting down with my wife the other evening for one of our regular, scheduled gaming evenings. We opened a bottle of wine, and we played a game of Forbidden Island. The water was lapping around our ankles as we breathlessly boarded the helicopter with all four artefacts; and I was once again reminded of why I play games: Those stories. Those moments where all looks lost, and then you pull out a win. Those games when you can taste the sea salt in the air, and hear the crashing of the waves as you race for the helicopter. Those times when all the mechanisms... all the words... melt away, and all you have left is the experience.

As we packed up the game, my wife suggested we should play Get A Letter so I could review it. I pointed out that I probably didn't need to play it in order to review it. She said we should play it anyway, and she had that look... You know the look. If you're married, and your wife has given you something you don't like but she wants you to use it... You know the look.

Get A Letter
The device... The alphabet is reversed on the back side of the flaps.

So we set up the game, fiddled about with the batteries, and drew the first card. The first category was something like "store departments." I shout the first thing that comes into my head. "Underpants." I flip the "u" flap, and then I start laughing. Because I'm incredibly immature, and I think underpants are funny. The whole round degenerates as my wife and I shout out ridiculous words that have only the most tenuous link to store departments. The buzzer sounds. The round ends.

We add up scores (I can't recall who won), we reset the flaps, and I draw a card to get a new category...

Something you can drop.


The timer ticks on mercilessly as my wife and I burst out laughing.

"The ball!"

"The kids off at the pool!"

It gets worse.

We score the round (I can't recall who won). Do we go again? Yeah. Why not? One more round won't hurt...

Something you can eat.

"My shorts!"

"Your words!"


Okay, it got old after about 15 minutes. But it was fun for about 15 minutes longer than I thought it would be.

And I guess, like in all good episodes of He-Man, at the end I learned a lesson.

I want games that tell stories, but I forgot the most important thing about any story: the characters.

Populate your gaming group with good characters, and any game has the potential to be greater than the sum of its parts.

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