Thursday 8 May 2014

Review - Unspeakable Words

Unspeakable Words

Unspeakable Words
Published by Playroom Entertainment
Designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker
For 2-6 players, aged 10 to adult

Being a writer has its downside. Sure, you get to spend all day crafting worlds, inventing characters, and generally doing what you love.


First of all, people have a tendency to buy you pens. Usually pens with your name on them.

I know my name, thanks. And, apart from writing shopping lists, I haven't used a pen since about 2005.

And when it comes to games, people always seem to think a writer is going to like word games. Scrabble, Boggle, Upwords...


No, no, no.

Words are tools. I don't play with tools.

Except my friend, James.

As a writer, I want board games that create stories. Games where I get to rearrange letters into words couldn't interest me less.

So, I tend to have quite a few word games in my collection, but there is only one that I actually bought myself. That one game is Unspeakable Words.

I picked it up years ago, when I saw it going cheap. I knew it was just a word game, but there was a little twist that appealed to me: A Cthulhu theme. Of course, this was back in the days when the Cthulhu theme was not quite so prevalent. Nowadays, Cthulhu is overused almost as much as ellipses in blog posts.

But anyway...

I was intrigued by the comical art, the fun spin on a theme I enjoy, and (of course) the promise of 30 cute Cthulhu pawns.

Frankly, those pawns are worth the price of admission alone.

Unspeakable Words Cthulhu pawns
We could be in trouble.

In fact, the presentation for the entire game is lovely. You get 96 cards depicting letters of the alphabet, the 30 pawns, and a 20-sided dice, which I am sure is a little nod to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

What is so nice about the cards is the way the theme is incorporated. For example, on cards depicting "C", you get the legend "C is for Cthulhu" and a nice picture of Cthulhu taking a nap with his teddy bear. If you don't know why that is funny, you clearly aren't a H.P. Lovecraft fan.

Additionally, each card incorporates a piece of art that is more typically associated with the letter in question. Seeing Azathoth eating an apple is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

Unspeakable Words cards
That penguin looks mighty nervous.

So the presentation is great. What about the game?

Sadly, the game is not really much to write home about (with a personalised pen, no doubt). The concept is that players are researching arcane lore, revealing words that no person was ever meant to spell out. Each player starts the game with five pawns, representing sanity (this is a Cthulhu game, after all), and seven cards.

Taking it in turns, players create words from the cards they have. The cards used to spell the word are placed on the table for everyone to see. The word is then scored based on the number of angles in the letters, which is another nice nod to the weird fiction that inspired the game. For example, the letter "Z" scores two points, while the letter "C" scores none.

At first, this might seem unusual. After all, the commonly used letter "A" scores five points, but the letter "Z" only scores two points. However, this is a surprisingly clever system when you realise that, after scoring your points, you have to roll a sanity check. To do this, you roll the 20-sided dice, and you must get equal to or greater than the total value of the word you just scored. If you don't, you lose a sanity point.

This means people who score high-value words are at greater risk of going insane. Thematically, this makes sense, and it also levels the playing field. Those players who are experts at creating high-scoring words run the risk of going insane, giving those people who have been scoring low-value words a chance to make a comeback.

The winner is the first player to score 100 points, or the last player with any sanity.

Unspeakable Words rules
Cthulhu's taking a nap. He does that.

So, yeah. it's just a word game. However, it has just enough going on to make it a little more interesting for me. The theme, the comedy elements in the art, the cute pawns, the push-your-luck element associated with creating high-value words, and the fact that people who are not great at word games still have a fighting chance, all adds up to make something that is just a little bit more than the sum of its parts. There are even some optional rules to spice things up a bit more, by giving people a chance to recover sanity, or to make up gibberish words if they are close to going insane.

This game may not be a Deep One, but if I have to play a word game I want to play one where I am not completely bored by the time Mi-Go comes around, and that means the only choice Hastur be Unspeakable Words.



I'll get my coat.

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