Friday 1 August 2014

Review - Early Words

Early Words

Early Words
Designed by M. Twinn
Published by Child's Play
For 2-10 players, aged 6 to adult

I have a tendency to bang on a bit. You may have noticed.

Some people say I just like the sound of my own keyboard; but it's more than that.

I love to tell stories.

I love to express opinions, and open dialogues with other people with similar interests.

But I don't love word games.

Scrabble, Boggle, Get A Letter, Unspeakable Words, Upwords... The list of word games I have owned or played is depressingly long.

People assume that I like them because of what I do; but I like them about as much as I imagine a builder likes bricks.

Bricks aren't particularly interesting. What is interesting is seeing how those bricks are combined to create something beautiful, like a house.

So no, word games are not for me. And Early Words has done absolutely nothing to change my opinion.

Early Words box
Stop thief!

The game is incredibly simple. In turns, each player flips over the top card from a deck. Each card contains a letter, with some cards representing multiple letters (for example, the "q" doubles up as a "b"). When a player is able to make a word with the revealed cards, he or she takes the letters and lays them out on the table. The first player to make a certain number of words (based on the number of players) wins.

The wrinkle in the rules that makes things slightly more interesting is the ability to steal words from other players. If you realise you have letters that you can add to an existing word another player made, you can take that word for yourself, and add the extra letters to make the new word. The only rule here is that you must make a new word, rather than making a word that has the same root as the original (no pluralising of singulars allowed).

A "legal" steal might be adding "ten" to the end of "kit" to make "kitten;" or adding the letters "c," "e," and "t," and then rearranging all of the letters to spell "ticket."

The interesting thing about this is that it encourages players to make longer, more complex words. Players who quickly grab the first three-letter words they see tend to have those words stolen away, while players who create longer words usually still have control over those words at the end of the game.

Of course, every time a player steals a word it gets longer, making it harder for anyone else to steal it.

Early Words rules
Rules in the box lid.

The problems with the game should be obvious. As with most word games, the winner is going to be the person with the best vocabulary. There is no skill involved, and the only luck comes from turning over a card each turn, so it is not easy to level the playing field, and younger players are going to have a hard time against older players. This is made even worse because of the stealing mechanism. At least in other word games weaker players get to nab some points by using smaller, easier words. Here, trying to go for small words is actively discouraged as it is just gifting your opponent with the chance to steal from you.

Furthermore, turns often take a long time, particularly towards the end of the game when there are lots of words on the table and everyone is looking for ways to steal them. Word games are generally quite tedious, and Early Words really starts to drag in the final stages.

Early Words cards
I can't make a word with these blasted letters!

Okay, it has good educational value, as with any other word game; but that alone does not make it worth playing. And the bland cards, completely devoid of artwork, are hardly going to inspire the imagination.

And that's all I have to say about that.

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