by Rob Blanding
I spent this last weekend with some friends who, like me, are big fans of Scrabble and Set, so when we came across a game that claimed to be similar to Scrabble and was created by the makers of Set, we figured there was a good chance we'd enjoy it. We were right.
The deck consists of 118 cards which contain letters (mostly just a single letter, but also some with common letter pairs such as TH or QU) and score values for each letter. The object of the game is to spell words (using at least two cards) and score the most points. The game plays very much like a cross between Scrabble and gin. A player goes out by using all the cards in his/her hand to form words, at which point all other players must do their best with what they have in their hands. Any unused letters are scored against the player and bonuses are given for longest word and most words spelled.
The game plays fairly quickly. Maybe half an hour per game. You start with 3 cards in the first round, and then each subsequent round adds one card to the hand up until the last round of 10 cards.
Though it’s not a particularly deep game, I was pleasantly surprised at some of the strategy that emerged as we played the game for the first couple of times. For example, it is not always to your advantage to be the first person to go out, as seeing what the other players lay down may affect your choice of words. If everyone else has gone for long words, you might want to try for many short words in an effort to get the bonus for most words played, or vice-versa.
The only even minor annoyance (and this is *really* nitpicking) is that the deck is so darn big and the rounds are so short that it sometimes felt like we spent more time shuffling than playing.
Though strategy and vocabulary are key, there is also a large amount of luck. The rounds tend to be so short that it’s possible to end up with all vowels, or all consonants (especially in the early rounds where you have fewer cards), in which case even the best player is doomed. This element of luck can be frustrating for more serious gamers, but makes it a little more approachable for the more casual gamer.
Overall, the game felt kind of like “Scrabble lite.” While it is certainly no replacement for the classic word game, it is a fun game that I would recommend to any fan of Scrabble.