I’m a writer with an excellent vocabulary but for reasons I can’t explain, I’m pretty darn poor at word games. I’m surprised when I break 100 in Scrabble and even word jumbles can leave me feeling baffled and wondering if it’s “CAT” or “DOG” that’s going to win. I persist anyway and just try to avoid people who are ridiculously good at word games. You know who I’m talking about they’re the people who drive you to the brink of cheating in Words With Friends, even if you won’t admit it 🙂
When Robin David asked me to check out his word game Movable Type, I decided I’d give it a whirl. A simple card game, it was a successful Kickstarter campaign from last year, raising about $2000 dollars, almost double its funding goal. Robin’s exploring the possibility of an expansions to the game, so was happy to send along a box from his home base in Dublin, Ireland. Turns out it’s quite a fun, simple word game, even for those of us who aren’t fantastic at unscrambling letters to assemble high point value words.
The game can be played by 2-4 players (though I’m experimenting with a simple solo gameplay scenario) and consists of five rounds of card drafting and word creation. Similar to Texas Hold-em, each round has cards in your hand plus shared cards on the table that any player can utilize. The first four rounds you compete for most valuable word, saving key cards for the last round. On the last round of the game, the “river” (shared, common cards) are changed and you play your best word based on the cards you’ve managed to accumulate. Highest point value word just in the last round wins the game.
Each round there are bonus cards you can take if you meet the criteria specified, and they’re critical to your final word score. Here are the four we dealt in our sample game:
From left to right, Gutenberg gains you a 5-point “L” for your last hand if you play an 11 point word, Verne offers a 3-point “E” if you have a word that’s at least 5 points better than another player, Xun is a 5-point “P” if you play a word with two 5-point letters (not easy!) and Shelley is a sweet one, the letter pair of “ED” worth 5 points if you play exactly a 12-point word.
Each round other than the final involves a Mah Jongg-like drafting mechanism: each player is dealt 5 cards, keeps their favorite and passes the rest to another player. Then they pick one out of the four they received, pass the remaining three, and so on, until everyone has 5 cards and there are none left to pass. In the first round of play, with shared letters “B” “C” and “K”, here were the five cards I ended up with from which to compose my word:
I made the word “BLACK” which was worth 4 (B) + 3 (L) + 1 (A) + 3 (C) + 5(K) for a total of 16 points. That won the round handily, so much so that my word was worth 5 points more than my competitor and I was able to grab the Jules Verne writer card to save for the last round. In addition, first place player in each round gets to pick two cards from all those in play for their last round, second gets 1, and so on. These vary based on number of players and are conveniently summarized in one of the rule cards.
Next round with different letters in my hand but the same three shared common letters (BCK) I formed “BRINK”, for 14 points:
Where we got into trouble was by not paying attention to vowels. When there are no vowels in the common cards (ours were “B”, “C”, “K”) it was critical, critical to grab a vowel soonest when moving the diminishing stacks around. One round I neglected to do this and couldn’t make any word at all, which make it super simple for the other player to win the round, cherry pick the cards played for the last round and grab the best of the writer cards.
Here’s my favorite writer card, both because he’s one of my favorite writers and because Robin has a lovely pun with this card value:
Finally, you get to the last round and it’s now time to learn how well you did collecting cards in the previous four rounds because this time none are dealt from the deck. Our hands were good, but not fantastic:
The player on the left needs to assemble a word out of as many of the shared cards (S, F, H) and their own hand (CHOALLE), while the right hand has the same shared cards plus RYMUINL. So what do you get? With a little help from the Web, the leftmost player could use SHELLAC, which would be worth 2+3+3+3+3+1+3 or 18 points, while the player on the right could figure out FURNISH or SINFUL, both of which are only worth 14 points. Either way Jules Verne wins out over Johanne Gutenberg in this case and the player on the left wins!
While I enjoyed Movable Type and will definitely pull it out with my erudite friends, there were some points of confusion that I had to check with Robin to clarify. One of which is that some of the cards refer to “common letters” which made me think of letters like “E”, the most common in the English language. I thought “oh, maybe they’re the 1-point cards” but in fact, they refer to the shared letters in the middle of the table. D’oh! Also after each round it’s not clear that the winning players choose a card or two for their final round hands (the “collection”) and that all the other cards are then shuffled into the letter deck for the next round’s deal.
I was also disappointed with the artwork of the game. The backs of the cards are painfully plain and begging for some sort of interesting back. Probably not a bicycle back, but maybe a sketch of a printing press to be consistent with the game? In fact, while the cards are on good card stock and laminated, I would still like to see a designer revamp the game. For example, why not have the card colors indicate point value?
Still, for the very low price tag of $13.99, this is a fun, simple and kid-friendly word game that you can easily keep in the car, toss in an overnight bag or even play through at a local coffee shop. I look forward to seeing what kind of expansion might be in the offing!
Earlier I mentioned that I think you could come up with a solo variant on the game. Here’s my thinking: four rounds that are basically the same, but without card drafting. Three in the common space, five in your hand, and you try to create the highest point value word possible. The difference is that you keep track of each round’s word points, so four rounds should get you 40-50 points. In addition to any one writer bonus card you might earn, you can pick two cards from your played cards if you get 14 points or better, 1 card if you get at least 10 points in this round’s word and zero cards if you’re below 10 points. For the last round, redeal the shared cards, form the most valuable word you can, and add it to your existing score. A final score of > 50 = you’re good. > 75 = you’re really good. > 100 = you’re a word wiz or are darn lucky. Easy enough to try out…
Disclosure: Robin sent me a review copy of Movable Type for the purpose of this review. Thanks, Robin!