Friday, November 5, 2010

Some Kind of Game Review - What's My Word?

When I was a kid, I used to love playing a game called Mastermind. It was essentially a logic puzzle, where one person arranges colored pegs behind a screen and the other player makes guesses with colored pegs, and the first player put black and white pegs into holes to tell the second guy which color pegs are right and wrong. There were lots of pegs, I can tell you that. It took five to ten minutes to play a game, and then we would switch sides and try again. My biggest problem was finding someone to play with me, because to my complete surprise, a shockingly low number of ten-year-olds want to do logic puzzles when they could be digging in a sandbox to find raccoon turds.

Then last week I got a game called What's My Word?, and it looked an awful lot like Mastermind, only instead of colored pegs, you used words, and instead of five minutes, it will take you half an hour, and instead of being a pretty simple game if you can use your head, it makes your mind sweat until you pop a blood clot. You don't have to be particularly good with words. You just have to be really, really smart.

The game consists completely of two binders full of scoring sheets. You each come up with a six-letter word and hide it under your screen, then take turns using words to try to guess the letters in your opponent's word. You use logic and a little creativity to work through letters and words, and after a little while, you stop because you need a Midol for the skull pain.

The rules are incredibly simple - say your word, write it down, and score points based on whether you have the right letters, and whether they're in the right place. Since you can win even if you don't guess your opponent's word, smart play isn't always the move that gets you closer to the answer. But simple rules don't mean a simple game, and if you're not ready for some serious mental calisthenics, you may not be smart enough for this game.

The reason this is so much harder than Mastermind is because where Mastermind had just a handful of colors, there are 26 letters in the alphabet, and you're going to need to find just six of them that work. Then there's the fact that in order to guess, you actually have to come up with a word. No fair guessing 'imprgh' just because you know the I, M and P are in the right place. You'll sit studying your sheet for two or three minutes, brow furrowed in concentration as you try to find a word that uses V, B and N, with A as the second letter, just because you're trying to eliminate V and you know your word has B and N in there somewhere.

I loved What's My Word?. I like logic puzzles, and I like word games, so this was a blast. But if you don't particularly care for the kinds of intellectual fat-burning exercises that make your cerebral cortex melt into a bowl of noodle soup, it's not going to appeal to you at all. On the other hand, it's very likely to appeal to non-gamers who just like word games. You know, like your grandma who blows through the New York Times crossword every morning but still can't figure out DVR Matlock.

So now that I'm grown up, the only problem I have with What's My Word? is finding someone to play with me. Cruel fate has deemed that, like most children, adults are rarely interested in flame-broiling their brains when they could just let them reduce to a jello-like mush by watching reality television.


Seriously fun mental gymnastics
Creative and smart at the same time
Rules are easy to understand

Holy sweet Mother of Pearl, this is hard

I can't find pictures of the box for this game, and I can't find anyone selling it. Check out the Eagle Games site, and see if you can find it there:


=+=SuperflyTNT=+= said...

This sounds a bit like the "hacking" minigame in Fallout 3...isn't it?

Anonymous said...

This is the old word game Jotto (although it uses 6-letter words, while Jotto uses 5). It always amazes me that someone figured out how to make money on old pencil-and-paper games like Jotto, Cows and Bulls (marketed as Mastermind), Battleship, etc., by pretty packaging and plastic pieces,