A couple years ago, I picked up a game called WordSpin at a thrift store. I like word games, and I’ve always loved playing with magnets, and here was a game that combined the two! The game involves rearranging and spinning the letter wheels, trying to form as many words as possible in a single configuration. The little nub-and-dimple connections on the wheels make a very satisfying click-clack as you turn them, and my daughter (around 3 at the time) and I played with WordSpin for hours (but not always as intended).
Now, there’s a new WordSpin iPhone app, which plays pretty much like the original. I was given a download code to try it out, and I decided it would be fun to compare it to the original.
The rules are fairly simple but you’ll want to make sure you know what the goal is. There’s a spin phase, and then a score phase. During the spin phase, you can rearrange the wheels and dial them up and down as much as you want. Then, in the score phase, you look for as many words as you can find (two letters and up) on any of the ten faces. Typically a game has six rounds, starting with three wheels and adding one wheel each subsequent round. Once you’ve found a word, you’re not allowed to score with it in later rounds. Words that use all the wheels available get double points.
The iPhone app has a pretty slick interface: one finger spins a wheel or slides it left and right to rearrange the order. Two fingers rotates the entire column at once so you can scan all sides. And it makes the same click-clack sounds as the actual magnetic wheels. Plus, scoring is a lot simpler than the original pencil-and-paper method, and at the end of a game the iPhone version tells you which words you missed (using the SOWPODS word list), a feat that is impossible with the original. There are three play modes: practice, which allows you to choose anywhere from three to eight wheels; solitaire, which takes you through all six rounds; and challenge, which allows you to compete against anyone else. When you create a challenge, you get an ID code which will allow anyone to replay the same game as you, using the same number of wheels, number of rounds, and exact same wheel configurations. The in-game interface will allow you to send the code to a friend via e-mail, and then you can compare scores.
Compared to the original WordSpin, the iPhone app has its pros and cons. I liked the fact that scoring is automatic, and the challenge feature is pretty neat, allowing you to really play head-to-head with your friends. (The original game has some complicated rules about swapping wheels or sets of wheels with the other players.) Rearranging the wheels on the iPhone is also so much easier than in real life. And, of course, your iPhone is portable, so you can always carry the game with you. What I like about the original, though, is the tactile play: there’s really something about the feel of the clicks, the tension of the magnets. Plus, there’s a difference between rotating something on a screen and rotating it in real life.
But original or iPhone, WordSpin is a pretty clever game. The letter scoring makes it seem like Scrabble, but the word-search aspect is actually more akin to Boggle. There’s an art (which I have not perfected) to deciding exactly how to arrange the wheels so you can maximize the number of words showing on all the faces. It’s much more complicated than simply finding a single high-scoring word.
The app currently costs $1.99 (word is that this is a limited-time price which will go up to $2.99 at some unspecified point in the future). If you’ve got an iPhone or iPod touch and you like word games, give this one a spin.
Wired: Great interface and sounds; easy to learn but tricky to master; portable and won’t erase your credit cards.
Tired: Not quite as cool as the magnets of the original.
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