Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: WordTov

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WordTov

If you like variations on Scrabble, here’s one that has an interesting twist: WordTov is an area-control game that happens to use words as weapons. Use your tiles to spell words, and then flip tiles over to your color. Your score isn’t based on which letters you use, but rather on which letters you own by the end of the game.

At a glance: WordTov is for 2 players (or 2 teams), ages 8 and up, and takes about half an hour to play. It’s currently on Kickstarter, and the basic pledge level for a copy of the game is $35. You can play with younger kids as long as they can spell some words, but note that the area-control aspect means that it’s more complex than simply finding words you can make with your tiles.

New to Kickstarter? Read our crowdfunding primer.

WordTov Components
Two bags of tiles and a board. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Components

WordTov comes with:

  • 1 game board
  • 2 drawstring bags
  • 130 letter tiles

Note: The version I played is an advance copy, but the production quality is very nice and seems final, though I suppose things could still be subject to change.

The board itself is fairly simple: a 17×17 grid (with a logo in one quadrant). The edges are colored blue and red so that you can easily remember which color you are, and on opposite sides of the board there are eight squares for storing your letter tiles. (Unlike in Scrabble, your tiles are open information.)

WordTov tile
The WordTov tile, close-up. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The plastic tiles themselves are pretty interesting, and you can see more about them on the Kickstarter page. Each tile is double-sided, red on one side and blue on the other, with the same letter on each side. Sandwiched in the middle is a thin piece that’s either white or black. Each player starts with a full set of the same 62 letters plus 3 “WordTov” wild tiles, and that thin band is how you sort the tiles into the two bags.

The corners of the tiles are beveled so that you can press down on a corner to tip up the tile, and then pick it up to flip over. However, they’re fairly small tiles and since my hands are dry I found them a little slippery at times. I think they definitely look really cool, but part of me feels like the pieces are a bit over-engineered. For one, there are other ways to make tiles that can be picked up—cutting the corners to make them octagons, for instance, so there’s a little space in between them. But also, I wondered why each player needs to start with a full bag of tiles—why not just have one big set as you do in Scrabble? That would eliminate the need for that plastic band (and sorting out tiles between each game). That said, I do have to say that the tiles look pretty cool, and the bright colors made my kids come over and ask about the game.

How to play

The rules are pretty brief—in fact, they’re printed on the bottom of the box. There’s no rulebook or sheet here. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a game with the rules printed right on the box.

The goal of the game is to have the most tiles of your color on the board by the end of the game.

Each player gets a bag of tiles, and draws eight tiles and places them along the side of the board.

On your turn, you play a word onto the board using any number of your tiles, connecting it somehow to a word or words already present (except, of course, on the very first turn). For each tile you use, you may flip over one tile in any of the words touching your tiles.

If you can use up all 8 of your tiles, you may place two words onto the board in different locations, and then flip over all of the tiles in words that you touch, regardless of how long they are.

If you’re able to make an anagram of a word on the board and all the tiles on the board still spell words, then you can flip over all of the tiles in that word.

There are a few restrictions: you can’t simply add “s” to make plurals, and you can’t add the prefix “re-” to a word if it just means to repeat the verb.

If you can’t make a word, you pass. When both players pass consecutively, the game ends. You win if you have more tiles of your color showing.

WordTov
A few shots of a game of WordTov. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

I found WordTov to be very intriguing, because it rewards different sorts of wordsmithing than I’m used to in Scrabble. For instance, usually it’s your goal to use as many of your tiles as you can, because then you spell a longer word and get more points. In this case, though, the number of tiles you can flip is limited by the length of your new word and the length of the word you’re attaching it to. So in many cases it’s just as well to use fewer tiles and spell a short word since you’ll get to flip all the tiles anyway.

The corners and edges are valuable places, but not because of double- and triple-word scores. It’s because it’s harder to attach words to something up in the corner, which makes those tiles less vulnerable to flipping. However, in WordTov you could also try to protect tiles by placing more words nearby, reducing the number of letters that can be played in between.

I often like playing tiles so that they spell words in multiple directions at once, as you can see in the lower left area of the game pictured above. But in WordTov, that doesn’t necessarily benefit you very much—it doesn’t let you flip more tiles or score you more points, so it’s just for show.

Instead, in WordTov your goal is to attach your tiles to your opponents’ tiles as efficiently as possible, flipping over tiles and trying not to leave places for them to attach their own words. The fact that everyone’s tiles are open information gives you a little more room to strategize, but could also open it up to more analysis paralysis.

The anagram rule is an interesting tweak, but I haven’t ended up using that so far. I think trying to make an anagram when there are a lot of other intersecting words would be really impressive if it worked, but you could also waste a lot of time trying to figure out how to do it.

The practicalities of flipping tiles back and forth as you play can get a little fiddly. One of my friends remarked that this is one game he might prefer as an app, because it would make flipping tiles and knowing the score a lot easier—not to mention sorting out the tiles at the end. But I know that WordTov is also intentionally designed as a physical object: the tiles are meant to be picked up and played with, not just marking letters on a board.

Overall, I think WordTov has some promise for people who love word games and are looking for something a bit different. It does have pricey components, but backing the Kickstarter will get you the game a little bit cheaper (the expected retail is $49).

For more information about the game, visit the WordTov Kickstarter page.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.

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