Reviewed by Herb Levy

WORDSY (Formal Ferret Games, 1 to 6 players, ages 10 and up, 20 minutes; $20)


There is a whole corner in the World of Games reserved exclusively for word games. Of course, that section is dominated by titles that a lot of people have tucked away in their closets: Scrabble and Boggle. These word games have risen to the level of “staples” and, as a result, it’s hard for a new entry in that group to get itself heard. Fortunately, game designers take that as a challenge and rise to the occasion. In this game, designer Gil Hova challenges the “big boys” with his word game: Wordsy

Unlike Scrabble (that uses tiles) or Boggle (which uses cubes), Wordsy uses a deck of letter cards (along with a 30 second sand timer, a scoring pad and pencils) to get players to play with words.

Four columns of cards (worth 5, 4, 3 and 2 points) are laid out. The deck of letter cards is shuffled with two cards placed in each of the four columns creating the “board”. All letter cards display 1 consonant; there are NO vowels. Most of these letters are considered “commons”. Some of the letters, though,  are considered “Rare” (the more “difficult” ones such as Q or Z etc.), are of a slightly darker color and have a 1 or 2 point bonus. There can never be more than two Rares in the display at any time so if more than two of these difficult letters become part of the display, the excess Rare cards are discarded and replaced by commons. With each player armed with their own individual score sheet and a pencil, the action starts. 

All at once, everyone tries to think of a word using as many of the letters in the display as they can. Add any letters that do not appear in the display if you wish; vowels may be added as needed with complete abandon! Short words are fine but longer words have the potential to score more. But there are some restrictions: no proper nouns, no contractions, no hyphenated words and no use of words used in previous rounds – and you will soon see why. 

When someone has written a word on his/her score sheet, that person flips the timer. The rest of the players have only 30 seconds more to come up with a word of their own. When the timer runs out, words are revealed and scored. 

The fastest player (the one who triggered the timer) scores the round first. Each player scores for letters used in their written word that appear in the display. Used letters found in the 5 column are worth 5 points, those in the 4 column are worth 4 points and so on. If a letter appears more than once in the display, it will score more than once. Any bonus points for using Rare letters get added to the total. And there are even more possible points to be gained. 

The score of the fastest player is the one to beat. If another player has scored higher than the fastest player, that player earns additional points (from 1 to as much as 3 as the rounds continue). If the fastest player’s score is higher (or at least, equal) to the other players (or at least 3 of them in a 5 or 6 player game), the fastest player scores a bonus as well (from 2 to as much as 4 points in the round). 

With the round over, the two cards in the 2 column are discarded, the rest of the cards shifted down a column and two new cards drawn to fill the vacated 5 column – and then we do it all over again. (With six of the 8 cards remaining in the display, you can understand why reusing the same words is prohibited.)

After the 7th round, players check their scores. The two LOWEST scores are crossed out. Only your top five scores will count and they are added up. Add to that total, ALL bonuses accrued through ALL seven rounds (yes, even bonuses for words crossed out). The players with the highest combined total wins! If tied, then the player with the highest scoring word gets the victory. 

Wordsy is actually a reworked version of an earlier Hova design, Prolix. In Prolix, players took turns which allowed the other players to “interrupt” to score. In Wordsy, the play is a fun “free for all” instead which is a definite improvement. There are several other things to like about Wordsy too.

First of all, precise spelling is not required. Basically, whether an “a” or an “e” goes between a consonant or two doesn’t matter. What matters is the ability to splice together disparate letters to form a legitimate – and, for maximum scoring – long word. And you are not constricted by what’s on the “board”. The beauty of this is that you can use ANY letters in your word construction; they do NOT have to be part of the display giving players a sense of freedom not often found in other word games. The potential bonuses (for being the fastest and outscoring the fastest player) slowly rise in value creating an arc that ramps up the pressure to do better each round. Sometimes, you find yourself in a game with a “word game guru” can find words seemingly out of thin air while you are still scratching your head. Fortunately, there is a “No Flip” card here, given to the player who flips the timer each round so that player can NOT flip that timer two rounds in a row, giving a little “breathing room” to the others in the game. A simple solution to what could have been a problem. 

While the cards are a little small (and, as a result, a little difficult to shuffle), the letters on the cards are large and very readable which is a big plus. A nice twist is that the values of the letters change from round to round as the cards shift from one column to the next which gives you an incentive for using different letters each round. Giving a bonus for using “difficult” letters is a good idea but what is considered “difficult” is a little perplexing. Using Q and/or Z  can certainly be a challenge and maybe that can be said for V and K. But is F or Y that challenging? (Of course, these bonuses are only a point or two but game scores, particularly since you can eliminate your two lowest scores with impunity, tend to be extremely close. A point or two of additional bonus can make a huge difference.) On a purely cosmetic note, the packaging of the game (the box looks like a book that would fit comfortably on a shelf – although it opens like a box and not a book) is very appealing (and easy to carry or tuck in a bag). 

It’s hard to crack the word game wall built by Scrabble and Boggle. But Wordsy does an excellent job in scaling that barrier. Fans of anagrams or code-breaking will find a lot to like here and, of course, a large vocabulary is definitely an asset. But you don’t have to be a “word genius” to have fun. Anyone with any interest in words – or seeking a respite from the more familiar “big boys” of word games, will find a light and likable diversion in Wordsy. – – – – Herb Levy

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