PuzzleNation Product Review: Bananagrams Duel

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[Note: I received a free copy of these games in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. /end disclaimer]

When it comes to word-forming tile games, the folks at Bananagrams are the masters. Their fruit-inspired packaging is synonymous with that particular brand of puzzling, giving Scrabble a run for its money in terms of letter-tile games. And they have an uncanny knack for putting new spins on classic puzzle-game tropes, breathing new life into the genre.

For instance, Bananagrams Duel replaces the iconic Bananagrams tiles with letter dice. Does this really make a difference in the game play? Let’s find out together.

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Bananagrams Duel is a two-player word/grid-forming game, consisting of 24 six-sided letter dice, a handful of banana cards, and a handy carrying case. When it comes to travel-friendly puzzle games, it doesn’t get much simpler than this.

Instead of pulling from a shared pool of letter tiles, each player gets 12 of the 24 letter cubes. The goal is the same as a traditional Bananagrams game: to create a criss-crossing grid of recognizable words. You’re allowed to shift and flip any of your dice to other letters as needed, and the grid can change at any time. (Unlike, say, Scrabble, you’re not locked into a word if you’ve already spelled it. Anagramming is always an option.)

The first player to use all 12 letter dice and call out “Bananas!” wins the round and is awarded one banana card for the victory. First player to 10 banana cards wins.

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But those little banana cards do more than help you keep score. On the other side of each card is a theme. In one of the variant rule sets detailed in the little instructional guide, your completed grid must now contain at least one word that fits the given theme.

That little tweak can make a traditional Bananagrams game much more challenging. After all, if you’ve ever played the regular version of the game, you know how words can just evaporate from your vocabulary during play, only to suddenly return once your opponent has completed a grid. Now imagine that same feeling, but with a theme of sports or six-letter words attached to it.

In one of our test games, we actually made this harder on ourselves by trying to make EVERY word in the grid fit the theme.

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As you can see here, we were allowed to choose our own theme, and we chose “Space/Astronomy.” I was devilishly close to completing my grid, but lacked the “L” I needed to spell Pluto. Meanwhile, my opponent went with a two-word grid that gelled nicely.

I don’t recommend trying it this way — unless you’re looking for a serious challenge — because the usual themed rules are tough enough.

Although an occasional bad pool of letter cubes can leave you without a letter — like, for instance, an L you really need — for the most part, it didn’t feel like the letter cubes were more restrictive or limiting than a traditional pool of Bananagrams letter tiles. All the dice shifting made for a different, yet familiar solving experience.

Plus it’s super-easy to come up with your own variant rules to enrich repeated games. The instructions list 5 alternate rule sets, and I would gladly recommend one that went well with us: having your opponent roll one of your dice for you and making you use it as the starting letter for a grid word.

Bananagrams Duel manages to boil down the Bananagrams formula to its most essential and playable form yet. And with a much faster clean-up (or pack-up and stash-away, if you’re on the road/in the airport), it’s more travel-friendly than ever before. They’re not lying when they call it a small space word race.


Bananagrams Duel is available from Bananagrams and participating local and online retailers, and it’s featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Lexicon-GO!

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

You might think that if you’ve seen one letter-tile game, you’ve seen them all. But you’d be wrong.

Every word-forming game, from great-granddaddy Scrabble on down, has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and some of them have tricks up their sleeves that make for a truly unique puzzle game experience.

And very few of them have the urgency of Lexicon-GO!, a travel-friendly game distributed by Winning Moves UK.

Designed for 2-4 players, ages 8 and up, Lexicon-GO! is as devilishly simple as it is frenetic.

Each player draws ten tiles from the draw pile, and tries to form words with all ten of them faster than their opponents.

And not just any words will do. There are no one-letter words, plurals, proper nouns, acronyms, and abbreviations allowed as answer words.

In most letter-tile games, it’s all about your own anagramming and word-forming skills; there’s very little direct interaction with your opponents. (Unless you’re both going for the same tile in the draw pile, that is.)

But Lexicon-GO! rewards both interactive thinking and aggressive, advantageous play. You can add your letters to the words being formed by other players (adding a T to the word SKI below to make SKIT, for instance).

Or you could swap out a letter in another player’s word with one of your own (making ZAP into ZIP and taking the A, or making SKI into SKY and taking the I, for instance).

Of course, this move only works if you’re forming a new, acceptable word. You can’t just throw in any letter and steal one you need.

[Once the wild card title is set, it remains that letter for the rest of the round, even if another player steals it. Until this round is done, for instance, the master tile is a P.]

Be the first one to use or dispose of all ten of your letters, and you win the round. The first player to win five rounds wins the game!

(Naturally, we’ve found that most players tend to focus on simply forming their words the fastest, ignoring chances to interact with and/or sabotage their opponents. So we introduced a house rule that every player must either swap a letter with another player’s word or add a letter to another player’s word. It certainly made for more strategic and chaotic gameplay!)

Now, you may have noticed that the tiles also have number values, not unlike the tiles in Scrabble and other tile-scoring games.

That’s because there’s a second path to victory, if you play Original Lexicon (or Master Lexicon) rules, which are helpfully provided with the game.

In Original Lexicon, the rules are the same, including winning a round by being the first to use or dispose of all ten tiles. But instead of everyone else simply conceding the round, they instead add up the point values of their letter tiles. After a few rounds, any player who passes 100 points is out, and the last player standing wins.

That variation makes the game much more tactical. If you know other players are faster at word-forming and anagramming than you, you can mitigate the damage to your score by getting rid of high-value tiles through swapping with the draw pile or adding your letters to the words of other players.

The larger tiles do mean that the game contains fewer letter tiles than other letter-tile games, which might hamper replayability in the long run.

Of course, on the flip side, larger tiles mean that both younger players and older players (who might have visual impairment issues, for instance) can enjoy Lexicon-GO! more than a game with smaller letter tiles.

As always, there’s a trade-off in any design choice.

Lexicon-GO! builds on the strong reputation of the letter-tile games that preceded it, while adding to the genre in engaging, fun ways.

The focus on lightning-quick play (as well as the encouragement to deviously interact with other players) adds some pleasant spice to the genre, rewarding outside the box thinking and puzzle-solving for younger minds and older alike.

This game gives the letter-tile classics a serious run for their money.

Lexicon-GO! is available from Winning Moves UK, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other participating retailers.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!