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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PuzzleNation Product Reviews: Big Letter Bananagrams, Qwordie, & Word-A-Melon

[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.

In today’s post, we’ll take a look at three of their latest efforts: Big Letter Bananagrams, Qwordie, and Word-A-Melon.

Big Letter Bananagrams is pretty much the tried-and-true Bananagrams model you already know: solvers pull tiles from a central pile and use them to build a grid of overlapping words, hoping to be the first to use up all of their letters.

The difference here is simple but important: Big Letter Bananagrams offers greater visibility for solvers with visual impairments. The tiles are 50% larger than those in the regular Bananagrams set — complete with a bold, easily discernable font — ensuring that older generations of puzzlers will still get to enjoy family game night.

Plus, a portion of the sale of each set of Big Letter Bananagrams goes to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Qwordie takes the word-forming basics of Bananagrams and adds a twist: solvers must use their own letter tiles (as well as ones pilfered from a central pile, a can of extra tiles, or another player’s personal tiles) in order to form a word that fits a certain category.

For instance, say the given card asks you to spell one of the five senses. Each player draws tiles from the central pile or the can of extra tiles and tries to spell a word that satisfies the card on the table. The first player to do so adds those tiles to their stack. The first player whose stack of winning letters passes the finish line on the side of the game tin wins!

Qwordie works at a slower pace than traditional Bananagrams games, since there’s a bit of a wagering aspect to grabbing new tiles. Sure, the quickest speller usually still wins, but the gamesmanship offers players more options than the regular game, since you can use wild card tiles (the platypus tiles), steal tiles from other players (the robber tile), or chose from several piles of extra letter tiles to pull.

This more methodical pace offers a distinctly different play experience for players familiar with more rapid-fire Bananagrams-style solving, and skews the game slightly older than most other Bananagrams products.

The categories come in easy and hard sets, allowing you to tailor the game to whichever group of puzzlers you play with. Qwordie is a smart hybrid of word-building games and Family Feud-style name-something-that-fits-this-category games, combining them for a fun solving experience for puzzlers.

Finally, we’ve got Word-A-Melon, one of the most cleverly designed and realized games in the Bananagrams game library.

Not only are the instructions of the game disguised as a watermelon rind cover for the game board, but the game board itself can be used to store the game’s tiles and die for easy transport.

Players race to claim seeds — aka letter tiles — by flipping over random tiles on the watermelon-shaped game board and using those seeds to spell out the longest word possible. You then claim the tiles used in that word and remove them from the board, adding them to your stash of seeds.

A roll of the die determines how many tiles you get to reveal on the board, but any letters you can’t use are turned back over. This adds a marvelous Memory-style mechanic to the word forming, one that adds a bit more strategy to everyone’s gameplay.

As you spell words, you remove those letters from the watermelon board, and the player with the most tiles (or seeds) at the end of the game wins.

You can also tailor the game’s difficulty to your liking: excluding common letters makes it harder to form words during the game, while excluding the tougher, rarer letters (like Q) makes for less of a challenge for younger solvers.

Between these three games, solvers of all ages and levels of experience have a word-forming game that fits them, encouraging group gameplay while challenging the anagram and resource management skills of each and every puzzler. Factor in the high replay value built into all of these games, and you’ve got a trio of winners for any puzzle fan.

The Bananagrams crew has done it again (and again, and again).

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Bananagrams Wild Tiles

Scrabble used to be the only letter-tile game in town, but a decade ago, Bananagrams entered the playing field, and it’s quickly become one of the most recognizable names in puzzle gaming.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret: while I’d known them by reputation, I’d never actually played a round of Bananagrams. So when presented with the opportunity to try out the newest member of the Bananagrams family — Bananagrams Wild Tiles — I was definitely looking forward to putting my puzzly skills to the test.

For those unfamiliar with Bananagrams, it’s a word formation game with a sense of urgency and freedom. Your goal is to use all the tiles in your hand to build words that cross and interact as they would in a standard letter-tile game, but with no board to restrict the words. And your opponents are building their own grids at the same time. It’s a race to complete your grid by arranging and rearranging the letters, putting your vocabulary and anagram chops on display.

Bananagrams Wild Tiles offers a spin on the familiar Bananagrams formula — there are six Wild Tiles, depicting the Bananagrams monkey mascot, and these tiles can represent any letter of the alphabet. That’s right, these are six get-out-of-trouble free cards in monkey tile form.

This seems like a minor change, but it makes a major difference in gameplay, since one Wild Tile can add serious adaptability to your hand, upping the stakes.

When playing with fewer players, I highly recommend limiting the tile pile to 3 Wild Tiles; otherwise, the game goes too quickly. (My friends and I also introduced another variant playing style, only allowing one Wild Tile — the one attached to the zipper of the Bananagrams bag — which was awarded to whoever made the most horrendous banana/monkey pun during the first round.)

Bananagrams Wild Tiles is a perfect gateway game to introduce puzzles both younger and older who might’ve been put off by the more rigid, more intimidating aesthetic of Scrabble. With its lighthearted packaging, free-form gameplay, and endless replayability, this one is a winner.

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