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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5 Questions with Rena Nathanson of Bananagrams

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Rena Nathanson as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Rena Nathanson is the CEO (aka the Top Banana) of Bananagrams, a puzzle company built around family-friendly dice and tile games with anagram, pattern matching, and word building elements.

Bananagrams and its fellow puzzle games have won numerous awards and accolades from family groups, and the brand is in good hands with Rena at the helm, continuing to add new products to the Bananagrams puzzle family in the spirit and tradition of Bananagrams patriarch Abe Nathanson.

Rena was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Rena Nathanson

1.) Bananagrams is a game designed by a family for families. Can you tell us a little bit about how Bananagrams came to be, and how the family dynamic contributes to the company as it stands today?

First and foremost, Bananagrams is a labor of love. As a family we loved playing games, especially word games, but we wanted something fast-paced that the whole family of varying ages could play together. At first we intended to create something just for us, but we showed it to a few friends and family, and everyone said, “You must share this with the world!”

My Dad (who was 75 at the time), myself, and my two kids, Aaron (then age 7) and Ava (then age 11) created the game. My mother, who was in theater and set design, created the pouch… we literally sewed the first few by hand.  My Dad came up with the name, exclaiming: “This anagram game is driving me bananas!,” hence “Bananagrams.”  We created Bananagrams as a family, for families (and friends!) to play together.

[The distinctive Bananagrams pouch, beside a game in progress]

2.) In addition to several English versions, you also have Bananagrams sets designed for other languages. How do you choose which languages get their own edition of Bananagrams, and are there any new editions forthcoming?

Bananagrams is currently available in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Norwegian and Hebrew. Swedish and Icelandic are in production. Our criteria for producing a foreign language edition is: do people want it!? If there is sufficient demand, we are happy to produce it.

3.) You’ve got several variations on the letter-tile puzzle, including Appletters, PairsinPears, and Zip-It. Were these all created in-house, or were they pitched to you? How do you know when a game is right for the Bananagrams family?

We created all our games in-house. We developed Appletters and PairsinPears in response to fans looking for a Bananagrams-like game for a younger audience. As for Zip-It, our fans requested something that would capture the magic of Bananagrams, but that could be played in a more compact space.

All our games “travel well,” but Zip-It is the ultimate travel game. It takes up a lot less real estate than Bananagrams, so you can play it on a plane or airplane tray, and the scoring mechanism is on the pouch itself via zippers and numbers.

[A look at the extended Bananagrams puzzle family.]

4.) What’s next for Rena Nathanson and Bananagrams?

My goal is that every school and every household on earth has a set of Bananagrams. Global Domination! Nothing too lofty or anything!  Ha!

But seriously… my father had many aspirations for Bananagrams, and there are many things I would like to see to fruition in honor of him. There is still a long way to go in building and strengthening his legacy.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

If you have an idea, be passionate about it, don’t take no for an answer and be prepared for some very hard work! Also, know when to ask for help. None of us knows everything, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without all the support and help and advice from various people in all aspects of the industry, which I continue to receive gratefully to this day!

Many thanks to Rena for her time, as well as Bananagrams PR wizards Lesley Singleton and Judee Cohen for their time and assistance. Be sure to keep up on all things Bananagrams by checking out their website and following them on Twitter (@Bananagrams). I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

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