Almost any kind of social or hobby gathering can be boosted by having a bank of activities that relate to the theme or which can act as a launching point for discussion and introspection. If you are hosting a NaNoWriMo meetup, book club, or any game night in the library, then word games may be just what you need to spur interaction among the participants. We use word games at the Pawleys Island Library to supplement a wide variety of literacy and writing oriented programming.
Word games have a long and popular history, with Scrabble long being the most popular word game, frequently aped by other designers and even occasionally being reinvented with a wild new twist. Recent years have seen Words With Friends achieve huge popularity and become so omnipresent that it was tough to find a group of friends that weren’t playing it. Board Game Geek has 298 pages of tabletop word games, many of which bear little resemblance to Scrabble at all.
Designer Rena & Abe Nathanson
Players 1-8, Ages 7+
Time 15 minutes
In Bananagrams players pull from a pool of 144 tiles and then race to use tiles to create a tableau of words arranged in crossword puzzle like patterns. Over the course of the game players can trade in one tile for two, or will be forced to pull more tiles from the center, which may cause them to need to break down their current arrangement and rebuild if they want to progress. Once most of the tiles have been pulled from the center, and then someone uses all of their tiles, the game ends.
Bananagrams is particularly popular with the scrabble crowd, particularly players that prefer the word building to the scoring aspects. Because there is a blind draw from a dwindling pool of letters the game becomes more and more frantic as it progresses. Make sure your players have enough space to spread out and build their word structure.
There are a variety of Bananagrams, from a junior version that's designed for younger players to a big letter version that makes playing easier for those with bad eyesight, or even a jumbo version printed on large rubber coaster-like tiles, that are floppy, and soft when compared to the regular game. The tiles in the standard set are durable, we haven't had any of the six sets we use at our libraries get chipped or damaged.
Designer Tim Fowers
Players 2-5, Ages 10+
Time 45 minutes
By theme Paperback is about authors trying to complete writing a book, but really it is an abstract deck building word game. Each player, on their turn, draws cards from their deck, then use those cards plus another card on the table to create words. After they created words they’ll purchase more letters for their deck, some of which have special abilities and others that are wild and worth victory points. To add complexity you can play with a variant that prohibits duplication of words, or their is a cooperative variant as well.
Paperback is very popular with players that like deck building games, or like to play with words, and is a natural fit for library games both in theme and mechanism.
AKA Beyond Balderdash / Fictionary / The Dictionary Game
Designer Paule Toyne
Players 4-6, Ages 12+
Time 60 minutes
Unlike many word games Balderdash, also known as Fictionary or Dictionary Trivia is not a spelling bee game. In Balderdash the active player gives an obscure word, everyone else writes down a plausible definition for the word, and submits them in secret. The active player then reads all the definitions and players each choose which definition they believe is correct. In some versions of this game players get points for guessing the actual definition while in others they just get points for fooling others into choosing their definition.
Other Balderdash games (Beyond/Absolute Balderdash) add other guessing activities to this formula including laws, movie plots, acronyms and dates.
It is easy create your own version of Balderdash/The Dictionary Game by searching for lists of obscure words on the internet, or even have people bring their own list of 20 words that they will use when they are the active player. Let each person be the active player 2-4 times, and whichever person has the most points at the end of the game has won.
Not only is it easy to bend the Balderdash style of game to your needs by changing up the word list or adjusting the length of the game to suit your needs, but it also brings big fun on many fronts. Balderdash allows players to express creativity by trying to deceive others into choosing their creative definition, while also hearing all the amusing definitions others create, followed by the revelation about the real answer which is frequently more absurd than any the players created.
Designer Jack Degnan
For two teams, Ages 12+
Time 20 minutes
Word on the Street starts with a line of letters down the middle column of a five column board. Teams alternate coming with words that match a category like trees, mythological animals, flavors of ice cream, or sports. For each time a letter is used the active team moves that letter piece one space towards them, and once a letter is moved far enough towards a team it locks into place. However if it isn’t locked into place the other team can move it back towards their side of the board. Turns repeat until one team has locked in eight of the letter tiles to their side of the board.
Word on the street is a great game for several reasons; It’s a fast team game that works for teams of mixed ages and, because there is not one right answer, encourages quick discussions about vocabulary. Also, due to the limited number of moving bits, it is very easy to create your own giant sized version of Word on the Street. That said, I recommend you buy the tabletop version first so you can get a few plays under your belt before you invest the effort to make your own.
Designer Gil Hova
Players 1-6, Ages 10+
Time 20 minutes
In Wordsy players race to come up with a word. The fastest player to write down a word flips a timer limiting the amount of time other players have to come up with words.
Once time has run out, or all the players have written down words, the fastest player scores. Their score is based on which of the eight letters (consonants) visible on the table they used, and their placement on the board. Then the other players score their words as well and bonuses are handed out for having a better score than the fastest player, or if the fastest player has a better score than at least half of the other players. Wash, rinse, repeat for seven rounds, and then add all of your bonuses to your best five scores to see how well you did.
The simultaneous play speeds Wordsy along while group scoring helps ensure everyone quickly learns the minutia of game mechanisms like assigning points. I also like that the first player can choose the most obvious high scoring word quickly, but other players can take up to thirty seconds to try and beat that score facilitating two kinds of game play. I only wish I were any good at it.
What are your favorite word games?