If you engage in creative writing in any way, you have at some point considered getting a typewriter. The click clack of the keys, the swoosh of the carriage, the idea of piles of paper stacking up as you write. It is a romantic image repeated throughout our media.
Word games can evoke this spirit, encouraging us to dig deep into our vocabulary, to conjure up words we rarely use, to improvise and create. Letterpress, designed by Robin David and with graphic design from Steven Meyer-Rassow from Osprey Games is the latest game to attempt to crack the word game puzzle with an unassuming box of cards, each one representing a letter of the alphabet.
Every turn in Letterpress starts with options: a personal hand of five cards, alongside a shared pool of three dealt out letters and a couple of vowels. From this you must craft the highest value word you can using as many of the letters from your hand or the shared pool as you wish. Simple enough it would seem.
Your choices are not all your own however. Those five cards you have at the start are going to get drafted, and the hand you eventually end up with will be full of choices; your own and other player's, for bad and good.
Although your aim each round is to get the highest value word the actual goal is tinged with more choices. You see the winner of each round gets the first pick of some letters to bank, but everyone will get a chance to take something. Your bank is a little deck of possibilities for the final round where you will form a last word, using the cards in your bank and the shared ones on display as you have for the previous rounds. The most valuable one in this last round takes the game.
There is another wrinkle to all this in the form of challenges. Each round three of these will be dealt, tempting you to try and obtain them, adding another card to your bank in the final round. These challenges can be anything from scoring a specific number of points in your word to not using any of the shared letters. In this way the challenges represent a way for players to expand their bank of cards, even when not coming out on top of the round. It’s an interesting solution to allow those with less mastery of words to stay in the running. Of course if you are really good you can probably get some good picks and one, or more, of the challenges.
Letterpress has a really interesting balance between two different goals throughout its playtime. Their is the short and immediate future as you draft, trying desperately to lessen your bad luck with good decisions and maximise your pick of the cards at the end of the round. This is tempered with the long term goal of gathering a selection of letters you hope will lead you to victory. Do you go for the rarer letters, knowing they are worth more points, but you may be unable to use them? Do you play it safe and get a well rounded lexicon ready? More choices, each one simple, yet excruciating.
I’ve played Letterpress at a few player counts, it has a solo mode as well that I haven't played, and it has sung every time. Every turn has agonising choices as you balance short term goals and long term plans. Although no word game I’ve played has ever really managed to get round the built in issue that the game pivots around the player’s vocabulary, Letterpress makes a great attempt in the form of challenges. It's a great design, easy to teach, and has a lovely clean aesthetic. This is a great word game, in a small box, with a price point to match, and is well worth your time if you are looking for one of the best word games I’ve played.
A copy of Letterpress was provided to The Giant Brain by the publisher Osprey Games.