Word Games of 2017 – Part One: Party Games

With 2017 still in the rearview mirror, it seems like a perfect opportunity to take a look back at some of its games, as we did with our recent Top 5.  For whatever reason, when looking back at the games that we bought and played last year, there were quite a few word games.  I’m sure part of this is our bias towards the genre (even before getting into hobby board games, Scattergories has always been a perennial favorite), but even still it seems like there were a greater than usual number of new word games released.  And even more, it seems like most of these were on the “party” end of the spectrum, accommodating 6, 8, or even more players!  In addition, these tend to be easy to learn and play, so are great for family or friends who may not be as into board games as some of us are.  In this article, we’ll explore 5 recent releases, and give our impressions on them.

Codenames: Disney & Codenames: Marvel

 Codenames has been a huge party game hit since it was initially released 3 years ago.  The core game is pretty simple: in the grid of 25 words, each team has 8 or 9 words to guess (the team that goes first has an extra word), and the spymaster tries to get their team to guess their words by giving a one-word clue along with the number of words it relates to.  The game rewards creative thinking and the ability to link several words together with a single clue (without pointing towards the other team’s words or worse, the singular assassin which ends the game in a loss).  Since its inception, Codenames has seen a Pictures version, as well as Deep Undercover, which uses more adult-themed words (and earned an eyeroll from us).  Now, there are two licensed versions of Codenames available, themed after Disney and Marvel comics.  These games play more-or-less identically to the original Codenames, with a grid of 25 cards the teams will have to guess.  The biggest difference is that these cards feature the word on one side and a picture of that word on the opposite side, giving you the option to play with words, pictures, or a mixture of the two.  Note that we are only picturing the Disney version here, but the Marvel version looks pretty similar.

The Chameleon

 The Chameleon answers the question (that I’m not sure anyone was really asking): What would happen if Spyfall was a word game that played in less than a minute per round?  In the Chameleon, each round there is a secret word chosen from a list of 16 related words (for instance, the card for sports might contain football, basketball, hockey, etc.).  Then, everyone says one word that relates to the secret word, while the Chameleon must bluff as if they know the word.  For instance, if the word was “hockey”, the players who know the word might say things like “ice” or “puck”, while the Chameleon, trying to be vague, says “team”, which relates to many words on the Sports card.  Then, once everyone has said a word, all players vote for who they think the Chameleon is.  If the Chameleon is correctly found out, they must guess what the secret word was in order to win.  Continuing our example, if the clues were too obvious, the Chameleon could easily figure out that the word  was “hockey”, winning the round!

Werewords

Werewords is the love child of 20 Questions and hidden role games like Werewolf.  In this game, there is a Mayor who knows the secret word and to whom the other players ask yes/no questions to try to guess the word.  There is also a Seer who knows the word and is trying to help the players guess it, as well as one or more Werewolves who know the word and are trying to get the others to not guess it.  There are a couple of other roles that can be added for larger games, but those are the basic ones.  Everyone who doesn’t have a special role is just a Villager who doesn’t know the word and is trying to guess it.  The game is driven by an app, which will give the Mayor some words to choose from, and will act as the timekeeper for the game.  After the night phase when the word is chosen and the Seer and Werewolves observe it, the players have about 5 minutes (though the timer can be adjusted), to take turns asking the Mayor questions to try to find the word.  If the word is successfully guessed, the Werewolves must try to find the Seer, so the Seer doesn’t want to be too obvious.  If the word isn’t guessed, all players vote to try to find one of the Werewolves.  If the correct target isn’t found, the villagers will win if they guess the word, and Werewolves win if the word isn’t guessed.

When I Dream

When I Dream turns the word-guessing genre on its head — instead of one player knowing the word and getting the others to guess it, only one player doesn’t know the word, and the others are trying to get him or her to guess it (or not, depending on their team).  In each round, one player takes on the role on the Dreamer, and dons the sleep mask that comes with the game.  The rest of the players are divided into teams:  the Fairies want the Dreamer to guess the words correctly, the Bogeymen want the Dreamer to guess incorrectly, and the Sandman wants the scores between the two teams for that round to be as close to equal as possible.  The words are provided on beautifully illustrated cards (reminiscent of the dream-like artwork in Dixit).  Once the Dreamer is ready and the timer is flipped, the other players take turns giving one-word clues to try to get the Dreamer to guess the current word.  At any point the Dreamer can make a guess, and whether it’s correct or not, the players move onto the next word.  Once time is up, before the Dreamer removes their mask, they describe their dream, trying to recall all of the words they’ve guessed and incorporating them in their story.  Then, the Fairies and Dreamer score a point for each word correctly guessed, with the Dreamer earning an additional 2 points if they recalled all of the correct words in their dream.  The Bogeymen get a point for each word that was incorrect, and the Sandman gets the most points if the scores are equal, slightly less if they differ by 1, and very few points if the scores differ by 2 or more.  The game is played until everyone has been the Dreamer twice, at which point all of the points are tallied up and the victor is found!

Word Slam!

 

Like many of these other games, Word Slam is a game where there is a hidden word that a team of people have to guess.  The differences in this game is that there are two different teams trying to be the first one to guess the word, and instead of verbal clues, the clue giver has 105 cards with different words on them to try to explain the secret word.  For example, clues for “ocean” could be “big water place”.  And “long wood shoot dead animal event” is, of course, “archery”.  On top of that, you can listen to the other team’s guesses to have some idea of what kind of clues they’ve been given.  The first team to correctly guess the secret word gets the point for the round, with games lasting a variable number of rounds based on player count (though we’ve found that 15 seems to be a good length for most games).

Reviews and Comparison

Amber: I’m a big sucker for both party games and word games, so finding so many games last year that combined both concepts was wonderful for me.  If you’ve read our Top 5 post, you can probably already guess that my number one pick from this set is Werewords.  This game really started hitting the table hard after GenCon last year and it continues to hit the table into 2018.  Part of what makes this game really fun for me is that there is just a slight hint of social deduction to it.  While this is a Werewolf game, adding in the 20 questions elements makes it not quite as focused on figuring out roles, which brings a few more people to the table.  We played this game recently with someone who told us, “Ugh, but I hate lying about my role!”  We urged her to give it a try anyway and after our first game, she wanted to play again!  I think this is because the “werewolf hunt” takes 60 seconds max, making this a much more minor part of the game than something like One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

Coming in at a very close second on this list for me is Word Slam.  We first tried this game out at GenCon 2017 with 2 players, even though it’s not really a two player game.  We decided to pick up and it sat on our shelf for a little bit, when we finally got it out I wondered why it sat on our shelf for so long!   This game really forces you to think about words in unconventional ways and the limitations of the cards given to you creates really creative word play.  Because this game can get a little rowdy, we’ve tried to limit our plays to private events, but I can’t wait to get this one out again.

When I Dream was another late in the year grab but it was definitely worth it.  I mean, just to see everyone wearing the sleep mask on their dreamer turn was worth the price of the game!  This game really scratches an itch for me that I never knew was there, Dixit in Dreamland.  This is another game that I could see players getting a little caught up about the hidden role aspect, but one thing I really liked about this game is that your hidden roles change every round.  So if you get nervous about being the “bad guy,” there’s a good chance that this may only last for a few minutes.  Also, with the whimsical and two worded cards, there’s opportunity to give an incorrect clue just by taking details off the card.

The Chameleon and Codenames: Disney & Marvel fell to the bottom of the list for me in this grouping.  I was excited about the concept of The Chameleon because I really enjoy the game Spyfall, but this game fell a bit flat for me.  I think part of my issue with this game is that, unlike Spyfall, there really isn’t time to formulate a solid guess.  In Spyfall, you can listen to other people and try to formulate solid, yet vague questions, but in The Chameleon your word needs to be so quick that it felt pretty obvious who The Chameleon was.  This feeling of uncertainty sort of carries over to the licensed Codenames games as well.   In standard Codenames, all of the words are pretty familiar and tying them together comes with clever word usage.  However, if you’re working with a licensed material that you aren’t as familiar with, such Disney or Marvel, tying together tiles may be way more difficult and clues tend to be more simplistic, such as “Red 3” or “Woman 4.”  Unfamiliarity with the content seems to take a bit of fun out of the game, so unless you really like the source, you may want to steer clear of the licensed Codenames games.

Ethan:  The main thing that all of these games have in common is that they all involve a hidden word (or words), and typically involve one or more players trying to guess them.  The main difference is in how the games accomplish that task, because for the most part these all feel very different to play.  The two that feel most similar are Codenames Disney/Marvel and Word Slam, as these both feature teams with one person giving clues and the others trying to guess the word(s).  However, the Codenames games rely on the core mechanism of the original Codenames, while Word Slam uses an innovative new mechanism.  Ultimately, I ended up not liking the licensed Codenames games as much as the original or Pictures.  The Marvel version is really tough for us because neither of us know Marvel characters all that well (and the one franchise I’m most familiar with, X-Men, in completely absent).  The Disney version is a bit better because I’ve at least seen most of those movies, but it feels like we traded in clever wordplay for finding associations between characters and concepts.  On the other hand, Word Slam really makes you think outside of the box with clue giving since you’re so limited with the words you can use.  As I illustrated in the description above, clues can definitely get creative!

Next up, let’s look at The Chameleon.  This is one that we added  to our collection and played early last year, and I feel like it’s kind of fallen by the wayside even in that short period.  Weirdly, one of the game’s key features, its super-short rounds, is what makes it so forgettable.  I really like the idea in theory of a super-fast Spyfall-like game, where there is one clueless person trying to fit in, but in practice it’s pretty middle-of-the-road.  Whereas in Spyfall the Spy has a few rounds of questions and answers to try to figure out what’s going on (and to figure out what kind of answers to give), in this game the Chameleon only has one shot to both give a good clue and listen to the others to figure out what the secret word is.  I guess it helps that the possible secret words are all related, giving the Chameleon a better chance to get lucky with their clue, but I think given the choice I’d rather play one of the other games listed here.  We’ll probably give this another go now that we’ve played all these other games to compare it to and see if The Chameleon holds up.

Lastly we have Werewords and When I Dream, both games with two teams who either do or do not want the hidden word(s) to be guessed.  Werewords is obviously a favorite of ours, since it featured in both of our 2017 Top 5 lists.  I don’t think there’s anything beyond what either of us said there that needs to be repeated — Werewords is fun, easy to teach and learn, and its 5-10 minute game time is a great length that lend itself to several plays in one session.  When I Dream definitely has the highest production values of any of the games on this list, which is part of what made it appealing to us in the first place.  Unlike all of the other games, the cards don’t just feature words, but full art that is really evocative of one’s dreams.  The bed card holder, while not really that necessary for gameplay, really adds to the theme, as does the sleep mask.  This is another game that’s relatively easy to pick up on (give one word clues, Fairies want the word to be guessed, Bogeymen don’t, and the Sandman wants an equal number of guessed and not guessed words), although the scoring is a bit hard for new players, especially for the Sandman.  It is a bit hard to be the Dreamer, with all attention on you (even though you can’t see the other players) and having to figure out who is giving good clues, remember who you should be listening to, and remember all of the words you’ve guessed, all at the same time.  That said, it’s still a bunch of silly fun, and it doesn’t last that long that it overstays its welcome.

Check out the table below for some comparison between these games, as well as our individual rankings of each.

Codenames: Disney/Marvel The Chameleon Werewords When I Dream Word Slam
Number of Players 2-8 3-8 4-10 4-10 3-99
MSRP $24.95 $19.99 $19.95 $39.99 $39.95
Subgenre Team Word Guessing Social Deduction Hidden Role/20 Questions Hidden Role/Word Guessing Team Simultaneous Word Guessing
Components Double-sided word/picture cards, key cards, agent cards Word cards, role cards, dice Cardboard role cards, answer tokens, app Illustrated word cards, role cards, plastic bed, sleep mask, point tokens Word cards, clue cards, plastic racks
Time per game (minutes) 15 10 10 20-40 45
Ethan’s Ranking (1=best, 5=worst) 4 5 1 3 2
Amber’s Ranking (1=best, 5=worst) 4 5 1 3 2

 

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