It’s hard to have a strong opinion about every game you play. Usually, I can analyze a game and eventually come down to a solid “I love it” , “I like it”, or “It’s really not worth the cardboard it’s printed on”. But every once in a while I find a game that just doesn’t strike me one way or the other.
Dabble came to me during Gen Con 2011. The gal who demoed it for us was really friendly, and I relatively enjoyed my demo. There was nothing breathtaking about the game, but it certainly wasn’t awful. Since then I have played this game more than a few times with friends and family, trying to form an opinion on it. It has sat on my desk, menacing me, practically daring to come to some sort of conclusion, and yet I haven’t been able to. Other games have come and gone while this one sat, just waiting for its write up and its moment in the proverbial sun.
Dabble is a word game, or more accurately an anagram game. An anagram is a word, or words, that can be rearranged to spell other words, which is exactly what you are trying to do in this game. You receive a hand of tiles at the beginning of the round. You must then rearrange those tiles to create a series of words, starting with a two letter word and progressing upwards to a six letter word. This is all done while a timer ticks away, and your opponents try to do the same on their own racks.
For me I could see pros and cons to this style of game play. The “everybody plays at once” style is appealing because there is no long waits for it to get back to your turn, it’s always your turn! But for me this style of game play feels solitary and not in the spirit of board games. Board games are social things, I need human interaction in my games!
The one thing I can say I resoundingly did not like was the “Q” and “U” tiles being separate entities. Other similar word games have combined these tiles into one, because nearly all english words use these two letters together. So, to draw a “Q” without a “U” pretty much guaranteed that you will not win that round, which seemed like a design flaw.
One thing that we thought initially was pretty neat, but also ended up hating was the apostrophe tile. That’s right, this game allows you to use apostrophes in your words! We thought that was very inventive. But look back at this article, how many apostrophes have I used in words so far? 10 total apostrophes, in four different words. That’s really not very many considering how many words are already in this article. To sum it up, the apostrophe was very hard to use.
But to add a little bit more “neat” to this game, it also came with the tiles necessary to play the game in Spanish, which we thought was really pretty cool. A couple of the gamers in our group speak Spanish, and one of them is raising a bilingual son. This seems like an awesome game for their household, but perhaps a few years from now, as the son would still be more interested in eating the pieces then spelling words with them.
I do have one small component complaint with the game, the sand timer that is packaged with the game really stinks. When I was demoing the game at Gen Con, the sand timer stopped running, it essentially clogged itself up. I figured it was a fluke, probably just a little moisture got in there. However, when I got home with my brand new, fresh out of the box copy, I had the same problem. The timer would just stop running, completely randomly. Because the word building is timed, and that makes a big difference in the game, I would advise the company to look into using different sand timers, because these were just non-functional. I ended up using my cell phone timer function while playing.
But to balance out that negative, I have a component praise (I told you I was having a hard time deciding on this game). The racks that each player uses are really nice and very functional. The game comes with tiered racks. Each row is only long enough for the word that is suppose to be there, for instance the top row will only hold two tiles, because you are suppose to make a two letter word, the next row down only will hold three tiles, etc. This made it really easy to see what sized word you still needed to make.
So my end result? Meh? It’s an ok game. It certainly has its’ flaws (QU, sand timer, apostrophes, etc), but it also has its’ upsides (bilingual, nice trays, innovative apostrophe use). If you are a word buff, or bilingual, or like more “solitary” games, go ahead and pick it up. If not I think you’ll feel much the same as I did, lukewarm.
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