Flavors of Word Games

Word games.  Some people cringe at the thought, while others are gung-ho about them.  Teachers love them.  Students often hate them.  But what comes to mind when you think of  “word game”?  For me, and I think many others, “Scrabble” is the first thing to pop into our mind.  It is the classic word game.  But games of spelling are only one type of word game, and even “spelling” games have many subcategories.

Word games can largely be divided into 3 categories:

1.) Spelling games
2.) Word Association games
3.) Sentence Building games

Razzle is a two player speed word game. Players push the row of letters closer to their opponent every time they make a word. The goal is to get the letters all the way to your opponents side.

Spelling games are what most people think about when they hear “word game”.  Scrabble, Upwords, Bannanagrams, Boggle, Spill & Spell, Razzle, Snatch It… the list goes on and on.  These are all games where the main goal is to create words using individual letters.  Points may be awarded by either making the longest words or by making words the quickest.  While the manner of doing this might vary from game to game, the goal is always the same.

A hand of Apples to Apples. The player would pick one of these cards to match up with a adjective on the table. Which card would you pick for "Flat, Even, or Level"?

The T-Shirt Game. Similar to Apples to Apples, but in my opinion, much much funnier.

Word Association games are the next biggest category of game and are becoming more prevalent.  The most popular game currently in this category is “Apples to Apples”, where players attempt to match up cards listing nouns with a card that lists an adjective to create an accurate or funny connection that a judging player will choose.  There are a couple other games with this same theme, such as the T-Shirt Game, but Apples to Apples is clearly the Goliath among Davids.  Similarly there are other word association games, such as “In a Pickle” which forces players to think outside of the box to decide what will fit inside of what.

Zing! A sentence building word game. There are four different bins of word tiles: Easy words, Moderate words, Esoteric words, and blank tiles for writing in words.

Lastly there are sentence building games.  This is a category of game that I find fascinating, and sadly far and few between.   Zing! is a great example of this kind of game.  In this game you place word tiles on the board, of varying levels of complexity, in order to make a sentence.  Each sentence created is a continuation of a story, with often extremely funny outcomes (or given the use of analogies, and the right group of people, has the potential to become rather adult very quickly).

So next time someone asks if you would like to play a word game, and your mind immediately turns to Scrabble, stop and inquire about the game. You may find yourself graced with a different kind of word game.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Monday, January 24th, 2011 at 10:24 am and is filed under Random Things that Fall out of my head . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


  1. parkrrrr says:

    I think sentence-building games are so rare because they’re really hard to do right in English. Between verb tenses, plurals – including the annoying plurals of (some) words that end in “Y”, subject-verb agreement, comparative suffixes (-er or -est), and various irregular verbs and irregular plurals, it’s hard to pick random words out of a hat and make a coherent and grammatically correct sentence. Ask anyone who’s ever played with Magnetic Poetry for more than a few minutes – and Magnetic Poetry has all the suffixes and whatnot available all the time, unlike a game with random choice of sentence elements.

    I haven’t played Zing, but I’ve got both editions of the Scrabble Sentence Cube Game, and while it seems like the idea should work the realities of the language just make the resulting “sentences” sound like caveman-speak. For me and the people I’ve tried to play them with, that was a huge turnoff. I suppose you could manage a sentence-building game that didn’t have that problem through careful grooming of the available sentence structures and the available words, but it’d be a lot of work.

    On an unrelated subject, where would you fit Tweeners into your taxonomy of word games? You can see http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/89666/tweeners for a short description, but it unfortunately doesn’t have any examples. I think it’s probably closest to word association, but it’s not really. It seems more like a cross between a word game and a trivia/puzzle game like Tribond.

  2. Zing really conquered the “caveman speak” problem nicely through the use of blank tiles that can have any word or tense (like “ly” or “ed”) written in. These written in tiles don’t count toward your score, but do subtract from your word limit per sentence. If you can russle up a copy I think you might really enjoy it. The only pain is cleaning off all the dry erase marker from the blanks at the end.

    Wow, you weren’t kidding when you said there was no examples of tweeners. I thought I would at least be able to see some of the cards in the pictures, but even that was a no go. And unfortunantly it seems the company doesn’t have any sort of website either.

    From the description, I am very torn. It’s *almost* a sentence building game. You are filling in a phrase after all. But depending on the other mechanics in the game, this might fall almost exclusively in the “party game” category leaving the “word game” category in the dust. I mean after all, all games *use* words, but whether or not the words are the focus is a whole different matter. I would certainly be interested in giving that game a test drive, if I manage to get my hands on a copy though.

  3. parkrrrr says:

    My copy of Tweeners was sent to me by the designer in the BGG Thrifty Secret Santa exchange. I’m not sure it’s even available on the open market, which might explain some of the dearth of information. I’ll see about adding some more pictures to the gallery when I get a chance.

    It’s definitely a party game, but then so’s Apples to Apples.

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