TableTopTakes: Letter Jam
I am not always a huge word game fan. I’m not going to lie, I generally do pretty well at them, but a lot of word games aren’t about the words you know, it’s about recognizing patterns. So you can often end up with someone who has a much larger vocabulary not doing nearly as well in a word game. Letter Jam takes some of that away as it’s a cooperative word game where you are trying to figure out your own word.
Borrowing from Hanabi, Letter Jam has you give a fellow player a word while someone else creates and scrambles up a word for you. You place your word face down on the table in front of you, and then carefully, so you don’t see it, you put it so that everyone else can see your first letter. Players then pitch their ideas for words that they can make. For example, in a six player game, someone might be able to make a five letter word that uses four people and a wild card letter. Whereas someone else might be about to make a four letter word that just uses four people and no wild card. As a group you then decide what makes more sense to give as a clue. When you decide on what clue to use, the person who is giving the clue places numbered tokens in front of the players and on the wild card, if it’s used, and you separately write down what you can see if the word if your letter was used. When you think you know your letter, you can lay down your first letter and then go onto your next letter, but if you feel like you made a mistake later, you can’t go back. After a defined number of turns, with each person giving at least one clue, you try and have everyone arrange their letters into a word, might not be the word they were given, but as long as it’s a word, you get those points.
Letter Jam is a clever game because it’s a cooperative game that has little to no troubles with an alpha player running a game. Yes, a person might give more clues, but they are going to need to get clues at some point in time so that they can guess their own letters. As long as you have a couple of people who are confident in giving clues, you can really have them give more of the clues, but because Letter Jam makes everyone give a clue so you can unlock an extra turn, that means that everyone is going to be involved in every part of the game.
Letter Jam also works well because you don’t feel like you have enough time. You have that limited number of clues, and you might be coming up with really good clues, but that means that you are going to be rushing through your letters later in the game. So, you rarely ever know for sure what a letter is, but you have a good guess, and if you have a five letter word in front of you and you can nail down a couple of them for sure and have the others down to two letters, you are doing pretty well. The game has ways to allow you to “cheat” by allowing one person to use the wild card letter, but that is only for one person.
For me, though, the highlight of this game is the strategy for giving out clues. If you watch the No Pun Included review on Youtube, he gives an example where the four letters he can see are “M”, “A”, “L”, and “E”, and while you can spot a lot of words in that combination, if you are a player who can only see “M”, “A”, and “E”, because you have the “L”, you have a ton of different options if the word given as the clue is “MA?E”. It could be “made” or “make” or “male” or “mace” for all that you know, plus even more options. So there is strategy in giving clues so that you cane give good clues. In the example they gave in No Pun Included, there aren’t many great clues that they could give for that combination of letters. So instead of saying that you have a four letter clue, maybe you want to sit back and let someone else give a clue to hopefully get more unique letters later on when you can give a clue. And the Wild Card, while it sounds great, is often a trap. Let’s say that you’re giving a clue with the same letters as before and you really want that person to guess their “L”. So you come up with the word “earl” for your clue, but it is going to use the wild card. That means, when you give the clue for the person trying to guess their letter, the word looks like “EA??”, they are going to be more likely to assume that their word is “ears” or something that is plural than they would that their word is “earl”. The clues are always a struggle and it isn’t until you’ve played it multiple times that you really start to figure out how to give good clues, and this is where your vocabulary could get you into trouble. If you are spelling a word that I don’t know what it is because it’s not in my vocabulary, it might have been the perfect clue to get me my letter, but I’ll never figure it out, so you can’t go too far in that direction.
The letter game really does hit that great balance between being a pattern game as you try and recognize the missing letters or understand how the letters you have might make a word and what word that might be, but it’s also a spelling and vocabulary game because you have to be able to come up with those clues that narrow down the letter for the people who are getting the clues. And because it’s cooperative, you either win together or you do poorly together. In fact, there is no real “lose” condition, there are just rankings for how many points you got. In a lot of ways that is like Just One which is another great light game that you can play with everyone. And while I think that Letter Jam is a trickier game and not going to be as easy for everyone, it’s going to be a game that you can pull out with most people.
As you can tell, I love this game. I think the concept of it is extremely clever, and it’s a word game that works for most people. I can see pulling this out with parents or with friends, and it would go over well. It’s a game that I wish I had picked up at GenCon, and I would have, but the first time we demoed it there, we unfortunately had a very bad experience because of the person giving the demo. I was excited for the game, so we wanted to give it another chance, and when we did, that was a great experience, but by then it was sold out. I’ll be waiting to see this hit the shelves of my FLGS (friendly local game store) so that I can pick it up.
Overall Grade: A-
Gamer Grade: B+
Casual Grade: A
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