The traditional image of someone who plays word games is the retired bookworm, sitting in their dusty study in their slippers playing a very slow game of Scrabble against themselves. And of course there is nothing wrong with this – it just doesn’t necessarily make word games appealing to people who want a slightly more exciting theme, or maybe at least one other player within thirty years of their own age…
On the other hand, many word games do involve a good deal of both skill and strategy, and can be exciting if entered into in the proper spirit. Besides, even old worms were young once. Though today they may hang around their tunnels grumbling about how soil isn’t like it used to be, they could probably tell the youngsters a few stories about their youth – perhaps describing the horrific missing prisoners scandal of ’63, in which a high-ranking policeworm turned out to be a mole, or maybe reminiscing pleasantly about how whenever they exposed themselves all the birds used to be desperate for a taste of them.
In this section I will explain how gamers can use cloning techniques to enhance their personal lives.
More seriously, people often have the idea that word games will somehow improve them. There is an assumption that a word game is higher-brow and more educational than, say, a fantasy roleplaying game or a space game where you shoot at each other with plasma cannons.
I think this is ridiculous. Yes, you may coincidentally improve your grasp of language by playing word games, which is a good thing, but other games can be just as beneficial. In fact in my opinion the general public is much more deficient in the rational thinking department – a skill improved by playing nearly any strategy game – than in their grasp of English. You should play whatever kind of game you want to play.
One of the problems with Race for the Galaxy, which is otherwise an excellent game, is that it has an entry barrier. The game relies on a large deck of cards, and it is very difficult to play well without having a flavour of what is in there. However, once all players have some idea of the rough make-up of the deck it becomes a great resource for providing strategic complexity and inter-game variability without slowing the game to a crawl.
Word games take advantage of the pre-existing pool of linguistic knowledge common to the players to create a similar effect without a comparable entry barrier. This brings us to my first word-game strategy tip: exploit your differences from the other players. Because nearly all the words used in the game are known by all the players, words that only you know become a rare and valuable commodity. Use your specialist knowledge carefully and try to ambush your opponents with it.
Are you an expert on the diseases that affect plants historically used in dyeing? If so, why not charge screaming at your opponents while half-naked and covered in blue body paint? Alternatively of course you could use your specialist knowledge of plant diseases to claim words your opponents didn’t think existed, possibly in strategically important ways… Remember though that if your opponents are any good you will only be able to surprise them with the same trick once, so make each piece of specialist knowledge count!
For all that some of them require skill, can word games really give you that level of competition, that instinctive savagery, that you get in a hardcore strategy game? Can they really provide the kind of primal thrill that can otherwise only be got by reading the small print of 42 Agricola cards, or possibly by batting an angry crocodile on the nose with a stick?
My assertion is that they can, and that in my next post I will tell you how to win them! However, this is complicated by the fact that I’m not very good at them. To remedy this I will employ one of man’s most powerful and general thinking processes: I will ask a woman how to do it. So, come back next time for an interview with one of the best players of Scrabble, Snatch and word games in general that I have ever met.