Word Games

Outdoor Scrabble

My wife is a big fan of Scrabble.  It might even be her favourite game.  This always surprised me as I don’t really like it.  I’ve played it a lot with her, but I find there’s a limited amount of interest in repeatedly trying to make words with a bunch of letters.

The scoring opportunities on the board do make it more interesting, but it tends to devolve into who can fit the most obscure two-letter words onto the best scoring places.  I also find it’s very prone to AP (Analysis Paralysis); some players will come up with a decent word, but hold off playing it because they want to come up with something better.

However, I do quite like the word game genre as a whole.  I think there are some really good word games out there.  So let me tell you about a few games that will beat out scrabble any day of the week (with everyone but my wife!)…


If I know someone who likes Scrabble, Paperback is always the game that I recommend they try.  It’s a very similar premise to Scrabble in the sense that you’re trying to make words out of a set of letters each turn.  However, the big twist is that it’s a deck builder… and a good one too.

Your starting deck consists of several common letters and a few wild cards (which are really useful) so it’s very easy to make words at the start.  The longer the word, the more money you have to buy better cards with the higher value letters on them.  These less common letters are worth more when you use them in a word, but they also have special abilities (eg. draw an extra card next turn), which add lots of variety and strategy to the game.

The victory cards that you’re ultimately trying to buy don’t clog up your deck like they do in Dominion though because they’re wild.  So having a nice balance of high scoring letters and wilds actually works really well.

The artwork and the theme (writing cheap paperback novels) are both great and really well executed.  The whole game is really well executed to be honest.  If you like making words with letters, but you’re a bit fed up with Scrabble, Paperback is a great alternative!

Codenames: DuetCodenames: Duet

I’ve spoken about Codenames on plenty of occasions before – and it’s a great word game – but I’d like to talk about Codenames: Duet today… because it’s even better!  It’s essentially a co-op version of Codenames.

It’s designed for two players, but you can feasibly play it with more.  Each player is looking at the same grid of words, but at different identity cards that tell them which words they have to communicate.

The basic idea of all the Codenames games is that you give a one-word clue that links particular words on the table.  So you might say ‘tunnel’ to link ‘train’ and ‘dig’.  You have to be careful though because one of the words on the table is an assassin and if anyone accidentally guesses it, you lose.

In Codenames: Duet, you have a limited numbers of guesses between you to guess all the required words on both players identity cards so you can’t take too long or you’ll lose that way.  It provides all the fun of the Codenames experience without any of the downtime because whenever your partner is thinking of a clue, you’re thinking of a clue at the same time!


Anomia is a very different style of word game.  Rather than careful thought, it requires fast reactions!  Each player has a stack of cards in front of them and each card has a category on it (eg. flowers/rivers/artists) and a symbol.

When it’s your turn, you take a card from the deck and add it face up to your stack of cards.  Everyone then checks to see if the symbol on the card matches the symbol on anyone else’s card.  If it does, you have to say something from the category on their card before they say something from the category on your card.

Whoever manages it first wins the card, but as soon as the card is removed it reveals another card underneath it and if that card matches another one, it immediately triggers another race to say a word from the matching categories.

It’s much more difficult than it sounds!  For some reason, your brain always wants to say a word from the category on your card, but you have to resist that urge and focus on everyone else’s cards.  If you’re not careful, in the rush to say something, complete gibberish pops out of your mouth – much to everyone else’s amusement!

The ChameleonThe Chameleon

I’ve never been very keen on Spyfall: the game where everyone is at a location, but one person doesn’t know where they are.  Everyone asks and answers questions of each other in an attempt to discover who doesn’t really know where they are (the spy) and is just making up random answers.

I like the idea of Spyfall though.  I’ve just seen it fall flat too many times.  The problem is, if someone doesn’t have a good question to ask or doesn’t know how to answer it well, it feels very awkward and makes it very difficult to work out if someone is actually the spy or just lacks imagination.

The Chameleon provides a similar experience to Spyfall, but in my opinion it does it much better.  There are a bunch of connected words in the middle (eg. different types of fruit) and one of them is the key word, which everyone knows except for one person (the chameleon).

Everyone has a few seconds to think and then, one at a time, you all have to give a single word clue that links to the key word.  Obviously the chameleon is just trying to pick something vaguely plausible and then everyone has to vote on who they think the chameleon is.

Coming up with a single word clue is much easier than trying to ask and answer questions repeatedly and it’s also much faster.  It provides all the hidden identity goodness from Spyfall in a much more accessible (and quicker) way.  I really enjoy it.


Muse is quite similar to Dixit (which is an excellent word game itself), but it’s a team game.  It has lots of cards with beautiful, but bizarre, artwork on like Dixit.  One team takes six picture cards and two category cards and passes one of each to one player from the opposite team.

There are a wide variety of category cards from ‘a colour of the rainbow’ to ‘a facial expression’ to ‘humming a tune’.  The player has to give a clue for their team that connects to the picture card while following the restriction of the category card.  It’s tricky!

The card is then shuffled into the remaining five picture cards and then they are all laid out before the guessing team who have to work out which card the clue refers to.  You might argue that it’s not really a word game if you’re humming a tune, but quite a lot of the categories do involve giving a word clue of some kind.

It’s a really nice play on the ‘communicating a picture’ idea.  If you like Dixit, but prefer the feel of a team game like Codenames, Muse really hits the spot.

If you like word games, hopefully there’s something in that lot that tickles your fancy!  I find word games can be a bit polarising sometimes: some people love them and some people hate them.  There are lots more great word games that I haven’t mentioned here though.  Do you have any favourites?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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