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[Review] BuyWord

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Joined: 03/23/2011

When BuyWord (Face 2 Face Games, 2004 - Sid Sackson) won the GAMES magazine's Game of the Year award, it was almost a given that controversy was going to erupt. With all the piles of games out there, how could a word game win? (At least, this was my certainly biased thinking). Most word games that I've played, and especially Scrabble, haven't done anything for me, and so I was a little curious as to why BuyWord had done so well.

After my first playing, I saw that the game had a lot of potential (for a word game), and worked well even as a solitaire game. On future playings, I discovered that some variants included with the rules made the game even better. BuyWord is certainly better than most word games, such as Upwords and Scrabble, but still fell slightly short for me. I'll gladly play it, as my wife is tremendously interested in word games, but will likely never request it myself. Was it the best game of 2004? In my opinion, no - but for those who like puzzles and word games, it certainly was a strong contender.

Each player is given $200 in bills, with the remainder placed in the "bank". Each player also receives a certain amount of "Wild" tiles (depending on the number of players), with the rest of the tiles placed in a cloth bag. After this very simple setup, the first round is ready to begin, with one player being picked to be the "Leader".

In each round, the Leader rolls a special six-sided die. It's a normal die, except that the "1" and "6" have been replaced by the word "choice". Each player takes the number of tiles indicated (on "choice" - the Leader's discretion) from the bag. Each tile has a letter from the alphabet on it, as well as one to four spots. Players decide, in turn order, whether or not they will buy ALL the tiles they have drawn (partial payments are not allowed). If players do purchase the tiles, they must pay the square of the number of spots (if there are nine total spots, players must pay $81), and place the tiles face up in front of themselves. If players refuse the tiles, they return to the box.

Once players have either purchased or discarded their tiles, players may sell words that they form from their tiles (acceptable words are agreed upon by all the players). Selling words is the same price, as players square the amount of dots in the word, taking that amount from the bank, and discarding the tiles. Player may use up to one "Wild" tile in each word they sell. Players must sell or discard letters so that they have only eight letter tiles in their possession before the next round starts. The Leader passes the die to the player on their left, and the game continues.

Play continues until all the letter tiles are drawn from the bag. After the final round has occurred, players count their money, and the player with the highest amount is the winner!

Some comments on the gameā€¦

1.) Components: The money included in the game is nice, as each denomination is a different color and is two-sided. The quality of the money is good, although handing out the money, especially the $1 bills, can be a bit fiddly. The die is rather cheaply made but is large and functional. The tiles are the best part of the game, larger than your typical Scrabble tiles, which makes them fairly chunky and allows them to be easily moved around and read. The cloth bag included with the game is really nice and holds the tiles well inside the very sturdy box. The box is rather bland looking, but really - how do you make a word game that much more exciting?

2.) Rules: The rulebook is only four pages - one of which is completely taken up with eight different variations. The game is easy to understand, although players have to sometimes see the game in action to understand how one makes any money. Buying and selling for the same rate doesn't seem like it will garnish any money; but because prices rise exponentially, it does. Once players understand this, the game runs much smoother.

3.) Word Knowledge: One reason that I've never enjoyed Scrabble is because if a player has less of a word bank memory than another, they simply won't do as well. Not to mention the fact that I don't find rummaging around in my head for obscure words very fun. Games that make such recalling easier, such as Crossword Pyramids, give me greater enjoyment - even though perhaps they're not as great of a challenge to "purists". BuyWord is a game I can stomach, because I can actually choose the letters I get, and it involves money - something that for me, automatically makes a word game better (even though the money is simply a glorified point system). For people who detest word games with a passion, I don't think BuyWord is going to change their minds. But for those of us who dislike the "he who has memorized more of the English language wins" aspect, Buyword lessens that to a degree.

4.) Variations: It seems, as I read across the internet, that the "Tile Drafting" variant, in which players draft tiles from a pool in the middle, is much preferred. So I tested it out, and I felt that it did indeed make the game much better. Instead of players getting a slush of random tiles, now they could choose tiles from a random pool. This keeps randomness in the game, to a certain extent, but allows players choices, and adds a bit of excitement to the game. Other variants, such as auctioning tiles, and "crosswords", add more complications to the game - and I'm not sure that the payoff is worth the loss of simplicity. After playing with the Tile Drafting variant, I won't use the original rules again, but the other variants have fallen fairly flat for me.

5.) Fun Factor: It's hard for me to get too excited about a word game, even an award winning one. Add in the buying and selling aspect, and that creates more fun for me - but in the end, it's simply one of the best word games I've played. Those who like Scrabble and anagrams are probably sure to enjoy this version - it has about the same randomness of Scrabble, with less "screwage", since players don't affect each other too much (unless playing with the Tile Draft variant). As I observed people playing the game, those who enjoyed puzzles and word problems seemed to really be fond of the game, while those who didn't treated it as a "meh" sort of game.

6.) Time and Players: One factor that weighs greatly in Buyword's favor is that it makes a fairly good solitaire game (or puzzle). Players simply try to score the highest amount of points that they can, and it's a mildly entertaining exercise if you can't wrangle up any other players. I found that the two - four player version plays pretty much the same, regardless of amount of players. Either way, there are few enough tiles in the game that the time to play is fairly short - lasting less than an hour, and even only half an hour in many circumstances. That, in my opinion, is an excellent trait for a word game.

If you like Scrabble but would be interested in a slightly different take on it (sans the crossword puzzle part), then BuyWord may provide you some exceptional fun. If you're looking for a fast, fun, word game, again, you may enjoy this game. However, if you've found most word games boring and are curious as to why it won "Game of the Year" for GAMES magazine, I'll simply tell you it's because it's a decent word game; and that's the best kind of game for the GAMES audience. If you read GAMES for the puzzles, then get BuyWord. Otherwise, give it a try before you buy it.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games."

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