Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Friday 15 December 2017

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Letter Tycoon

Game:Letter Tycoon

Publisher: Breaking Games and Squirmy Beast

Designer: Brad Brooks

Year: 2015

Imagine if you owned the rights to letters of the alphabet, every time someone wanted to print a word they'd need to pay you to do it! This business is lucrative, but every other person with a printing press is competing to buy these patents first - the competition for the common letters is hot, but if you spend a long time saving up for the letter 'E', your competitors might buy up a few uncommon letters and get ahead in the printing game.

Letter Tycoon is visually fantastic for a word game, with a kind of steam punk machinery style that evokes the Victorian printing press for me. It mixes the mechanisms of classic word games some speculation and economics that makes you think even harder about the words you can make. I was interested to find out if this game fell into the trap of games like Scrabble where the player with the better vocabulary will always have the upper hand or if it would successfully incorporate more modern board gaming mechanics to compete with a game like Paperback, where a word game becomes a little less one sided when you're playing against the same opponent.

Letter Tycoon is a card-based word game, each player receives a hand of 7 cards, each featuring a letter. A central draw deck with the remaining cards is placed in the centre, then 3 cards are drawn from the top to form a common pool. On each players turn they must create as long a word as possible using any combination of letters from their hand and this common pool, giving a maximum of 10 letters. Your word will then give you a between 1 and 6 dollars depending on the number of letters in it, words that are 6 letters long also grant you stock tokens, which are worth end game points.

Once you have played a word you get the chance to spend your money to buy the patents for the letters you used. The more common a letter is the more expensive its patent will be. Conversely the cheapest, rarest letters come with permanent abilities such as allowing you to pluralize words, or increasing your income if you meet certain parameters. Once you own a patent, every time an opponent uses that letter in a word you gain $1 from the bank, giving you a nice supplement to your income. The game ends when a player reaches a certain value of patents (varying on player count), at this point you add together the value of your patents, the money you own, and any stock you may have to form your final score.

Amy’s Final Thoughts
Letter Tycoon is certainly a unique take on a word game, I love the way you can buy patents for letters to gain a steady income and the whole factory/capitalist theme is surprisingly well integrated. It's not easy making a word game thematic. That said I do have some questions about balance, particularly when it comes to the abilities on the rare letters. Some of them allow you to double the score of a word, with some caveat, but in my experience it's not to hard to do this fairly regularly. It's often of far greater value to make a shorter word to meet the requirements and double it, than make a longer word that you only score once. Once the patent has been bought there is no bonus at all to using the hard to use letters (other than Q), which is unusual in a game like this - in Scrabble Z or X is worth a lot of points throughout the game to compensate its awkwardness.

While it could have used with a bit more play-testing time balancing the rewards, especially when the chance to get these good patents is so limited, the core game play of making words works well. Having a common pool of 3 cards does allow you to begin planning ahead, only to have someone else use a letter you were hoping for and scupper your lovely long word. It's important to be flexible and have a backup plan for when that happens. Letter Tycoon is a nice new take on a classic game style, and certainly goes to show that the increased production value of modern games can greatly improve your experience.

These special abilities or scoring opportunities are available if you buy the patents for the rare letters
Fi’s Final Thoughts 
I enjoy many modern word games like Banangrams and Paperback, not in small part due to the fact that I normally beat my usual opponent. Letter Tycoon unfortunately does still favour the person with a 'way with words'. Not only do the rewards seem to get exponentially bigger for longer words, but you're also in better shape if you can find many options for the same set of letters. If you can come up with a few options without boring the other players to death with the wait time, then you can avoid their patents or try to work towards the bonus abilities on your rare letters.

The game also has some potential runaway leader issues. If you get off to a strong start, you earn more money, can buy more patents and then you make more money as opponents hit your patents less often, giving you a small steady income. If the same player also manages to focus on a rare letter card that gives you double income, for example for having 50% vowels or more in your word, then they can runaway with the game.

It may sound like I can find too many negatives with this game, but in spite of all this, I find Letter Tycoon really enjoyable and Amy does too, even though I win most often. There's a definite satisfaction to buying the right patents and making the best of them. If you try hard to use a tough letter early on, you're rewarded with a special ability that can be really lucrative throughout the rest of the game. So long as we don't think too long, Letter Tycoon is proving to be quite a quick game too, at around 30 minutes, coming to an end just as you're naturally running low on patents to buy.

The Good
  • The graphic design is really charming.
  • Letter Tycoon is not just a word game, it's a strong game besides that.
  • It's a fun to have the power to decide which patents to take to make things harder for your opponents.

The Bad
  • The player with the better vocabularly or anagram abilities will almost always win.
  • The game can have slow turns whilst players not only try to come up with a word, but come up with the word that maximises many different options.

The Verdict
7/10 Letter Tycoon is a great game to introduce word game fans to modern gaming and has a really addictive quality.

Letter Tycoon was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.

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