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.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Thursday 26 December 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Letter Jam

Game: Letter Jam

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

Designer: Ondra Skoupý

Year: 2019

Letter Jam is a word game that I'd loosely categorise as a party game, even though it's truly a lot more cerebral than that. There's a few party games I'll be bringing home over Christmas this year and they're actually all word games. Codenames and Just One are sure fire hits, Decrypto will be new to the table and Letter Jam is a bit like a stretch goal. I really hope that my family enjoy it, but it's definitely the most ambitious game out of that selection and is certainly one we'll play before having too many drinks.

We were lucky enough to be taught Letter Jam at the UK Games Expo earlier this year and we now have a copy of our own. It's a very effective cooperative word game, for 2-6 players, all about decoding an anagram. With very simple, but really quite fantastic components, you need to give brilliant clues to allow every player to guess each letter of their word and ultimately unscramble their anagram.

The Letter Jam box is filled with cards, each displaying a single letter. At the start of the game, each player will make a word using any letters they wan. The length of the word defines the difficulty of the game and you can all play with different word lengths to suit players of differing ages, abilities or experience. Once you have a word, you shuffle the letters and pass them face down to the person sitting next to you. That player never looks at the letters and just arranges them in a line. Each player displays their first letter on a stand, facing away from themself, but towards the rest of the group. The objective is to get all players to correctly guess their letters and ultimately assemble a word at the end of the game.

All players need to give one clue during the game, but some players will give more. A clue is a word that uses letters from around the table, or a wildcard letter in the middle. Someone might say "I've got a five letter word that helps 3 people" for example and then you collectively decide the clue giver. The clue giver takes the 8 numbers poker chips and lays them out in front of the letter cards to form a word. All players write down what they can see, write a '?' for their own letter and an '*' to denote the wildcard. Then you try and see if you can work out what the '?' is. There might be more than one possibility so you can make notes and wait for more information on a future turn, or if your certain, or at least vaguely confident, you can move onto your next letter. The game has a fixed number of rounds, after which players need to try and unscramble the letters they've guessed into a word. To win,all players must make a word.

I've been careful to say 'a word' because if you simply don't know a letter, you can pull letters from the pool of extra letters to try and at least make something, even if it's not the word you were given at the start of the game. This pool of extra letters is created by players who think they've locked in their word before all of the rounds of the game are over. It's amazing to pull off a win in Letter Jam, but it's even more amazing when someone uses some of the extra letters to scrape victory from the jaws of defeat!

Letter Jam is certainly not an easy game. It works well with two players, or a crowd all the way up to six, but not six people who are looking for a party atmosphere. You need to be prepared to sit, concentrate and think pretty hard for the next 45 minutes. Perhaps it's for the start of the party, before descending to sillier party games. Coming up with good clues is an artform. It's so easy to throw something out there and then watch as it confuses everyone, either because it leaves far too many possibilities, or for some players there might be too many blank spaces in the word for it to make any sense at all. Taking your time to come up with excellent clues with no room for error is perhaps slower and less exciting, but it's how you win!

We were really pleased to realise that Letter Jam also plays well for two players. With any less than 6 players you still have 6 letters showing every round, but some are just common letters, that everyone can see. Because we play games so often together, we tend to do better in cooperative games when it's just the two of us and so we decided to opt for 'hard mode', using 6 letter words for our first two player game. That was a mistake. With two players there's far more pressure. Each round, when you take a token off the timer, the best result is getting your opposite to guess their one letter and if you don't, it's a whole round wasted. There's simply not enough rounds to allow you to make many mistakes or give non-perfect clues. With more players, each clue has the potential to affect more people, so the pressure to be perfect is lower. Nevertheless, we had a good try at making up some 6 letter words when we only knew three or four letters each at the end of the game. We did not succeed!

Letter Jam is a fantastic word game, and one that I hope we can really get our friends and family hooked to. With very simple components it delivers on a streamlined concept that has infinite replayability (if you get some more player sheets). It's exactly the kind of social game that I really enjoy because it's mentally stimulating whilst being very accessible. Letter Jam is a 9/10 for the Yellow Meeple.

Letter Jam was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £16.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

No comments:

Post a Comment