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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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Tuesday 24 December 2019

Word Sandwich:- Letter Jam

Game: Letter Jam

Publisher: Czech Games Edition

Designer: Ondra Skoupý

Year: 2019

Letter Jam is a 2-6 player cooperative word game in which you have to decipher an anagram. But in order to do that you are going to need to work out what letters you have to work with. You'll have to work as a team to try and give clues to the other players as to the identity of their secret letters. At the end of the game if anyone makes a mistake then you all lose!

The game starts with each player taking a selection of the game's letter cards. From these you will all make a five (or more if you're feeling ambitious) letter word in secret, shuffle the cards, and then hand them to the player to your right. You will then take your cards and lay them out in a row before taking the first one and placing it onto a stand so that everyone except you can see it. At the point you should be able to see 5 letters belonging to the other players, along with a single wildcard in the center of the table. These are the tools that you must work with.

Letter Jam continues in a series of rounds. Each round you will discuss who is in the best position to give a clue before nominating a player to give a clue to the group. A clue is given in the form of a word, however the word is not said. Instead a series of numbered chips are placed in front of the letters so that everyone can make a note of what they know. For an example you see the number one chip go in front of an L the second chip goes in front of your hidden letter, the third and fourth go in front of a T, the fifth is back to you and the final one is placed on the wildcard letter. You can therefore read the clue "L?tt?*". From that clue you will have to try and work out what your mystery letter is. If you think you have done so then you can make a note flip your letter face down and then reveal the next letter. If you need more clues to work out what letter you have then simply wait for a clue in a  future round. In the case of our example your letter would be E making the word "Lette*" or letter without the wildcard.

Every clue uses up a round marker which are given to the player who gave the clue. Round markers come in a couple of colours and importantly each player may only take 1 red maker per game, this means that everyone must give at least 1 clue before the end of the game. Should you work out all of your letters before you reach the final round then you start drawing random letters from the deck. After being given a clue you can guess what letter you have and if you are correct you can add it to a collective pool that can help people out in a pinch. Once you run out of round tokens everyone has to use the letters they have deciphered and rearrange them into a word. It doesn't necessarily have to be the word you were originally given so long as it's a valid 5 letter word. Should anyone be stuck then can replace one of their letters with one from the saved pool in order to create a word. If everyone revealed a correct word then the game is won.

I am not typically a fan of anagrams, my brain doesn't do a great job of mixing letters up. It tends to fixate on one (usually incorrect) solution and panic over the fact that it can't make it work. So you might imagine that a game that is entirely based on making and deciphering anagrams is some kind of exquisite hell that was invented to torture me for all eternity. You'd be wrong! Letter Jam is a fantastic game that really brings a fresh take on word games. I love that everyone is working together, the people who are better at anagrams are likely to give more clues, but when you are giving clues you can never help yourself.Sooner or later your star players have to take the back seat and let you have a go. You have to rely on your teammates. Letter Jam inspires true cooperation.

The clues you give aren't always one and done. Using the example I used earlier you might have had the clue "L?tt?*" but another player had "?ette*" and another "Le??e*". Some clues are far better for some players than others, but over time the whole picture emerges and your candidates for the mystery letter shrink until you only have one left. A lot of bad clues can have the value of one good one, but you have to keep each player moving at about the same pace or else they won't be able to make a word in the final round. This does change somewhat at lower player counts, particularly when playing two player where you essentially can't make a mistake since the round limit is perilously close to the number of letters you have to work out! Letter Jam is a much tighter experience at lower player counts, it dynamically changes from a chilled party game to a thoughtful, calculated game where every mistake costs you.

Overall I strongly recommend giving Letter Jam a chance. the rules may be a little complicated for non-gamers at first, but they aren't so complicated that they can't push through. Once they do they will be met with an incredibly fun experience that will have you despairing at peoples terrible clues and being elated when things work out. The final round can be a little clunky (make sure not to mix your letters cards up until you are certain) but that doesn't take much from the experience. If you find the game too easy or too hard you can even adjust the size of the words that individual players are making which is great for including players of different abilities. Letter Jam is fun and cheap, what more could you want?

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

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