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Game of the Year: BuyWord
(Face2Face Games; designer: former Games Contributing Editor Sid Sackson; a word game with an economics twist)
Abstract Game: Yinsh
Advanced Strategy Game: Tahuantinsuyu: The Rise of the Inca Empire
(Hangman Games; designer: Alan Ernstein)
Family Game: Vanished Planet
Family Card Game: Victory & Honor
Family Strategy Game: Alexandros
Party/Trivia Game: Cranium Hoopla
Word Game: Word Rich
Historical Simulation: Memoir '44
What greater compliment is there than to be described by Wolfgang Kramer as “the greatest game designer in the world”? Sid Sackson, a longtime GAMES contributor unequaled in his contribution to the development of modern board games, passed away in 2002. But the folks at Face2Face Games are ensuring that his great ideas will live on, and BuyWord is a worthy example.
Shuffled in the bag are 108 letter tiles, each valued from 1 to 4. Each player starts with several Wilds (value 1), and $200.
A die roll determines how many tiles (from two through five) each player draws. Two sides of the die (“Choice”) permit the active player to select between two and five tiles. Players in turn then either discard the tiles from play or hold them in reserve, after paying dollars equal to the square of their total value. Players may end rounds by forming one or more words, optionally using one Wild in each, and discarding the tiles to earn the square of their total value. Forming words, or discarding extra tiles, is compulsory if a player has more than eight tiles in reserve. Play ends when there are insufficient tiles for all contestants. Players then get a final opportunity to form words, and whoever has the most money wins. Try playing solitaire: Ending up with $800 is about average, while earning $1,000 is outstanding.
There are also several variants to the already impressive basic game. Our favorite is the Auction. Instead of discarding or buying tiles they have drawn, players may auction them: Starting at the owner’s left, players either bid or pass. The owner has the last opportunity to bid, and it’s a real challenge for the others to set their bids so that the owner doesn’t get the tiles too cheaply. The active player can, alternatively, draw tiles equal to the die roll multiplied by the number of players. Contestants then select one letter per turn.
In the Crossword variant, tiles forming words are not discarded, but are added to a crossword grid (using at least one letter of a previous word). Scoring includes the values of the reused letters.
You can also play by allowing trading (of tiles and/or money) between players.
In an age when most companies won’t even consider publishing new word games because of the dominance of Scrabble Crossword Game, we salute Face2Face for bringing BuyWord to us. It’s an eminently innovative game that languished unpublished in Sid Sackson’s archives for far too long, and we believe it is destined for classic stardom. Even if you think you don’t like word games, give this one a try.—John J. McCallion
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