By Jeff Dougan
This month, I’m going to bring my discussion of games for families back into the realm of something a little more familiar and look at Upwords, a three-dimensional twist on Scrabble. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as friendly to very young kids as some of the games I’ve written about previously (at least if you try to play by the rules as written).
- In the Urbana Public Library’s collection
- Plays 2-to-4 players
- Publisher’s suggested ages 10+ in my edition; newer copies say 8+
- Current suggested retail $25.99
Upwords is a take on the crossword puzzle as a game. Like Scrabble, each player begins with a hand of tiles, and needs to work with the tiles they hold and the ones on the board to create a word, or else pass a turn in order to exchange one tile from their hand. (Note that this is a rules difference compared to Scrabble, which allows you to exchange up to your entire hand.) What makes Upwords different is that you are allowed to play tiles on top of each other to create new words, as long as all of the words created are still real words. The way the scoring works, once you’ve “gone vertical” on a word, there’s incentive to go as high as possible on as many tiles as possible.
Word games like Scrabble or Upwords can be good for building vocabularies, but I recently found out there’s a certain degree of spelling ability that needs to be present in the first place before it becomes “fun” and not “hard.”
I chose Upwords for this column after getting a request (I publicize these columns at some gaming-related sites, both while writing and after it goes live), but had never taken the time to try it out with the Grasshopper. We pulled it down and gave it a shot on a couple weeks ago, and discovered that he was having a very difficult time with it, in part because of the difficulty of working within the letters he had drawn.
It’s going back on the shelf for now, to come back out in a couple of years, when he’s more fluent at spelling. Hasbro recommends the game for ages 8 and over, and the experiment last weekend makes their suggestion seem about right. If you’ve got a family that’s already very into and familiar with Scrabble, that might change.
A few plugs:
- First, this coming Saturday is once again the library’s Second Saturday Board Game event. I’m hoping to be there with the Grasshopper and some kid-friendly games for the first part of the afternoon, but that may depend on how busy the rest of the day gets.
- Flat-Con, a local gaming convention, will be happening in Bloomington over the weekend of Oct. 21-23. This one, unfortunately, isn’t free; admission is $5 for a one-day pass or $15 for the weekend. Conventions can be a good place to try a lot of different games in a short period of time.
- Out of the Box publishing (makers of party game Apples to Apples) is hosting a promo that will give up to $500 worth of their product away to some school or library. I’ve already entered the Urbana Free Library; feel free to enter a school. Voting starts Nov. 1.
Jeff Dougan is a scientist-turned-teacher-turned-full-time dad to the Grasshopper, 5, and the Munchkin, 15 months. A lifelong gamer, he’s always willing to teach a new game to anybody, and equally willing to learn a new game almost anytime.