Jumbulaya – a severely challenging strategic word game

If I wanted to explain the concept of “excruciating fun” to a word game player, I would start with Jumbulaya.

You get 100 letter tiles, which are played onto a 9×10 matrix. Some of the letter tiles contain two-letter combinations (QU, CH, ED, ER, LY, ST, TH). Each row in the matrix is for another word. To start the game, the three center columns are seeded with tiles randomly drawn from a conveniently included drawstring bag. Each of up to 4 players then draws 5 more tiles to put on their letter rack. And the game begins.

On your turn, you make a new word by rearranging, adding to, trading letters with the letters on any single row. You (temporarily) claim that word by using one of your color-coordinated scoring cubes (matching your tile rack). Until someone else rearranges, adds to, or trades letters with your word, that particular word remains yours. The longer it is, the higher your potential score.

And so the game continues, turn-by-turn, word-by-word, until someone builds a 10-letter word, claims all 9 rows, or calls a seven-or-more letter JUMBULAYA.

A JUMBULAYA? A JUMBULAYA is a word that can be made by taking one letter from 7 or more of the words already on the board. You can skip word lines, but you can’t rearrange the letters. Once all 9 rows contain words, JUMBULAYA can be called at any time during the game, whether or not it is your turn.

As for the excruciating part: in the early phases of the game, when it’s your turn, you have to consider each of the 9 possible word rows – even those you’ve already claimed. If you can make one of your words longer, you might be able to keep it from getting claimed by someone else. If you can change someone else’s word, you can add to your scoring potential (you get points for every word that you’ve claimed by the end of the game, the longer the word, the more points). Even when it’s not your turn, it pays to think ahead as many moves as you can possibly contemplate (albeit highly likely that the most exciting opportunity for you gets claimed by someone else before its your turn again). And then, any time after all 9 rows have been made into words, there’s the JUMBULAYA possibility. There’s also the possibility that someone might make a 10-letter word, or that someone might claim all 9 words (either event resulting in ending the game), but the JUMBULAYA possibility is more common and far more fun to contemplate. Since anyone can call JUMBULAYA at any time, you must always reckon with the possibility that if you don’t claim enough words quickly enough, the game will be over.

As for the fun part, there are so many things for you to think about, so many opportunities for you to surprise even yourself with your uncanny brilliance, that you become totally absorbed in the challenge. At first, it’s a little slow. You have to wait for your turn. Even though you can plan for various possibilities, the unforeseen has it’s way of happening before it’s your turn again. But once all nine words are claimed and the JUMBULAYA possibility is activated, you are thoroughly engaged, all the time, regardless of whose turn it is.

Designed by Julie and Karl Archer of Platypus Games, and distributed by the Farkel Factory, Jumbulaya proves itself to be Major FUN, of the excruciating kind – for people who like word games, and like to think hard. The rules are long, but logical, well-written, and not overly complex. Newbies will probably start playing in less than 15 minutes. The tiles are wooden, rounded, and pleasant to touch. Though it can be played by anyone old enough to appreciate Scrabble®, it is such an intense game that we recommend it especially for groups that are roughly the same age and of similar maniacal tendencies.

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