Designer: Bill Eberle, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka
Publisher: HeidelBÄR Games
1-4 players 20-30 minutes ages 10+
Time to teach & learn: 5 minutes
Writers have talent – stringing words together, making them sing. But Wordsmiths? Their skills are more rare and special. They build each letter in every word from the ground up, one piece at a time.
From an assortment of basic shapes, can you assemble letters from a template and then use those letters to build words? Be quick and dig deep into your vocabulary to score big. Wordsmith gives new meaning to word play!
Wordsmith comes with 120 colorful plastic letter pieces. These are the literal building blocks you will use to create your words. They are divided into four types: long sticks are red, short sticks are yellow, half circles are blue and mini-Us are green.
There are four dice with sides matching the colors of the pieces and a scorepad.
Wordsmith uses the game box in fun and interesting ways. Instead of a game board, there is a plastic insert with sections for each letter piece and a resting area for each die. Even the sides of the game box are crucial to the game as each side contains an A-Z construction blueprint, so every player has a reference to consult.
The goal in Wordsmith is to assemble the pieces you have available into letters and then use those letters to form words. Each round, you will be asked to build six words, then score. After three rounds, the player with the highest score wins.
When building, everyone works from a common set of blueprints. Want to build an E? You’ll need one red long stick and three yellow short sticks. Need an R? Put together one green mini-U, a red long stick and a yellow short stick. Every letter you make must conform to these construction guidelines.
Dice are used to determine the starting set of pieces held in common by all players. Roll each die twice to generate a pool of 8 letter pieces.
Once everyone has their initial pieces, play is freeform. Ready, set, go!
Once the game begins, however, you can add pieces to your supply by rolling your die. At any point, you may roll it and add a piece to your supply that matches the face you rolled. Note: the star face is wild and any piece may be taken.
When you have assembled a word, call it out and show it to all. Others will quickly check your work. If it is spelled correctly and is a valid word, wahoo! Write it on your scorepad. Unlike many word games, limited punctuation is allowed. The yellow short sticks can serve as apostrophes or hyphens.
Any leftover pieces you didn’t use are discarded back to the box and you must fill in a space on your scorepad for every piece discarded. This makes Wordsmith a puzzle game, a word game, AND an efficiency game!
Sure, you can roll the die to amass a huge stockpile of pieces, BUT there could be dangerous consequences to that decision. The first six pieces you discard won’t hurt you. But after that, every piece discarded will cost you one point when scoring.
Continue building words from your supply of pieces until one player reaches six words. Score one point per letter in each word you build. You also score one point for each unmarked discard space.
Begin the next round with a new set of common pieces and build away!
Flexibility sets Wordsmith apart. The base game described above is wonderful, challenging, quick, and fun. Included with the rules are several variants that are every bit as good and allow the game to adapt to the experience level or play style of many different groups.
You can play silently, where no one calls out their words. At the end of the round, scoresheets are checked and illegal words won’t count. This makes the game less raucous and more thoughtful.
You can play without time pressure, allowing players to claim and complete all six words each round. This encourages longer words and higher scores.
You can play with a variable set of letter pieces for each player.
You can add a special 6-letter word for each round and spell this word out vertically along your scorepad so one letter lines up with each row. The word you build for that row must contain that specific letter in order to score.
And the list goes on!
Wordsmith practically begs for your own variations. Here are some we’ve had fun with:
each word built must fit a certain theme
each player gets a limited number of dice rolls
your next word must begin with the last letter of the prior word
Wordsmith wants you to play with it. It entices you to explore the basic system of rules and see them as building blocks, just like the letter pieces!
Wordsmith is an extremely clever mash up of spatial puzzle, time pressure, and classic word game. It comes to us from the team who also designed Cosmic Encounter, Dune, and Hoax in the 1980s. These games were groundbreaking then and have influenced several generations of designers since. It’s no exaggeration to say their imagination and innovation laid the groundwork for the board game renaissance we all enjoy today. It’s wonderful and encouraging to see this team is at it again, breathing life and energy into the word game genre.
You don’t have to be an English major to love Wordsmith. It’s as much a game to challenge your quick handed assembly skills as your vocabulary. And if you hit a roadblock with one version of the game, there are many paths to Major Fun to find instead.
Written by: Stephen Conway