Monday, January 08, 2007

The Oxford A to Z of Word Games

This little book contains the rules to hundreds of word games of all shapes and sizes.

What is a word game? Basically, any game that can be played with paper and pencil and involves language of some sort. So you will find obvious games, such as Hangman and Scrabble, as well as less obvious ones, such as Charades and other party games - or, games that use only words. I suppose the contrast is essentially to games that use cards, lines and boxes, and so on.


The book is written by Tony Augarde, who also wrote the Oxford Book of Word Games, which is supposed to have less games but a more detailed history. It contains about 250 games in a 250 page soft-covered book with some humorous line illustrations.

Each game listed includes the number of players, the game type (e.g. guessing), the required equipment and how it is played. The rules for each game are included, and all games also include a sample round of play. Lastly, a number of alternate names are given for each game, followed by similar or contrasting games, and a line or two about its background or authorship.

A fair portion of the games, maybe about a fifth, are just variations on one another, e.g. in this game you are given the initials of the words, while in that game you are given an anagram of the initials of the words, and so on. So it really contains a bit less than the promised 250 games.

Reading books like this is a reminder of what games can be: simple, yet challenging; social, yet cerebral; cheap and accessible. Games range from all out competitive strategy games to party games, to activities which one would hardly classify as games, such as where each person simply tries to come up with a list of the most X, whatever X is, and no scoring is involved.

It's also a reminder of how, even in my youth when I thought there were no good games in the world beyond Bridge and Scrabble, there exist so many thousands of good games just waiting for the right people to play them in the right circumstances. Where were these games, or the players who would play them, when I was young?

One of the reasons I wanted this book was because I am still unarmed when I am at non-gaming social events. People know I'm a gamer, but I can't lug around games to show them, and even if I could, I can't teach them to most people or play them with a group of ten or more. I needed to arm myself with an array of games that required little or no equipment and could handle large groups. This book answers this need.

Most of the games are variations on a few themes: guess words by virtue of knowing a few letters, homophones, context, a pantomime, etc; form words using themes, letters, or some limitations; tell stories or create names or puns from given information; remember words that were used; etc...

My favorite entries are the ones with more strategy, and less straightforward word recall, however. Some favorites include:

Centurion: Each letter is assigned a value. Players alternate writing three-letter words, and the last one to write without going over a predetermined value is the winner.

Crossword Game: Players alternate calling out letters, while each one fills his or her own private 5x5 grid. Count lengths of words at the end.

Letter Auction: Where letters are auctioned off, and players score the words they make plus cash left at the end.

Word Battleship: Players fill a grid with some words and then play Battleship.

As well as many more.

Bottom Line: A great addition to the bookshelf if you are into games that are quick to explain and quick to play, play with many people and have only verbal, or pen and paper, components.

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