A Guide to Word Games
What Are Word Games?
Word games are considered a member of the broader puzzle genre and involve the creative use of letters to form words. They vary from other puzzles by requiring a firm grasp of language, with those possessing larger vocabularies gaining a significant advantage over others during competitive gameplay. Those with good reasoning skills and a high level of common sense will also have the advantage.
An example of a commonly known word game is the television game show Wheel of Fortune, where contestants and viewers attempt to guess the phrase or word using a category and the letters guessed by themselves and other contestants as clues. Despite all the bells and whistles, Wheel of Fortune is actually a glorified version of Hangman.
Word games have been played a variety of ways. Some games are played with pen and paper, others with boards and tiles and a few are even played with words simply spoken out loud. Common word type games include crossword puzzles, word searches, charades, Scrabble, Boggle, Scattergories, puns, anagrams and more. Humans communicate and express themselves in language and enjoy playing with it as well.
Despite the seeming simplicity of games using words, it is actually a highly logical form of puzzle. Word games are as logical and rational as numerical puzzles such as Sudoku and Kenken but are often viewed as more approachable than puzzles based on numbers, especially by those with an apprehensive attitude towards mathematics.
Word game puzzles have a variety of different game mechanics. Some word games involve guessing the hidden word while others involve creatively using word tiles to construct new words. Props like paper or boards are not always needed, with the word game charades involving only purely physical actions to convey a word to others.
Word games are some of the most enduring games in terms of popularity and the games are enjoyed by all ages and demographics of people irrespective to social or economic status.
The History of Word Games
The history of word style games is almost as vast and broad as the history of human language itself. Perhaps the best way to explore the history of this genre is to learn about the origins of some of the most popular word games played today.
Hangman - The history of Hangman is hard to track but the game is believed to have originated sometime after the year 1830. The game was referred to as Birds, Beasts and Fishes in the book Traditional Games which was published in 1894. The name of the game evolved from that whimsical title to Gallows, Game of Hangin and eventually Hanger.
Word Search - Word soup style puzzles were the precursors of the modern word search. A word search is a grid type puzzle developed by Norman E. Gibat in 1968 for a magazine given away by Safeway stores. The word search puzzle is relatively young in comparison to other puzzle games but word searches have maintained a steady level of popularity ever since their creation. Entire books devoted only to word searches are commonplace in bookstores and they are a staple in newspapers as well.
Scattergories - Scattergories was first manufactured in 1988 following the popularity of other word games such as Scrabble and Boggle.
One of the most interesting features of the game Scattergories is the unique 20 sided die. The letters Q U V X Y and Z are all excluded from the die due to the lack of words starting with those letters. The gameplay involves quickly creating a list of words starting with the letter rolled by the die and falling into a specific category such as ‘vegetables’. No two words may be repeated, so a strong vocabulary is the key to success when playing this game.
Scrabble - This is the game that truly put social word games on the map. Scrabble was developed in 1938 by an architect named Alfred Mosher Butts. He conducted word frequency tests in order to calculate how many tiles of each letter would be needed for a playable game. The finished word game was originally named Criss-Crosswords and it didn’t sell very well at all. The rights for Criss-Crosswords were purchased by James Brunot in 1948 and he is responsible for changing the name to Scrabble. He also tweaked the premium spaces on the board somewhat, further modifying the original concept. With a new name and marketing campaign, Scrabble became the popular word game it is today. It is sold in a whopping 121 countries and is available in 29 different languages. The computer version of the game has seen major success as well, proving that word games easily translate to new formats.
Scrabble is played on a 15x15 board using flat letter tiles. The gameplay is similar to building a traditional crossword style puzzle and games consist of anywhere from 2 to 4 players.
Scrabble has its own special dictionary that most players insist on following though any dictionary may be used. If a word is not in the dictionary it may not be played during the course of the game, even if it’s a word in common use. Hardcore Scrabble players tend to develop a specialized vocabulary of words that are beneficial to know during gameplay, such as the infamous Q without U words including Qi, Qat, Qaid and Qoph. These words are rarely useful in real life but are very valuable during competitive gameplay./
Boggle - Boggle was created by Alan Turoff in 1972 uses letter dice arranged on a 4x4 grid. The game is a hybrid of skill and chance as players roll the dice and allow them to settle in the grid randomly before attempting to build as many words as possible from adjacent letters within the allotted time period. After the time is up, all players read off their lists of written words. When the same word is written by more than one player it’s struck from the list and does not count towards point totals. All words are subject to challenge by other players using a designated dictionary of their choice. Unique words that remain on a player’s list are tallied up towards their score. Boggle is not nearly as successful as Scrabble, but does enjoy a faithful following. The game has been converted to computerized versions quite nicely, offering a new iteration of this classic word puzzle.
Who Would Like These Games?
Word games tend to appeal to individuals with a strong linguistic intelligence. These people are frequently voracious readers, or would be if given the time and chance. Word games involving more than one player tend to attract linguistically inclined people who have the desire to socialize as well. Solitary word type games such as crosswords or word searches are great for passing an otherwise boring stretch of time and are also wonderful to play while indulging in some valuable alone time as well. It all depends on the personality of the player.
Word games are one of the few puzzles with an almost universal appeal and are popular among individuals looking to keep their brain in top condition throughout the course of their lives. As technology advances so does the reach of word games; more people are playing these games than ever before.