Buzzworthiness: Word on the Street

I don’t really like party games.  I have two major problems with them: first, most of them seem like bloated activities rather than games; and second, they are usually still going long after they are no longer fun.  With that in mind, here’s my review of

 

image by BGG user unfathomable

Word on the Street is a 2009 game from designer Jack Degnan that was published by Out of the Box.  It’s a game for 2 players (or two teams) that takes 20 minutes to play.  The idea is that it’s a word game, and players are playing tug-of-war to try and score letters.  The game comes with a board showing a four-lane street with a median, and 17 plastic letter tiles.  There are also 216 category cards and a 30-second sand timer.  On a turn, a player (or team) will draw a category card.  You then have 30 seconds to choose a word, and then shift each letter in that word one space towards your side.  If the letter moves off the board, you score it.  The first player (or team) to eight letters wins.

Let’s look at an example.  The category is “An article of clothing.”  You might say “Coat”, which would allow you to move the C and the T one space each towards your side (there are no vowels, nor is there a J, Q, X, or Z).  It might be better, though, to say “Shirt,” which moves the S, H, R, and T.  You may even want to say “Petticoat”, which would move the P and the C one space each, and the T three spaces.  If any of the letters are already off the board, you can still use a word that includes them, you just can’t move that letter.  So if there is no P or T, don’t say “Petticoat.”

And that’s basically it.  You can only use single words, and hyphenated words only count if the hyphen is part of a name (like Winston-Salem or Zeta-Jones – though Zeta-Jones would be a bad answer since there’s no J or Z).

COMPONENTS: The bits in Word on the Street are top notch. The plastic tiles are really good quality. Each letter features a different street sign along with the letter. The street itself is well delineated and it’s very clear that you have two spaces on either side of the median. For each letter. The cards are very simple – just text, no cluttering from images. There are also two sides on the cards, green for easier categories and blue for more complicated categories. The cards are kept in a holder that stands them up for easy access, and there’s even a marker so you know when you’ve gone through every card (which hopefully will take longer than a single game). The sand timer is functional, although it’s a little annoying to wait for the timer to run out when a team decides on a word quickly. Still, no real complaints about the quality of the components. Out of the Box did an outstanding job.

THEME: There’s not much of a theme here – you’re just tugging on letters. The street gives you a frame for the tug-of-war, but it’s not strictly necessary. At the same time, it is definitely unique, and the added touch of putting street signs on the letter tiles was a nice addition. At the end of the day, this is just a word game, but it is one with a unique thematic spin.

MECHANICS: The main mechanism in Word on the Street is this tug-of-war using letters. You come up with a word that fits a category, then you move the relevant letters towards your side. This is pretty unique, particularly in the fact that there are several letters being tugged at once. The ability to play as a team is also an important mechanism in the game as it forces you to work cooperatively while trying to main competitive. The game is really very simple and doesn’t feature a lot of mechanical flourishes, but what is there makes the game very engaging.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The strategy primarily comes in focusing on letters you want to pull before drawing a card, and then trying to pull a long word that uses those letters out of whatever category you get.  Really, it’s a game all about teamwork (unless you’re playing with two players), and so there’s some skill in listening to one another and thinking on your feet.  Strategy is a hard thing to define here, but there is a little.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is a game that can be enjoyed by anyone.  12+ the given age, but I think kids as young as 7 or 8 could play.  A Junior version is also available that uses all 26 letters, but I think the 17 in the original game is fine.

REPLAYABILITY: This is not a game I want to play all the time, but I’ve never had two games feel the same.  There are enough cards that the questions don’t feel redundant (432 total categories), and the divider that let’s you know where you started is really helpful in knowing when things will start repeating.  But, as those games will probably be far enough apart, it’s not really an issue.

SCALABILITY: Word on the Street is for 2-8 players, but really, teams can be as large as you like.  The more people you have, however, the more difficult it’s going to be to make sure everyone is heard.  I’d suggest taking turns being the leader to make the final decision on the word.  Two players works OK, it’s just a little less social and more mentally demanding since you only have your own mind to depend on.

LEGACY: When a lot of people think of word games, they’ll think of Scrabble or Boggle.  This one doesn’t feel like either of those.  It provides a fresh take on word-building, making it a team affair and fostering creativity as people try to think of the biggest words that they can that will move the most letters.  You’re not limited by letters that you have, only by your imagination.  And I think that’s a great thing.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  This is one of my favorite party games because it is actually a game.  It does sometimes go too long, particularly when you are all fighting over the same final letters, but you are engaged throughout and the 30-second timer keeps it moving.  I would highly recommend this one.  Thanks for reading!

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