Tom Jolly has had a long and successful career as a game designer. Most famously, he came out with Wiz-War in 1983. That game is a classic that was cited by Richard Garfield as an inspiration for Magic: The Gathering, and has recently had an eighth edition reprint by Fantasy Flight Games. Other games he has designed include Drakon, Cave Troll, Light Speed (with James Ernest), and Diskwars (recently rereleased in the Warhammer universe). He contacted me recently to see if I would review a couple of his newer (and much less fantasy-centered) games. So, here’s a look at the math game, Got It!, and the word game, WayWord.
Got It! is a math game originally published in 2010 by Quality Time Resources. Jolly Games successfully Kickstarted a second edition back in 2012. It’s a small $10 game that is playable by two or more people, and takes around 20 minutes to play. The game consists of 70 cards – 18 numbers, 18 operators (+, -, and X), and 34 goals. To play the game, you lay out a 6×6 grid of number and operator cards in a checkerboard pattern – in other words, numbers and operators alternate so no numbers are next to each other, and no operators are next to each other.
To play the game, you’ll flip over one of the goal cards, and all players will try to find a three number/two operator formula that will result in that number. For example, if the goal is 10, you might use 3+9-2. You can use parentheses as you see fit to help you get the required number. 8-2×3 could be (8-2)x3 = 6×3 = 18, or 8-(2×3) = 8-6 = 2. When you find the right formula, you say “GOT IT!” You then need to prove your formula. If you’re incorrect, you’re out for the rest of the round. If you’re correct, you claim the goal card. Once all goal cards have been taken, the game is over and the player who has collected the most wins.
COMPONENTS: Got It! consists of 71 cards, and that’s it. The cards are about 2.5 inches square, and are of good quality. The number and operator cards are orange with black backs, while the goal cards are blue with white backs. There’s no art to speak of – there’s a logo on the box and the backs of the cards, but the front is just numbers and symbols. My only real complaint about the components is that the number and operators cards have the exact same back. Since they are of the same color scheme on the front, it makes it really easy to get them mixed up when cleaning up the game, and you may miss some when sorting them. A different back might help with this. Overall, though, they’re good for what they are.
THEME: This game has no theme. Other than math.
MECHANICS: The only mechanism in this game is pattern recognition. Everyone is looking at the same board, and trying to be the quickest to find a solution to a common goal. It’s like solving a puzzle with others, and just trying to arrive at the solution first. It works pretty well, but there are going to be the inevitable screw-ups. For these, the rules say that player is out of the round, but also say you can let them keep playing to make the game a little more forgiving.
There is the potential that there is no solution on the board. In that case, if players agree, you can just skip the goal card. I’d suggest that you could also use a timer – if someone hasn’t found a solution in 2 minutes, say, then it’s time to move on.
The game ends when all the goal cards are gone, and to me, this makes the game seem like it goes a little too long. I’d suggest setting a goal – the first player to get to 7 goals wins. When I played, we set it at 7, and when that was achieved, we agreed to keep playing to 10. The game moves pretty quickly, but 34 goals is a lot to get through, particularly when all you’re doing is staring at the board.
STRATEGY LEVEL: There’s no strategy here. At the same time, there’s really not any luck either. Sure, the board is going to be different every time, and the goals will come out at different times from game to game, but neither of these affect the game at all. They just keep the game from becoming stale and solvable. It’s a mental dexterity game at its core – not only do you need to be good at math, you also need to be able to think around corners and trying to see patterns backwards and sideways. It’s not easy – one person I played with said the title needs to be changed to “DANG IT!”
ACCESSIBILITY: Got It! is an extremely easy game to learn – all you need to know is that you have to find a three-number/two-operator formula before others. The barrier to entry here, though, is the math. It can be daunting, particularly if you’re not that good at math or spatial reasoning. A basic knowledge of addition, subtraction, and multiplication is required to be successful (thankfully, there’s no division – dealing with decimals does NOT sound like fun).
Despite the difficulty of the game itself, this is one that you can explain the game and be playing in only a couple of minutes. You can make it easier for younger players by removing the multiplication signs and double-digit numbers.
REPLAYABILITY: Because of the variable nature of the board, this game is very replayable. It’s going to be very rare that the same formula is going to be repeated from game to game, which will keep people from “solving” it. We even played a variant where, at a certain point in the game, you reset the board and finish with a new layout.
SCALABILITY: This is definitely one of the strengths of the game. It is listed for 2+ players – there’s no upper limit. This means that you can play it with an entire classroom with no change in the rules (though I might suggest that you make the winner of one round sit out the next to combat the Hermione Grangers of the world). It uses the principles of gamification to make learning more enjoyable for people, and that’s a good thing. You can also set this up and run through it solo – I can see this being written out and sent home as homework with kids.
FOOTPRINT: This game comes in a single tuckbox. The 6×6 grid of cards takes up no more than 18″ of square space (and that’s with spaces between the cards). It’s highly portable, and can be set up anywhere. Because no one has moving pieces, everyone can gather around the same small area to play (though people on one side may be at a disadvantage if they can’t read upside down).
LEGACY: I don’t really know any other math games out there, so I have no basis of comparison. However, I will say that I think this is probably better than flash cards for learning math operators. When searching for a goal, you’ll have to run through a bunch of formulas to find the right one, and that gives you lots of practice on working through formulas.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? For what it is, yes. It is a light filler type game with some thinkiness to it. If you are averse to math, or really want a strategic experience, this is not for you. However, as an educational tool, I think this game is top-notch, and I would recommend it for teachers, parents, and students working on these types of math. It succeeds in making math fun, and I think that’s the point.
WayWord was originally published in 2011 by Battle Bunker Games. In this word game, 2-4 players will be laying tiles in order to make words. What makes this game different than other word games is that players are moving pawns in order to make those words, and thus have the potential to block others from using a tile.
WayWord comes with 71 hexagonal tiles, 4 pawns, and a six-sided die. In the beginning, seven tiles are laid out in a super-hex (one central hex with six around it). At least two of these tiles should be vowels, and they all should be green or yellow (one or two points). All player pawns are placed on the central hex. You’ll then take 24 tiles and make a draw stack, removing the others from the game. Each player draws a tile, then rolls the die to see who goes first.
On your turn, you place your tile so that it is adjacent to at least one other tile. You then move your pawn to an adjacent tile from your current position to start a new word, moving to adjacent tiles for each letter in the word. You can use the same letter twice, and even use it as a double letter. When you reach the last letter of your word, you score it and write the word down – no one else can use that word for the rest of the game. There are also special tiles that can add to your score, move you around on the board, or be used as any letter. These can only be used once per word, and you can’t end your move on them.
When all tiles have been played, the game is over. The player with the highest score wins.
COMPONENTS: The main component in this game is the letter tiles. They are hexagons, and fairly solid, which is surprising considering that there are on very thin white cardboard. The tiles are all color coded, with one point tiles being green, two point tiles are yellow, three point tiles are red, and special tiles are blue. There is nothing printed on the back of the tiles – just plain white. The pawns are standard plastic pawns (no miniatures?!? FAIL!!!), and are in green, yellow, red, and blue. While they don’t necessarily blend in with the letter tiles, it is odd that they are the same color scheme. I would have liked to see some more contrast in the colors there.
Overall, the quality of the components is quite good. There is no art, just text around the edges of the tiles reminding you of the points. The only real complaint I have is the die. A single die is included in the game for the sole purpose of determining the start player. A member of my group came up with what I think is a better solution – flip over tiles, and the player closest to the beginning of the alphabet goes first. That at least wouldn’t mean that there’s a random die that you hardly use in the box.
THEME: It’s just a word game, there’s no other theme.
MECHANICS: Word building games tend to have players staring at letters in their hands trying to rearrange them into words that will score the most points. In WayWord, you are staring at letters that are already on the board, trying to find arrangements that are already present (plus maybe one letter from your hand) to score the most points. It plays very differently from Scrabble and its ilk in that you are not limited to what you can play. You don’t even have to include the letter you have in the word you are trying to form. You just have to find a combination that is near where your pawn is, and exploit it for as many points as you can.
Moving your pawn around is a very important mechanism in the game. Where your pawn ends up affects what other players can do. In that way, it’s almost an area control game – I landed on this S, now no one else can use it. This is the primary thing that sets WayWord apart from other word games – I don’t know any others that use this movement mechanism. Because players can move around on the board and make new words, the rule that you can only use a word once in a game becomes a necessity, primarily so players won’t find a loop that will keep scoring them the same points every time.
The special tiles add some spice to the game as players are constantly trying to figure out how to incorporate them into their words. The Wild tile counts as any letter, but doesn’t score points. Teleport can move you anywhere on the board. +2 adds points to your score. x2 doubles your word score. Jump 2 moves you over some unwanted spaces. It’s interesting trying to work them into your plans.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was the quantity of tiles used in the game. After the 7 initial tiles are placed, there are 64 remaining. From these, you select 24 at random (20 in a two-player game) and put the rest away. This means that you can’t be sure you’ll ever see a letter, and the game will end after each player has made 10-8-6 words (with 2-3-4 players). It is good that there is a limit, because after playing incorrectly, going through all 64 would be waaaaay too long. At the same time, I think that 24 might be a little too short. There’s no reason why you can’t go up to 36 tiles, or something like that, just be aware that there’s a reason to take stuff out.
STRATEGY LEVEL: Word games are inherently lucky. You are very dependent on what you draw, and are usually relying on your anagramming skill to come up with the right combinations. WayWord addresses that by only having you draw one tile, but the luck is almost completely taken away in that you have to work with what has already been played. Strategy and tactics have been introduced through the movement of your pawn – not only are you trying to figure out the optimal move for yourself, you’re trying to block crucial letters from your opponents and trying to set yourself up to make a good word on your next turn. There are a surprising number of decisions to make throughout the process, especially considering that you just have one tile.
ACCESSIBILITY: WayWord does involve a certain amount of mental gymnastics as you are trying to build words through all kinds of twists and turns. Anyone who has ever played a word search should be comfortable with the experience (though this one is not as linear as that type of puzzle). It’s not complicated, and I think a wide range of players will be able to get into it – word game fans will be attracted to the word building aspect, while gamers might be more attracted to the tactical possibilities of the system.
REPLAYABILITY: With the modular setup, this game becomes very replayable. You never know what letters will be out there, and you can’t count on any letters or special tiles ever showing up. There will always be new combinations of words to discover.
SCALABILITY: This game plays from 2-4 players. Because it’s turn-based, I wouldn’t want to try adding any more than that. Four players didn’t seem too bad, but the nature of the game means it’s going to slow down in later rounds (something combatted with the limited tile set). You can also set it up and try it as a solo game, attempting to get the highest score possible.
FOOTPRINT: WayWord does not take up much space at all. You will need some table space to allow for growth, but the playing surface never gets too big.
LEGACY: The most obvious game to compare to WayWord is Scrabble. Both are games where you’re trying to make words for points. However, while Scrabble is very strict in its setup and very linear in its play, Wayword is more flexible and has lots of tactical decisions to be made. I’m sure it’s not a Scrabble killer, but I think it has more to offer for me.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. WayWord is a very good word game, and one I’d highly recommend to people who like that type of game. And even if you’re not a big fan of the genre (like me), you’ll still find some interest in the tactical possibilities of the game. It’s a very unique design, and one I’m glad to have gotten a chance to play.
There you have it. I asked Tom what the inspiration was for designing a math and a word game rather than the fantasy fare he’s more known for. Here’s what he said:
“I like math and word games. Really, I like just about any game that plays well. Cavetroll, by the way, was not a fantasy game when submitted to FFG; it was an archaeology game. Nor was Drakon; it was basically the “King’s Vault” when submitted to FFG, and was called Primrose Path before that when WotC was considering it. Diskwars started life as an alien life form game, and Lightspeed started off as Maori warriors in combat, if you can imagine that. So even though I have a rep for fantasy and SF, it’s more because the theme gets changed by the publisher than being due to my design interests. Fortunately, it’s rather easy to change a theme without hurting the mechanics in most cases.”
I would encourage you to check both games out – they’re both pretty solid in their own way. Thanks again to Tom Jolly for providing the review copies, and thanks to you for reading!