Capsule Review: Bookworm

A spelling game structured like a match-3 game. There’s a hex grid filled with letter tiles; connect adjacent tiles to spell a word and remove those tiles from the grid. New tiles will fall in from the top to replace them. Get more points for spelling longer words or using less common letters - high-value plays will be rewarded with bonus tiles that are worth a lot of points. Periodically “fire tiles” will drop in and will burn through the tiles below them over time - more fire tiles will appear as the game goes on and if you make low-scoring plays. Fire tiles must be used before reaching the bottom or it’s game over. Try to get as high a score as you can before that happens.

It’s a fairly simple formula, but it works well. The game provides goals on multiple levels, so it’s easy to learn but takes some time to master and provides interesting challenges for new and experienced players. First you learn to find words in the grid, then over time you start looking multiple moves ahead and finding great potential words and seeing the plays you have to make to get the tiles set up right. Building toward those words and then successfully playing them is player-driven and very satisfying. The game provides its own moment-to-moment goals as well, with the bonus and fire tiles you’re incentivized to use and with bonus words that grant many points if you manage to find a way to spell them. And the fire tiles provide a good flow of tension and relief.

The game’s biggest problem is that it’s likely that over time, certain parts of the board will accumulate hard-to-use letters and essentially no longer be playable. There’s not much that can be done with a cluster of C, J, V, X, and Z tiles with no vowels. That makes the game less interesting since there’s less of a usable board, and can also make it quite difficult to deal with fire tiles that fall into those clusters, leading to failure modes that don’t really feel like they’re the player’s fault. But this is unlikely to bother players until they are experienced enough for their games to routinely last long enough that this is a common problem.

I Stopped Playing When: After a few dozen hours or so of playing on the train or to relax, the unusable-tiles problem deflated my enjoyment of the game. I’d had plenty of fun with it until then, though.

Docprof's Rating:

Five Stars: Favorite. This is one of my all-time favorite games that made a significant impact on me or that I've returned to time and again.

You can get it or learn more here.