Capsule Review: Capitals

The best competitive spelling game I’ve ever played. Two players compete for territory on a hex grid; each player starts with one hex of territory that is designated their “Capital.” Hexes next to active territory have random letters displayed and can be used to spell words. Players take turns spelling words to take territory - any hex you use that is next to your territory (or chains back to your territory through other letters you’re using this turn) becomes your territory, and any enemy territory adjacent to territory you take reverts to neutral and becomes letters for the next turn. Capturing an enemy Capital grants an extra turn and causes another of their hexes to be assigned their new Capital. The game ends when one player has no territory left.

Having a large vocabulary certainly helps, but it’s not enough - careful use of space and managing limited resources (often particular vowels) is required as well. In fact, the strongest by far of my regular opponents was not the one who’d read the most but the one who’d played the most Warcraft II and Starcraft.

I never liked how important positioning was in Scrabble or how much randomness there was in what letter tiles you got, but here the spatialness and random letters work. This is partly because it’s a game of complete information (both players can always see the entire board and there are no hidden letters) and partly because the board is dynamic. You aren’t just trying to make use of the same bonus squares every time - you’re reacting to enemy troop movement. It’s a battle where words are your tactics.

I Stopped Playing When: I was undefeated in my first twenty-four games against a mix of friends and internet strangers. My twenty-fifth game was against the above-mentioned friend - and after a slugfest that went twenty-nine rounds, he gave me my first loss. After this epic but exhausting game my friend and I both lost interest. We’d seen what happened when we both gave it our all. There were no kingdoms left to conquer.

Docprof's Rating:

Four Stars: Great. Not only did I finish the game, I probably played through the whole thing again and/or completed any optional objectives. It's an easy recommendation for any genre fan.

You can get it or learn more here.