Dale Yu: Review of Word Slam

Word Slam

  • Designers: Inka & Markus Brand
  • Players: 4+
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Times played: 6, with preview copy provided by Thames&Kosmos

Word Slam was a game that I had really not paid much attention to when I first learned about it – mostly because it was a word game which was only published in Deutsch.  However, it has made it onto the Spiel des Jahres recommended list, and suddenly, people were talking about it.  The English language version quickly appeared, and I was glad to give it a look.

In short, Word Slam is, according to the box, “a fast-paced word-based guessing game”.  After playing the game a few times, I’ll agree with most of that statement – more to come on that later.  In this game, the players split up into two teams.  The goal in each round is to be the first team that can correctly guess the Answer word for that round.

There is a deck of 200 Answer cards, each with six different possible answers on them.  They are color coded to tell you the relative difficultly level.  For each round, one player on each team is designated as the Storyteller.  A difficultly level is agreed upon, and a card is drawn.  A regular d6 is then rolled to determine which of the answers on the card will be the target word for the round.  Both storytellers look at the card and agree that they know what the word is.

Each storyteller then sets up a card holder on their side of the table and gets the four decks of story word cards.  They are color coded – and each color deck has a different type of word (noun, verb, adjective, conjunction) on it.  When the round starts, the Storytellers are trying to get their teammates to shout out the answer word.  However, they cannot speak or verbally communicate in any way.  What they can do is place word cards on their card holders to convey meaning.  The cards can be placed in any order, placed and removed freely – but you cannot cover up part of any card while placing them.  The storyteller is allowed to point to a particular card for emphasis.

Once the first word card is placed on the holder, teammates can start guessing out loud.  You may not look at the word cards used by the opposing team, but you can certainly listen to their guesses to try to get to the right Answer.  The first team to say the Answer word out loud takes the Answer card as a scoring point.  A new player on each team is named the Storyteller and the process is repeated.  The game usually is comprised of ten cards, and the team with the most points wins.  If there is a tie, there is a final tiebreaker round played.

My thoughts on the game

 (written in two parts, the first written 6/4/17 after 3 plays, and the conclusion written 6/18/17 after 3 more plays)

Word Slam is an interesting variation on the word game – in this case, you are limited to describing the answers with only the 105 word cards found in the four colored word decks.  While in practice this seems like an interesting puzzle, we found that there could have maybe been a few more cards thrown in the word decks to make it more interesting.   In our games, we found that the two teams often had identical cards or very similar word cards on their racks.  Because, let’s face it, if you’re trying to describe a banana, there aren’t that many cards out of the set of 105 that you can use to get there.  The rules use the words “eat, yellow, circle” to start and then “divided”.  As I looked through the cards, I didn’t find one for “monkey” which could help.  Nor did I find “breakfast” or “cereal”.  Heck, I didn’t even find “tailpipe” (I just re-watched Beverly Hills Cop to explain that vague reference).  “Plantation” is not available nor is “peel”.

play along as you read the review! Guess what I’m trying to get you to say

Thus, most rounds turned out to be decided by the speed at which the storytellers were able to find the same three to five word cards.   Certainly, the placement and arrangement of the cards (as well as timely finger pointing at particular cards) also helped – but in the end, the teammates need to see the other words in order to make rational guesses… i.e. it’s hard to get to banana if all you have is “yellow”.  If you didn’t have words, you were forced to listen to the guesses of your opponents and then simply shout out words that were somehow related and hope to guess the right thing.

Going back to the description of the game, I suppose it’s fast-paced for the storyteller, but for the rest of the team, it’s more of an agonizing wait for the word cards to be placed on the card racks.

I have always wondered how word games translate over into different languages.  From what I know of the German language, many of their words are compound words made up of smaller words being smooshed together.  For instance, the noun “Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän” is simply four words pieced neatly together to say “Danube steamship company captain”.  Or “rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” means “the law for the delegation of monitoring beef labeling.” Maybe putting the 105 short words together in German is a more constructive experience as a result of the way the language works, or maybe the native German speaker is more able to construct compound words from the limited bits.

The words in the easiest two levels of answer cards were fine, but for the life of me, I can’t see how anyone could use the 105 word cards to describe some of the most difficult answer words – such as Ginseng or hotpants.

In our group, the game worked fine, but it simply lacked spark.  It could be a group thing, but no one in my group felt that it was overly creative due to the lack of variety in the word cards.  I will still want to try it at least once more as I do respect the judgement and tastes of the SdJ jury, and I feel like I must be missing something if this is on their recommended list.  As I stated earlier, I wonder if this is just the sort of game that loses something in the transition from one language to another.

(second part of thoughts penned 6/18)

So… I pulled the game out again with a few different groups, all non-gamers – and you know what… it worked.  Not the best game ever, but we had a really good time with it – so much so that I’m actually considering keeping it around for a casual party game.

In a casual social setting, it’s a nice game/activity to pull out.  Everyone can participate, it’s not really a competitive sort of thing (so it shouldn’t scare any one away), and the yelling/shouting/laughing of players just seems to attract everyone in the room.

My reservations of the limitations of the word card set still holds true.  We have had a decent time with the yellow and red cards, but the black cards really still seem out of reach for us.  But, maybe we’re just bad at word games.  I will say though that moving the game into the yellow and red cards improved the play as the more complicated answer words did lead to different approaches based on the storytellers.  As we became more familiar with the words, the speed of the game also increased as many storytellers were able to quickly search for a few important words to start off the guessing with.

Finally, one note on the insert.  It is a custom molded vac tray that wants to hold everything in, but every time that I’ve opened the box, the cards are all over.  I’d definitely recommend using rubberbands to hold the card decks together.  As we found out, the game is way harder to play if your set of word cards is missing a few — we had managed to incorrectly separate them and one team was a few important descriptive words short… Try to get to “igloo” without the words cold or water…

After continued play, my view of Word Slam is definitely improved.  It’s not my favorite word game, but it is a really good game for a casual setting, especially with those who aren’t prone to playing games.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Craig V: Word Slam is pretty much a reverse version of Taboo since each team has an identical deck of cards and only the words on those cards can be used to describe the target word or phrase. However, flipping through 105 cards in an attempt to see what’s allowed and find right the words to use is really annoying. In addition, the other team is doing the same thing and picking out many, if not all, of the same word cards, so what’s the point? Our play group really found this game to be tedious and not fun. I really like word games, but Word Slam just wasn’t for me. I’d rather play Taboo since it has good tension and is actually fun to play.

Melissa: Word Slam was high on my wish list on a recent trip to the UK Games Expo, as I had heard good things about it; it did not disappoint.

Back in Australia, I took it to Bordercon where it was a hit with (almost) everyone who played it – even the people who usually find party games “too stressful” or just don’t like word games. Of around 20 people I played it with (including spectators, which the game seems to attract), only one actively disliked it and one other didn’t hate it but wouldn’t play it again. I was surprised by how much fun this game was, and by how popular it was; I even had people who hadn’t played it (but had seen how much fun we were having) coming over and asking to borrow it. It won’t be the main course for game night, but it makes a great closer.

We played it with anywhere from 4 to 10 players – it shone with 6 or more, and was borrowed by some of the dedicated late night players as a good after-midnight con game. Coming up with descriptions that worked – and ways to use the cards that were on top – was a hoot, and getting a sense of which types of clues worked. Sometimes it was worth hanging on to place two cards at the same time – both escalator and ladder used “(up, down)” combos.

We found that each team listened to what the other was saying, so mirroring the opponents’ clues by reusing words wasn’t the optimal play. An example of this was when one team played “white, transparent, fictional” and a player guessed “Caspar the friendly ghost” – and then “Caspar” – the opponents leapt onto it with “ghost” for the win.

In another example, with the word “astronaut” the other team worked the “fly, job” angle where I played the Doctor Who fans with “job, (not, time)”. I’m sure we broke the rules with the amount of bouncing and gesticulating that our cluegivers were doing, but that was part of the fun of the game. With games like this, we also aren’t too strict with plurals etc – so accepted “strawberries” for “strawberry” and “halitosis” for “bad breath”.

We also found that the trick to the game wasn’t so much sorting through the different decks of cards as looking at what cards came up and how they could be used. This is where  I disagree with Dale on the “creativity” question as I think the creativity in Word Slam comes from making the best of the cards that you can see, and from combining the relatively small number of cards in interesting ways. The separate decks of verbs, adjectives, nouns and (helpful words) make this much easier. It’s not necessary to go right through the deck before you can start building interesting clues.

Fraser: I am firmly in the camp of not a fan of party games and not a fan of Word games in general. I played this a few times and would play it again.  I agree with Melissa that it is probably best with around 6 or more people.

We played with stacks of cards, but I saw Eric’s post on teh twitter where they had laid all the cards out on the table.  That could work, but I am inclined to stay with stacks due to table sizes.  That said you do need a few rounds to get an idea of what words are in the game’s vocabulary so that you can switch “I can’t find a word that matches what I want” to “Where’s that word I need”.

Listening to the other team is very important and can be fun too.  What they say may give you another angle to what your clue giver is hinting at with your cards and lead you to the correct answer more quickly.  Which is also why it is sometime worth throwing in a random word out loud!

You can also play to the strengths, experiences and/or relationships of people on your team.  I tested Melissa on “Japan” with the clue Big In.  She got it second guess – we both own copies of Alphaville’s Forever Young album where one of the songs is “Big In Japan”.

I’d play this over most party games.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Melissa
  • I like it. Fraser, Dale Y (with casual gamers)
  • Neutral. Dale Y (with my serious gaming group)
  • Not for me… Craig V


About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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10 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Word Slam

  1. jeffinberlin says:

    So, basically Concept, but with word cards instead of a board with symbols/graphics?

  2. enigmisto says:

    Sounds like an inferior version of the much beloved, but out-of-print Word Blur. What makes Word Blur potentially better is that there are 900 word tiles and they are in one pile that both team clue-givers are simultaneously sifting through, looking for relevant words they can build clues out of.

    • jeffinberlin says:

      Wow, that is the same game!

    • Correct me if Im wrong: In Word Blur all words are on the table , including the “goal” word and one person from each team knows what it is and tries to take words from that open pile that help describing the game?

      • jeffinberlin says:

        The goal words are on cards. There are 6 on each card, and a 6-sided die is rolled to determine which word on the card will be used for the round. Both teams’ clue givers know the word, and try to search through the words in the pile on the table to choose words that will help their team guess the goal word, just like in Word Slam.

        • Can you also turn a card upside down to use as a negative?

          • enigmisto says:

            There’s a separate card (not the same as the goal card, one per team) where you lay your chosen word tiles out for your team. It has a few areas where you can put tiles to modify their meanings. One of the areas is an “opposite” area, so if you put your tile there, you are communicating to your team that you mean the opposite of the words there. I don’t remember offhand what the other area modifiers were. As a house rule, we turned one of the less useful modifiers into “-ish”, to mean that the word only approximately or vaguely applied.

  3. wileyd says:

    This one sounds a little like Insider but more fun and a little like Codenames but without the fun. I’d love to find a word game to play that my wife would enjoy, but I doubt this one would be it. Especially since I’m far from being a party gamer. But I do appreciate the review!

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