The Opinionated Gamers

Dale Yu: Review of Candygrams

Candygrams


Word games fall into a funny spot in my game collection. It is a genre that I love, and I am a huge fan of clever word play. My shelves are filled with numerous gems including Montage, Boggle, Scrabble, Upwords, Buyword, Password, Codenames, Decrypto, Pick Two and Knock on Word – just to name a few! The problem, for me, is that many of these games simply don’t make it to the table very often (though Decrypto and Codenames seem to be making a name for themselves in the exactly 4 and 6+ player ranges for me).
When I was approached by the designer of Candygrams to try out his new invention, I was intrigued based on the name/theme alone… In this game, players have to build their own crossword in front of them, with the goal being that they need to be the first player to play all of their tiles.


The tiles come in pastel pink, yellow and light blue colors, and they are referred to as Candies – though the theme is admittedly lightly pasted on. Each player gets a random draw of 25 Candies at the start of their game. After each player draws their starting hand, an additional 10 Candies are left face down on the table to serve as the Candy Jar.


In the standard game, each player is asked to make a starting word in their area, with the only stipulation being that it must include tiles of all three colors. There is no length maximum, but based on the rules, it would have to be at least three letters long…

In each round, a player rolls the two oversized dice – which have two faces each for the three colors – and all players view the results of the roll. The one or two colors seen on the dice tell the players which tiles are valid for play in this current round. The goal is to add a word to their crossword – only using tiles of the specified colors.


Words can be added in just about any way. You can use an existing candy as a tile in your new word going perpendicular to the original. You can add on to the end of an exisiting word. You can play a word parallel to an existing word (though making sure that all the touching letters form words).

You can even play tiles between two existing words to make a new word that bridges them. When you do this, you must make sure that all the candies used in any newly formed words that round match the color restriction.


As you are building your words, you are allowed to remove previously placed letters from your crossword to use in your newly formed word. However, if you do this, the remaining letters must still form a valid word! So, you could remove the “S” from the front of “SEVEN”, leaving a real word “EVEN” behind. But you could not take the “S” from the front of “SNAKE”, as “NAKE” is not a real word…


There is one other rule – remember the Candy Jar that was set up at the beginning of the game? Players may trade with the Candy Jar any time the dice roll doubles of a particular color. Each player may trade away one Candy from their supply, placing the discarded tile face up in the Candy Jar. They can then take any other tile in the Candy Jar, whether face up or face down, and add it to their supply.


The game continues until one player has used all of their tiles. When this happens, they grab the dice and yell out “Candygrams”.
There is also a second way to play the game, called the express game. In this version of the game, time is of the essence. Each player still starts with 25 candies. After this point, it becomes a race. The players flip over their 25 tiles and work to form a starting word – remember, this must have all three colors. The first player to complete their word then announces it out loud and then grabs the dice and rolls them. When other players finish their base word, they then try to make a word using whatever color combination is currently shown by the dice. The player to first make a valid word then yells it out loud, grabs the dice and rolls them. Only this one player may make a new word for the round. All other players must start working on the new color combination. The first player to use all of their tiles is the winner.
My thoughts on the game
Candygrams is exactly what I thought it would be – a lighthearted crossword making game. The addition of the color restriction makes it a bit more interesting as it limits what words you can make at certain times as well as giving you a bit of strategy to think about nearing the end of the game. So far, I definitely prefer the standard game. The free-for-all timing of the express game doesn’t really grab my fancy, so most of my comments here will be about the standard game.
I have found that I always try to make a starting word that can be truncated, sometimes on both the front and back ends. First, this usually means that I have a decent length word to start with on the table, but it also gives me a bit of flexibility in that I can take those disposable tiles from the ends to help me make new words – this is especially important near the end of the game.
The letter distribution isn’t exactly Scrabblish, but it’s close. In the set of 111 tiles, there is only 1 Q, Z, X, J and V. The most prevalent letter is E which is seen 11 times. In practice, the distribution works out well, and players are generally able to make decent words out of their tiles. I would recommend using the less common letters early on in the game, because you might be left trying to make short words with K and X left in your hand, and you’re pretty much not going to win the game at that point. Sure, you can try to trade with the Candy Jar, but by the end of the game, it’s not uncommon for it to be filled with CKXJZQB…, so you actually might not be able to find any help there at the end.
Most of our games come down to a die roll at the end. Generally, people are building their crosswords around the same pace, making sure to save tiles of only two colors at the end of the game so that they can “go out” on the final roll. In our last game – the three players in the game each were waiting for a different color combination to show up on the dice in order to win.
The game moves quickly, even in the Standard game, and we’ve not had any issues with people taking too long to make a word. However, it’s nothing like the Express game, which can be over in the blink of an eye! I’ve only played this version once, and it was definitely frantic. We ended up with a lot of ties on making the words – because once we figured out the timing, many of us had tiles laid out for particular color combinations, just waiting on the roll of the dice – and this led to a bunch of instant, and sometimes simultaneous, word calls. The rules actually say that in a tie, no one makes a word and the dice are re-rolled, but that really doesn’t do anything to prevent future ties from happening. I’m sure that there are some people who like this sort of game (i.e. the people who love Pick Two), but I’m not one of them.
The tiles are nice molded plastic with the colors and letters printed directly on them. After our first few plays, they have shown no sign of wear. The box is small, which I appreciate, and looks a bit like an old-school airmail envelope. I’m not quite sure why the top of the box doesn’t sit flush to the bottom, but that’s no big deal.


For an independent game, this is well done quality wise, and we’ve enjoyed our first few plays of it. I don’t know if it will supplant Boggle or Pick Two as far as my favorites go in the quick word game genre, but it’s definitely worth a try if you like those sorts of games. At this time, the only issue is availability. You can get it from their website, www.candygrams.com. The website also states that it would be available at Amazon in the near future, and the future is now…
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor