- Designer: Nyles Breecher, Patrick Lindsay, Jordan Sorenson
- Publisher: Gamewright
- Players: 2-6
- Age: 10+
- Time: 15-20 minutes
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Gamewright
Word Heist is the newest word game to enter the Gaming Basement. Like soccer themed gamers, I have always had a soft spot for word games, hoping to find that ephemeral selection that is clever to play, quick to learn and accessible to most. I have yet to find a game that hits all three of these pigeonholes, and not to give it all away at the top, but Word Heist isn’t that Holy Grail of Word Games for me…
What you get here is (from the publisher): “It’s a clever letter caper in two acts! First – secretly make a word with the letters in the gallery. Earn bonuses for using featured letters, as well as for satisfying the conditions inside the vault. Then, drop as many clues about your word as you dare. The more clues you leave, the more you can score. But if someone guesses your word, they steal your score! Haul away the most points and you’re the master word thief!”
In this game, you set up the board with the scoreboard in the center of the table and then a set number of cards from each of the three decks – vowels, common consonants, rare consonants (refer to the chart on the score board). Two of the letter cards will be placed under the “+2” and “+1” slots. You will also draw two random bonus cards for each round which give you some alternative rules to help you try to increase your score.
Each player then simultaneously and secretly writes a “heist” word on their player board using only the letters revealed, with as many copies of those letters as they like. There isn’t really a time limit here, and in our experience, our group didn’t really need to hurry anyone along – after all, the fun in the game is trying to figure out what word everyone has come up with! Once everyone has finished, each player drops clues to their word by placing their personal clue tokens on as many public letters as they wish; if you use a letter multiple times in your word, you must mark the letter that many times.
In the next phase, after looking at the clues from the other players, each player writes a “halt” word on the bottom half of their player board that they think corresponds to an opponent’s word. At this time, they don’t have to designate which player they are guessing at – so if you can use the clues to come up with a word that might fit in with multiple sets of clues, that may be a good choice for this round!
All players then reveal their words one by one. If two or more players have the same word, none of them score for that word; if an opponent has “halted” your word, then they score for that word instead of you! A word scores 1 point for each clue token you placed, +1 or +2 points for you using the letters placed in the corresponding slots on the board, and bonus points if you met one or both “bonus vault” challenges.
After writing all the used “heist” and “halt” words on a public board, shuffle the letter cards used in the previous round and deal them out again so that there might be different letters in the “+2” and “+1” slots, then play another round. You cannot repeat a previously used word. After a third round conducted in the same manner, the player with the highest score wins.
My thoughts on the game
Word Heist is a fairly simple game that wants to be good for a family or group. Look at this morass of letters, and then try to come up with a word and figure out how to clue it. With the bonus cards and the scoring spots on the board, it’s actually possible to get a really good score with a short word – in one of our games, a player scored 6 points for “HUE”.
The challenge in each round is to first pick a word, and initially, make sure that it’s not so common that someone else will choose it – remember, if you have the same Heist word as someone else, you are both disqualified from the current round! Once you have picked you word, you then have to determine how much risk you’re willing to take with your clues. You definitely score more points when you give more clues, but this also gives your opponents a lot more ammunition with which to guess your word. It’s a fine balance, and this might be the hardest part of the game. Even a complicated 7 letter word might be easy to guess when you give 5 clues to it!
There is a bit of a doublethink game as well with the bonus cards. In a particular round, it’s nice to get some of the +1 or +2 point bonuses seen on the Bonus cards, but everyone is thinking about words that involve those rules, and you might actually be able to sneak in a high scoring word with lots of clues if you specifically avoid the bonus rules.
As you don’t change the letters in the three rounds of the game, you might run out of words that you can anagram out of the selection – and remember that you are forbidden from using a word that any player has written down for a Heist or a Halt word. But, as you keep staring at those same letters, we’ve found that everyone is able to come up with a new word for the round.
If the players in the game are of similar ability with wordgames (especially anagrams, but also jumbles, crosswords, Scrabble, etc) – it should work out fine. Oh, and realistically they may need to have similar vocabulary skills. In a recent game, I scored really well for “eunuch”, but this was a word that maybe wasn’t common enough to be fair. I think the game works well with a balanced group, but that does limit how often and in what situation I’m able to pull this one out.
The rules are simple, and I’ve found that it’s easiest to teach by just dealing out a sample setup and playing a round with open boards. It takes less than 5 minutes, and no one has been confused about the game after such a presentation. I’ve got a group of friends who play semi-competitive Scrabble, and I’d love to see how this game works in that sort of group – a group where everyone can anagram stuff on the fly, and all with huge vocabularies.
If you’re looking for a change to your game night, and something that will make you use your noggin – Word Heist could be a nice word game. It’s not just about vocabulary and anagramming as you can use some clever gameplay in the clues and guessing to outwit your opponents.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor