Alphabear: Hardcover Edition – Compatibility

Alphabear: Hardcover Edition Title Screen

Alphabear: Hardcover Edition Title Screen

System Requirements

Windows

Operating System: Windows 7 or later
Processor: Intel Core Duo 1.66 GHz or better
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: 256 MB Graphics Memory
Hard Disk: 400 MB

Mac OS X

Operating System: Mac OS X 10.8 or later
Processor: Intel Core Duo 1.66 GHz or better
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Video: 256 MB Graphics Memory
Hard Disk: 400 MB

Windows 10

This game was designed for Windows 10 and ran flawlessly when I played it in Windows 10.

Mac OS X 10.12

This game was designed for Mac OS X 10.12.

Alphabear: Hardcover Edition – Windows 10 and Mac OS X 10.12 Game First Impressions

Alphabear: Hardcover Edition Title Screen

Alphabear: Hardcover Edition Title Screen

Alphabear is a single-player word puzzle game first released for mobile devices on the iOS and Android platforms in 2015. In 2017, the game was released for the Windows 10 and Mac OS X 10.12 operating systems as Alphabear: Hardcover Edition as a download for the Steam platform. The game was developed and is published by Spry Fox LLC.

Within a typical level, the player is tasked with making words from the letters provided in the blocks on the screen. The more letters are used, the more space is freed up on the board which is then consumed by the player’s bears on the screen. Each letter begins with a score count and with a green color. Each turn a letter is not used its color changes from green to yellow to red and its total score count decreases. A deep red letter will become unusable on the next turn and transform into a stone. Stones impede the players ability to grow their bears and should therefore be avoided.

Alphabear: Hardcover Edition puzzle gameplay

Alphabear: Hardcover Edition puzzle gameplay

The objective of the game is to maximize points by maximizing the size of the words the player creates and the size of the bears within the playing field. Most levels have a point goal the player must reach in order to progress. Occasional levels introduce a time limit within which the player must complete the level.

Skinny Bear Leveled Up!

Skinny Bear Leveled Up!

At the end of each level, the player’s score is tallied up and a new player bear is unlocked or a bear already existing within the player’s inventory levels up in ability. This introduces somewhat of an role-playing game element to Alphabear: Hardcover Edition. Prior to entering a new puzzle stage, the player may enter her bear inventory and choose up to three bears on her roster to participate in the next puzzle based on their various abilities. As a bear is gained or levels up, the player is greeted with a screen where their bear is in a selfie containing a cute little tweet randomly generated using the words the player made during the last stage. The player may actually tweet or save these selfies before they progress to the next round if they so choose.

Level End Scoreboard

Level End Scoreboard

At first blush, Alphabear: Hardcover Edition seems to be just another word puzzle game. I saw it was being offered on Steam’s free weekend, so I downloaded it to write a quick first impressions article. The game install file is only 196 megabytes in size; downloading and installing it on Steam takes virtually no time at all. Not paying attention to the clock, I played it long enough that I almost ran out of space on my game recording device. Alphabear is fun and addicting.

Bear Inventory

Bear Inventory

As with other word puzzle games, it is often the case that the player begins trying to coin words that are new to them in order to get out of a tight spot where they don’t know what word they can legally play next. Alphabear: Hardcover Edition offers a dictionary that defines every word that is played. I found this to be particularly helpful when I was just clicking around and stumbled upon a word I didn’t know. This game would be extremely helpful to those who are hoping to get better at Scrabble and actually know the words they are playing. It also appears it might help a child with an elementary vocabulary to learn more words and better spelling for fun outside of their classroom.

As I said, this title is free for the weekend, and only around five dollars retail. I had fun with it and thought it was worthwhile. It may be one of the better edutainment titles I have played. Check it out and see what you think.

Turnspell – Board Game Review

Turnspell Game Box

Turnspell Game Box

Another game we played at our most recent game night was Turnspell released by Mattel in 2016. This is a word game where 2 to 4 players are scored based on their ability to construct four letter words. Contained with the game are four, four-by-four letter boards for each player with scoring pegs and a center spinning board which contains letters chosen randomly from a pouch.

The pouch contains tiled letters with the exact same frequency and score values as Scrabble. I was actually disappointed to discover I am missing an “I” from my favorite travel Scrabble set when I tested the theory that these games use the same lettering system. Mattel, I think you may owe Hasbro an explanation, or at least a concession that they know what they are doing more when it comes to word games.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Letters are chosen at random and placed on the center spinning board, filling each of its four four-letter tile spaces. When we started the game we thought you were supposed to spin the spinning board to determine who started with which letters. Don’t do this unless you want pick the letters up off the floor on opposite sides of the room.

Try to make the letter setup truly random so no one feels cheated in the first turn. When we started one game, one of the sides of the center spinning board was completely filled with “E” letter pieces. Given that there are rare letters that are worth more points and common letters that are quite prevalent, my friend was forced to take an “E” on his first turn while his opponents were taking “J” and “X” letters. Perhaps a mulligan system could be employed to provide a more balanced start for all players. I would suggest if a side on the spinning board is completely filled with one-point vowels, or perhaps only one-point letters (vowels or consonants) at the beginning of the game, one letter should be traded out until a higher point valued letter is drawn to take its place.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

All players play simultaneously. Each player draws a letter and places it somewhere on their player board. The player’s objective is to create four-letter words on their board. Once a four-letter word is created, it is scored by counting the point value each of the letters is worth. The word’s total score is added to the player’s score total using the pegs on the player’s board and the letters from the word are then placed back into the letter pouch.

There is a possibility for a player to use a letter to create two four-letter words at the same time. When this happens, the letter values from both words are added together and then that final sum is doubled to compute their total score for that turn. When a player reaches a score of 44, they win the game. If two players surpass a score of 44 in the same turn then the highest scoring player wins. If both players tie past 44 in the same turn, I assume they must fight to the death or the universe explodes. The rules do not specify in this final case.

Once a tile is placed on a player’s board, it cannot be replaced without taking a penalty. If a player wishes to remove one tile, they may surrender five points or twice the point value of the letter to do so, whichever total is higher. If they do not have enough points in the game to take the penalty, they may not remove the tile. When a tile is removed, it is placed back into the letter pouch. It cannot be replaced on the player’s board.

A player board. All she needed was a "Z" and I took it before she could get it.

A player board. All she needed was a “Z” and I took it before she could get it.

The player may also remove an entire row of tiles from their player board for no penalty. If there is only one tile in the row, it may be removed with no penalty. Similar to removing the one tile, if a row is removed from a player’s board it is removed to the pouch, not rearranged on the player’s board. Once all players have placed a tile on their player board, the center spinning board is turned one-click clockwise so that the next set of letters is facing a new player. Then the missing letters from the previous round of play are replaced at random from the letter pouch.

Turnspell is a good word game for board gamers who are not good at word games. I never win at Scrabble. I only ever really play it because other people enjoy it. I won at Turnspell against people who enjoy Scrabble and win often at Scrabble. It felt good, but also felt like sort of a cheap thrill for me while playing with such Scrabble aficionados. This is a nice light party game that takes a lower vocabulary and less brain activity than other word games in its class.

Cross-Up – Board Game Review

Cross-Up Box Cover

Cross-Up Box Cover

I found and purchased this board game, Cross-Up by Milton Bradley, at an antique shop in Sweetwater, Tennessee. When I saw it I turned to my wife and said, “Look! It’s Lucy from I Love Lucy!!!” Judging the cover of the game, I would assume that is what the publishers would have hoped a prospective buyer like me would have done. As can be seen in the image, the cover has a canned cursive Lucy signature. The signature looks nothing like the signature on the Lucille Ball Wikipedia page. Despite this and the image of her sitting behind the table, this game appears to have no further references to the great American icon.

Cross-Up has a copyright date of 1974. According to Wikipedia, 1974 was the last year Lucy was credited as starring in any particular movie or show. It kind of hurts me to look at her face. She’s like a grandmother smiling longingly at me, hoping she’ll get to play the game with me, while also sad and exasperated like she has low expectations that will ever happen. I hope they simply edited her picture onto the cover, otherwise I would feel sorry for the camera man who surely felt he must play the game she’s advertising to keep from breaking her heart. Enough about that, on to the game-play.

Cross-Up Game Components

Cross-Up Game Components

Cross-Up is advertised as a game for two or more players. I would like to know if there is a world record on the number of people who have played Cross-Up at one time. Four game pads are provided, but the five-by-five letter play grid is easy enough to draw out on a piece of scrap paper.

Cross-Up Letter Card Piles

Cross-Up Letter Card Piles

There are two decks of cards containing one letter on each card. The decks are shuffled together and dealt face down into six equal piles. Each face down pile is then turned face up and placed in a spot within the letter card tray. The letter frequencies are as follows.

A – 9; B – 4; C – 4; D – 4; E – 12; F – 3; G – 3; H – 3; I – 9; J – 2; K – 2; L-4; M – 3; N – 6; O – 8; P – 3; Q – 1; R – 6; S – 4; T – 6; U – 4; V – 2; W – 2; X – 1; Y – 2; Z – 1; Total: 108

It is best for all players to agree on a dictionary before play begins to alleviate the kinds of conflicts that arise out of playing word game board games. Take care when doing this. While house rules often state that if a word is in the dictionary it’s fair game, I noticed that the Merriam-Webster dictionary we were using had correct spellings of popular biographical figures, and we all know that’s not Scrabble kosher.

The rules say all of the players simply determine who will go first by mutual consensus. They obviously have never played a game with the people I play with. We used a single die, highest roller went first. Each player chooses a letter tile, calls it out loud, and places it prominently where everyone can see it. Then each player chooses where they would like to place that letter within their five-by-five play grid. Play continues in a clockwise manner with everyone drawing a card until 25 cards are drawn. Once players have filled out their play grids after the 25th letter, they calculate the points of the number of three to five letter words they were able to construct. The letters J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y, and Z are considered special letters. If a word contains one special letter, the total point value of that word is multiplied by two. With two special letters it is multiplied by four. With three special letters it is multiplied by eight. And with four special letters it is multiplied by sixteen!

Cross-Up Play Grid

Cross-Up Play Grid

The corners of the play grid are labeled starting in the upper left corner and going clockwise: A, B, D, and C. Legal words may be read horizontally A to B, vertically A to C, diagonally A to D, or diagonally C to B. The point values are rated below. As can be seen, it pays to favor diagonal words over horizontal ones. Five letter words are the brass ring.

Diagonal 5 Letter – 15 points
Diagonal 4 Letter – 8 points
Diagonal 3 Letter – 5 points
Horizontal/Vertical 5 Letter – 10 points
Horizontal/Vertical 4 Letter – 4 points
Horizontal/Vertical 3 Letter – 3 points

Cross-Up Final Score

Cross-Up Final Score

As you can see from our scores, I tend to be awful at word games. That being said, I think playing this game would help someone who was trying to become a better Scrabble player. The entire game could be viewed as an exercise in creating as many three to five letter adjoining words in a tight space as possible, an art that really separates the expert Scrabble players from the loser laymen like me. Cross-Up is a simple game that takes little time and preparation to play and is fairly enjoyable while it lasts. See if you can pick it up for around three dollars like I did.