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.

Apples to Apples – Card Game Review

Apples to Apples Game Box

Apples to Apples Game Box

Apples to Apples: The Game of Crazy Combinations is a party card game released by Mattel. My copy is copyrighted 2013. The game is designed for 4 to 8 players, but I have played games with as many as 12 participants.

My Apples to Apples deck contains 438 red apple cards, 62 green apple cards, 3 blank red apple cards, and 1 blank green apple card. In our house rules we decided to not require players to use the blank cards if they did not want to. They are available to make the game more interesting and more personalized for those who wish to come up with a creative wild card.

All red apple cards are shuffled together and randomly distributed across as many piles as is convenient face down. These are the draw piles for all players. All players draw five cards out of the red apple cards to compose their beginning hands. The green cards are also shuffled together into their own deck and placed in the middle of the table so everyone can reach them.

Apples to Apples Card Piles

Apples to Apples card piles

Someone is selected as the first judge. It’s typically best for this person to be the one with the most prior experience in playing Apples to Apples. The judge takes a green apple card off of the green apple card pile and selects one of the two adjectives written on the card. They then place the card face up on the table where everyone can see it and say what adjective they chose out loud. All other players then play face down the red apple card they feel contains a noun that is best described by the green apple card adjective selected and then draw a new red apple card from the red apple card decks to replenish their hand up to five cards. Once all of the players have played a red apple card, the judge selects which green/red apple card combination they like the best. Once they have picked the winning red apple card, the green apple card is awarded to the winner of that round for score keeping and play continues with the player to the left of the judge acting as new judge in the next round of play.

The rules state that the first person to win four green apple cards wins the game, but there is really no max number you have to stop at. The last time I played this game we exhausted the entire deck of green apple cards. Another interesting twist we made to our own game was to create a dummy player. Each round of play we would toss an additional random red apple card into the pile for the judge to examine. It was fascinating to see how well the non-player did compared to the actual human players around the table. In fact in the game I played last night, the dummy player actually came in second place!

There have been numerous times that I have asked people if they wanted to play Apples to Apples and they have wanted to know what it was. I would then explain it to them and they would say, “Oh, kind of like Cards Against Humanity? I’ve got that one, why don’t we just play that?” Apples to Apples is a family friendly game, while Cards Against Humanity is more adult themed with explicit content. Be aware of this if you are a newcomer to this genre and you want to keep your gaming experiences more family friendly for everyone involved.

The Apples to Apples rulebook contains a couple other play variations that I have yet to try out. In the Crab Apples variation, the objective is to pick the best red apple card that is the opposite of the word chosen for the green apple card. In 2 for 1 Apples, each player attempts to pick the one red apple card in their hand that matches best with both words on the green apple card.

If you were judge, which would you pick?

If you were judge, which would you pick?

Apples to Apples is probably my most frequently used go-to game to take to parties, especially those where I am unsure of the tastes of the hosts and whether they are gamers or not. Given that Apples to Apples is essentially an exercise in understanding other players’ psychology, this game acts as a good icebreaker to better understand and relate to the people I play with without bringing up any over the top embarrassing or offensive themes. One of the red apple cards is “Republicans” while another is “Democrats.” One of the red apple cards is “George W. Bush” while another is “Hillary Rodham Clinton.” I have been able to learn a lot about the people I play with based on the cards they play and how they talk about the subjects on the cards. We all learn a lot more about each other. Apples to Apples has probably helped me build rapport with those I have played it with more than any other game I own.

Any gamer who is serious about being a social gamer should have Apples to Apples in their collection. It’s easily available and fairly inexpensive in most stores with a toy section. I don’t even worry if my copy gets damaged because I know I can always get another copy. Meanwhile its benefits to opening avenues of conversation through a friendly game cannot be understated. I feel this game truly is a treasure to human society.