Letter Jam

18 November 2019
If you’re looking for a new post-Codenames word game that’s fruity and fresh, Letter Jam is it

If you’re looking for a new post-Codenames word game that’s fruity and fresh, Letter Jam is it.

Everybody starts the game with a secret five-letter word decided by their neighbour. The five letter cards are shuffled; it’s your job to rearrange them in order to spell out the hidden word. Easy, right? Wait, did we mention you can’t see what letters you have?

Yep, Letter Jam borrows the quirky hold-your-cards-backwards trick of fireworks-making co-op game Hanabi and applies it to a twist on a Hangman like spellathon.

Everyone can see one of their fellow players’ letters each round, and must try to spell out a word using the visible letters around the table to give as many people clues to their current letter as possible. (So you might be working out the gap in B_SKET, while your E-holding neighbour puzzles over BASK_T.) But you only have so many rounds to try and work out all five of your letters – you can’t return to a letter once you’ve decided what it is – so the pressure’s on to decode your letters and secret word as efficiently as you can.

Like Codenames and Decrypto, it’s a social deduction word game par excellence, combining its simple ‘spell a word’ premise with the brain-burning coop challenge of both giving effective clues and working out those given to you.

Anyone can choose to give a clue (the green and red clue tokens ensure that everyone gives a hint at least once), vaguely indicating how helpful their hint might be – “This five-letter word helps three of us and uses the wildcard.” – to decide amongst themselves who should go this turn.

While there’s a nice amount of Flexibility to ease the pressure on those who prefer to guess rather than give, this is Letter Jam’s only real sticky spot: depending on the letters and players, coming up with the best word possible can result in several minutes of quiet, game-dragging umming and erring, and potentially cause frustration if someone feels their thought-over perfect clue went to waste or someone blew a precious turn on an ultimately unhelpful hint. 

After everyone gets into the swing of it, though, these moments of hesitation and disappointment tend to be rare – and the few that occur are often worth it for that moment you quickly pull out a nine-letter masterpiece that causes everyone to immediately solve their current letter. (A satisfaction only increased by clinking the fruity poker-chip tokens on the table to indicate the letters in your clue.)

As you might expect, Letter Jam’s social deduction element means it tends to work best with more players (extra heads around the table help with coming up
with clues quickly, too), although it does scale nicely to smaller groups; decks of cards stand in for absent humans, drawing a random letter to help with hints. There’s a nifty way of keeping players who swiftly solve their word to remain engaged in the action, too, with bonus letters earning extra points if you’re keeping score.

Deliciously challenging, superbly original and executed to perfection, Letter Jam is the next great word guessing game. To put it a fruitier way: it’s f_cking fantastic.



Designer: Ondra Skoupý

Artist: Lukáš Vodicka, František Sedlácek

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Time: 45 minutes

Players: 2-6

Age: 8+

Price: €17



This review originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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