12 September 2017
Play. Word. Clue. Fun. Fast. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh.
At first, Word Slam looks like an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Codenames with a mass-market spin on the one-word clue-giving format. Quickly after you begin to play, though, it becomes clear that Word Slam is an excellent word-based party game in its own right.
The idea is for one player on each team to provide single-word clues and guide their companions to an answer. There’s only one solution shared by both teams, determined by rolling a die to randomly select one of six answers – the difficulty can be adjusted from beginner to the tough expert-level cards. These can be simply objects or actions – banana, babysitter – or more complex concepts and pop culture references, such as Pirates of the Caribbean or the offside rule.
Whereas Codenames requires measured consideration of which single-word clue to give and adopts a polite back-and-forth turn-taking format, Word Slam is a chaotic rush: both clue-givers have a Scrabble-like holder that they can put as many of the one-word hint cards on as they like to try and communicate the answer before their rivals. This results in a hilarious rush to cram on vaguely relevant cards, then trying to re-order, arrange and swap them in an attempt to help your increasingly confused teammates.
The hectic nature can make digging through the 105 word cards you have a bit of a messy task. Luckily, clues are colour-coded into nouns, verbs, adjectives and other words, making it easier to locate that vital missing link. Crucially, while many simple terms are present, many are absent, resulting in improvised attempts to deconstruct each part of the solution. Just try not to laugh when ‘toilet seat’ is translated as ‘sit wood yellow water container’.
As you’d expect, there’s no speaking, gesturing, acting or any kind of extra hinting allowed from the clue-givers, but they can point at cards to signify added importance – which results in plenty of animated tapping of cards and comically silent frustration as guessers rattle through every slight variation of a word. If the torture of hearing the same clueless guesses again and again becomes too much, an optional 90-second timer can be used to speed things along and stop any one round killing the fun.
Word Slam can play with almost any number of people, as long as the teams remain fair, but it’s especially good, pure fun with a single clue-giver and guesser on each side. There’s also a three-player variant that involves one player providing the clues and two people rushing to solve the riddle first, but it’s definitely best as a head-to-head team game.
The only real knocks we’d put it against it are very minor. The design and artwork is pretty run-of-the-mill compared to Codenames’ spy dressing, but the generic look is far surpassed by the outstanding gameplay. The number of cards is impressive – there are over 1,000 possible answers and more than 100 clues to combine – but can result in cards ending up all over the place during particularly heated rounds and clue-givers having to re-sort piles every now and then to keep things roughly manageable.
Speaking of which, as the game consists mainly of cards, it would’ve been nice to condense it into a more travel-friendly package rather than sticking it in a rather sizeable standard square game box – if only so that we could take it with us to more places and spend even more time playing.
Downright hilarious, fast-paced and near-instant to learn, Word Slam is a fantastic time and the perfect complement to thinkier word games such as Codenames. We only wish the box was smaller so we could enjoy its brilliant gameplay in more places.
Time: 45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the August/September 2017 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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