Master Word Review


Think fast, write faster

You’ve played some variation of ‘What am I?’, ‘Yes or No’ or ‘Animal, Vegetable or Mineral’ in your life, to potentially mixed success or appreciation. What makes these parlour trivia games great is how pliable they can be, that with the right rule changes or additions they can take on a whole new life.

Master Word is Twenty Questions meets Mastermind on a shot clock. One player takes the role of The Guide, who knows exactly what you’re guessing, whilst everyone knows the category (so “Golf” would be under the category “Sport.”) For each of the up to six ninety-second rounds, players work together to come up with short questions or comparisons to work out what the thing is.

All the clues in a single round a lined up and The Guide lays out tokens for every correct clue. These tokens are placed next to the list, not on the clues themselves; you might have two correct tokens, but with four clues in a round you don’t know which are right. To win, you have to use logical deductions, clever wording and clear communication. There are three solution cards shared by the whole team; the correct answer must be written on one of these cards by the end of the sixth round, or everyone lose.

The game is frantic guesswork. The timer only stops for the guide, who can look up any questions or clarifications online to make sure they’re right, but as soon as they place the tokens down the ninety seconds start again. Players have to explain their reasoning, convince each other they’re correct and find a new way to refine their clues before the timer runs out. The frustration is shared by everyone. You’ll be desperately trying to settle on a concise, unambiguous clue, with every other player is doing the same thing ever so slightly differently, whilst the poor Guide is left wincing as players steer themselves wildly away from the right answer.

It leads to cries of success when you win and explosions of explanations when players fail to guess and the Guide can finally vent their feelings. It makes for a light-hearted experience of word association that brings everyone together, great for families who love it when games bring everyone together instead of fuelling old grudges and rivalries.

The only downside to me, one large enough that I just can’t give it a ‘Must-Play’ recommendation, is the game’s pace. As categories vary wildly (which I must stress is a good thing) it means that some play groups will have a similarly wild difficulty variance. Some games of this were solved by round three. Others still had my playgroup scratching our heads right to the very end, even after the answer was revealed. 

For a word or party game to be a complete success, it needs to instil that sense of ‘just one more’ that feeling of wanting another try. Sometimes that happens by having games be extremely rapid, other times it’s through the varied experience from guide to player. Master Word rounds vary a tad too much and without a way to tally points or for players to compete, it becomes hard to judge when to stop playing. This lead to many players feeling tired of the novelty by the end, especially if they’ve been the Guide and unable to meaningfully contribute for the round.

Master Word is still a delightful game, one I can happily recommend for players who like to have something quick to play, either in-between other games or just as something simple pass time. It’ll certainly be coming off the shelf for Christmas with my family, but probably not with my friends at New Years. 

Matthew Vernall

PLAY IT? YES

By managing to find a unique spin on a parlour game classic with a fantastic look and feel, Master Word manages to entertain quickly and effectively. An ideal fast-paced novelty.

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TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Just One...

Even faster and sillier, Just One is a madcap comedy experience that may be too rambunctious for some. Master Word is just as fast but a lot more structured, which some might prefer.

Designer: Gérald Cattiaux

Publisher: Scorpion Masqué

Time: 15 minutes

Players: 3-6

Age: 12+

Price: £20

What's in the box?

  • 3 Reusable solution cards
  • 30 Reusable clue cards
  • 150 Double sided Master Word cards
  • Card Holder
  • Separator
  • 5 Red dry erase markers
  • Wipe Cloth
  • 24 Cardboard Tokens

This review originally appeared in Issue 50 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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