Monday, November 14, 2005

"BuyWord" by Face2Face Games

(Originally published in the Missoulian of Missoula, MT on 11/13/05)

When I was five or six, I used to play Scrabble with my parents and siblings. To make things a little easier on me, I was given free reign over the dictionary, a huge, blue monster of a tome which weighed at least a quarter of what I did.

I pored over its entries during other people’s play. When it was my turn, I casually laid down an alien word which no one could challenge because it had come from the mysterious depths of an unabridged dictionary. I was untouchable.

Gradually, I started putting the dictionary aside and playing the game as any normal player would - with my mind. To my surprise, the appeal of anagramming letters and finding a magical combination remained, and I eventually left the dictionary for good. It was the easiest fifteen pounds I ever dropped.

What also remained was a healthy love for word games. Scrabble is an uncontested giant in the genre, yet new word games are being published all the time. Last year, GAMES magazine endorsed BuyWord as its game of the year, and that was enough for me to check it out.

Created by gaming legend Sid Sackson and published by Face2Face Games, BuyWord is a refreshing and ingenious twist to anagramming.

As the name suggests, BuyWord introduces a time-tested economic principle: buy low, sell high. Players must buy letters from the bank to form words, then sell the words back to the bank at a profit. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

At the roll of a die, a certain amount of letters is randomly pulled out of a bag and placed before each player (for example, if a four is rolled, four tiles are placed in front of each player). The players must then decide whether to buy the tiles.

Every letter tile in BuyWord has a pip, or dot, indicating its point value. The value of a set of tiles depends upon the combined letter value squared. That is, if a W, E, A, and T are showing (worth 3, 1, 1, and 1 respectively), then you can buy the letters for 36 dollars (3+1+1+1 = 6; then 6x6 = 36). When you have formed a word, you may sell it to the bank in the same manner, by counting the pips and squaring them for the word’s value.

Now you might be wondering the same thing I was when I first read the instructions: If you buy and sell in the same way, how do you make money?

Imagine you just bought the above set of letters (W, E, A, T). The next die roll is a 5, and out comes the group of S, P, H, O, and WILD (worth 1, 2, 2, 1, and 1 respectively). The cost is 49, and you buy the set. Now you’re 85 dollars in the hole (36+49), but have found the word SWEATSHOP, using the WILD as an S. This new word is worth all the letter values combined and squared, or 169. You sell the word to the bank and net 84 dollars (169-85 = 84).

In BuyWord, longer words often make more money, but players have the added strategy of declining to buy their letters if it’s not to their advantage. There is also a list of variations included in the instructions which deepen the strategy. One noteworthy variation is called "Tile Drafts," in which players pool their letters, draft them one by one, then buy them.

BuyWord is the perfect addition to any word lover’s library. Its capitalistic slant is a breath of fresh air amidst so many games in which word knowledge is the sole determining factor. Kids may still need a dictionary to compete with adults, but it’s a small price to pay. Besides, the return will be even greater.

Cost: $29.95
Players: 1 to 4
Age: 8 and up
Time to play: 45 minutes
Rating (1 to 10, 10 being the best): 9
Additional Comments: A great challenge for adults who view themselves as anagram champs. Also great for kids, as the game combines math and english skills.