In the world of Scrabble-based casual games, you might think that Zynga’s Words with Friends is either the only title you need, or more cynically, too popular and ubiquitous to be challenged. Outplay’s Word Trick seeks to make that challenge though. By upping the player count from two to 4 players, applying a shinier, cleaner visual aesthetic and adding some neat gameplay twists like “trick” tiles, it offers an alternative to something most of us already play. So is this the definitive digital version of Scrabble, or is just an unwelcome addition in an already crowded field?
In truth many of the additions that Outplay have made to the formula are successful. The optional email reminders are a nice touch. The game looks glossy and there’s a chunkiness and solidity to the tiles that’s welcome. To me, Words with Friends looks a little run down whereas Word Trick has a shiny, slick look throughout. Put it this way,: if Word with Friends looks like the run down and tired TV show Countdown, Word Trick is more like The Million Pound Drop, minus mad Davina.
The Trick tiles are the one truly unique addition to the formula, and they are welcome for the most part. These green tiles allow the multiplication of your score if you can use them together in words. This makes the game interesting in two ways. Firstly, it decreases the value of the triple letter and word score square on the board as they are now not the only way to achieve very high scores. Secondly, they increase the possibility of ridiculously high scoring words meaning that the game can stay competitive to the very end, and that even those trailing far behind have the potential to catch up. The upshot of this is that it is also possible for a lucky word to win the game for a player who is otherwise being badly beaten, and skilful players may find this frustrating. Still, over a long series of games these things even themselves out and its probably worth it to encourage players languishing in last place to keep playing.
The four player option is less useful in my opinion. In a two player game, there will always be times when you are playing against someone who stops for long periods of time or gives up completely without completing the game. In a four player game – even if you’re playing against your friends – there will always be at least one person who does this. At least that’s my experience, although I freely admit it may just be that my friends hate me.
And there really is little else to say. Facebook integration works exactly like you would expect. Overall the whole package hangs together remarkably well. As a new Scottish developer, there was a great deal of excitement around Outplay when they formed. To some extent a game like Word Trick detracts from that excitement. Workmanlike and unspectacular, it may be good to see a small developer take on Zynga (rather than the standard model of Zynga stealing from the Indies), but still, there’s little to get excited about here when it comes to ideas or originality. Worse, when Indie developers are willing to clone games so completely it damages the arguments of innovative Indie developers who claim its morally wrong to do so.
But none of that really matters when it comes to choosing a little word game to play on your phone with your friends. The truth is that this is the best version. The interface is nice, the tiles look good and if you can find the right people, four player digital Scrabble is great. What more do you want?
7 triple word scores out of 10