Sep 17, 2013

    Fun game apps for walking dictionaries

    The New York Times

    WORD puzzles are among the most successful games to make the leap from cardboard and wooden pieces atop the family dining table to apps on the glossy screens of tablets and smartphones.

    So popular is the Words With Friends app, for example, that an episode of The Big Bang Theory revolved around playing the game. But it's not just Words With Friends; hundreds of word- game apps are also available.

    Of all the word games I've played on my phones and tablets, the one that I've been most instantly amused by is the app Letterpress, from the developer Atebits, available only on Apple devices.

    It's a turn-by-turn, two-player game that is played over the Web, like a cross between Scrabble and the traditional Chinese board game Go.

    You are presented with a five-by-five grid of letters and, when it's your turn, you tap the letters to make a word. Each of your chosen letters earns a point, and the letters are then shaded in your colour. The same happens when your opponent plays.

    But there's a twist: You can "defend" letters by boxing them in with your coloured tiles, so your opponent cannot use them to create his next word.

    It's easy to learn and quick to play. But you will fast find yourself cursing that you didn't spot the long word your opponent plays next, and you will try to think up obscure words just to protect letters. It's entertaining, and the clean and simple graphics do not distract from the play.

    To tax your word power even more, you can have several games running simultaneously. Though Letterpress is free, an upgrade to play more than two games at once costs US$2 (S$2.50).

    If a more traditional word game appeals to you, look no further than Boggle. In its old-fashioned form, it was a tabletop game for groups of players. But, on the smartphone, it works as a play-and-pass game, and as a solo game against the clock.

    In the game, 16 cubes are marked with a letter on each face, and are shaken into slots on a four-by-four grid. A cute animation mimics the way the real-life cubes move.

    Then, against the clock, you have to find as many words of three or more letters as possible, zigzagging from one cube to the next.

    In the physical game, you would write the words down. But in the app, you tap on each letter in turn and double-tap on the last one to complete the word.

    The app keeps track of time and your chosen words, so you may even prefer it to the tabletop game. It also confirms if words are valid and, at the end of the game, you may find it depressing that though you successfully spotted, say, 27 words, more than 150 could have been found. It's free in ad-supported versions on Android and iOS; an iOS version without ads costs US$1.

    A totally different game - a bit like a word search crossed with Tetris - is SpellTower. At its core, this game is simply about spotting words among a grid of random letters on the screen. When you select a word, by tapping or dragging, the letters disappear and the ones above drop down.

    Bonus tricks, like destroying surrounding letters when you find a word of five letters or more, add to the strategic aspect of playing this game. It has attractive graphics and just enough addictive gameplay to keep you coming back for more. It's US$2 on iOS and Android.

    Dropwords is a similar free Android app. Puzzlejuice, US$2 on iOS, is also similar to SpellTower but is more Tetris-like as puzzle pieces drop down the screen over time.

    But the fussy graphics in both Puzzlejuice and Dropwords may distract you. They are played against the clock, too, so don't expect to relax while playing them.