Wurdweb is basically Bananagrams, which is basically Scrabble

I’m big into Bananagrams. Bananagrams is basically scrabble without a board: you get a bunch of letters at the start and you have to get rid of them by building giant crossword puzzles on the table or floor or a folding plane board, whatever you have on hand , the first to get rid of all their letters wins. Part of the reason I like it is because – I’m not ashamed to say it – I think I’m pretty good at it. I’m fine with words and good with shapes – I’ve always done better on those weird conceptual aptitude tests at school than the real tests – and I play it against my partner, who is an artist wonderful but also the first to admit she’s not really a person of shapes and words (she won’t mind me saying that I think because the flip side is that she saw my attempts of drawing).

Anyway, aside from being a bit of a jerk looking for a cheap ego boost (I’ll never play against my partner in Pictionary), I also like Bananagrams because it’s is one of those games that is basically just another game, with a very small twist. I respect that a lot, and it’s the same with Wurdweb, which is basically just Bananagrams, which is basically just Scrabble, which is basically a crossword puzzle (sort of).

The twist with Wurdweb – which is on Apple Arcade – is that you get a board, but you don’t get letter tiles. Instead, you get whole words, and your goal is to place a certain number, maybe fifteen, without missing any. You only start with two or three, and earn more by placing them on bonus word tiles – like Scrabble‘s score multipliers. Where it deviates from board games is really the pacing. Wurdweb is cool. There is no clock, no leaderboard or high scores, no competition. It’s pure brain teaser, the challenges are all internal, the challenge to get a little better because you want to, and so in a way, despite the pitfalls of Scrabble, it’s the closest to original crossword after all. Just you and the board, the little haptic nudges when you put a word in place – pock-pock-pock – and a long lazy afternoon.

It is, also, the pleasure of Apple Arcade. Every game on this service, or at least every really good one, also feels like a pitch. It’s a game that feels good to play, without pressure and without a timer, more – incredibly more – but also totally non-compulsive. It’s all in the typeface – Courier, of course – and the fine print that winds its way across the board. They do nothing and serve no purpose. They’re just there, adrift, because they’re just a nice little thing to have. They just make the game a nice place. More and more is all I really want.

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