Scrabble, Scrabble! Cthulhu F’thagn!
Word games have a unique place amongst other genres. They often require a real world skill, which makes them more rewarding when you win, but they can make for an uneven challenge. Anyone is capable of playing, however, and if you are not a renowned wordsmith, they can even teach you something! They are the ideal games for mixed company, since they are not often themed, but Playroom Entertainment’s Unspeakable Words attempts to skew the genre back towards the serious gamer.
Many gamers love Lovecraftian terror sprinkled into their games, so the game is immediately eye-catching. The cards are filled with references to elder gods and deep ones. Also, there are several mini Cthulhu pawns for keeping track of sanity, and even the inclusion of a cool “crystal” D20. The letters are a blend of mythos and the classroom. Every letter is represented by a monster and an object. A is for Apple…and Azathoth. Everything is drawn lighthearted, but not so cute as to give you cavities. The game is a good warm up before one of the dozens of more seriously themed Call of Cthulhu games, but the mythos elements are not so crucial as to alienate the casual player.
The game is played by creating words out of your hand of cards. The scoring is unique because they incorporate Lovecraft’s proclivity for angles. The more angles in a letter, the more points it is worth. “S” gets you squat, whereas “A” is a home run. Following those angles lead you into a descent of madness, however, and the D20 is used to keep your sanity in check. Every time you create a word, you have to roll higher than your score or risk losing a bit of your sanity which is represented by five Cthulhu pawns. A fun alternate rule is to allow a player with one sanity to place any gibberish word, and as long as he makes the sanity roll he still gets points. Once your pawns are gone you are out of the game.
Unspeakable Words is not a stressful or terrifying experience like Arkham Horror or Chaosium’s RPG, but the theme helps to create a unique scoring mechanic. I like how the high-scoring words are different from what you see in Scrabble. The balance between earning a high score and staying alive is also an innovative idea in the realm of word games. The randomness helps players who want to work with smaller words. A word like SOUP won’t score big, but it will keep you alive until the endgame. If you have one sanity left, are you sure you want to spell the fifteen pointer, METAL?
If you are a fan of Scrabble, Bananagrams, and other word games, give Unspeakable Words a shot. The Cthulhu mythos is only for flavor, and the game itself has enough meat to keep the uninitiated entertained. I’ve played this game with my nine-year-old sister, and she owned me. How often can you say that a Call of Cthulhu game is fun for the whole family?