In my experience, Scrabble seems to get reactions not dissimilar to marmite. Personally, I do not enjoy Scrabble or most word games for that matter. I struggle with Bananagrams and controversially find Codenames exceptionally dull. However, Codenames has proved that word games can still be popular by topping the Board Game Geek most-played charts. Word Stacker is more like Scrabble than it is Codenames but it sits in the same category. Modern word games are captivating new players and work well as gateway games. Despite my general dislike of word games both old and new, I found Word Stacker to be good fun and worth a look for both sides of the Scrabble debate. Keep reading for our full Word Stacker Review.
Disclaimer: We were sent a free review copy of Word Stacker by Ingenium Games.
What do you get?
Word Stacker comes in a thin square box, which is a great size for travelling. The box is made of smooth cardboard and is very pleasant to hold.
Inside are 4 areas to hold cards. Though well-constructed I find the top few cards do tend to slide around. Given the simple set up for Word Stacker however this is easy to overlook.
The cards are separated into 2 groups, letters and actions. Letter cards have a yellow card back and action cards have a blue back. The card stock is good quality and feels great in the hand.
Though a little stiff at first, I think the cards would hold up well in the long term. The feel of the cards reminds me of the cards that come with Fluxx. You can read our full review of Fluxx here.
Though the game is small, it is clear that time and effort has gone into ensuring the cards and box are well made.
How to play
The game begins with players laying out a grid of 4 letter words. The words only have to be valid from left to right on each row. Players start with 6 letter cards and 3 action cards. A hand of 9 cards must be maintained at all times, but the ratio of letters to actions is only enforced when a brand new hand is drawn.
Players take turns and have a few options to choose from. The first option is to play an action card. There are 2 types of action cards, score cards and sabotage cards. It is possible to play one of each type, though this is not mandatory.
Score cards award players points for stacking letters on the grid to form new words. There are different ways to do this such as extending words, rearranging words or changing individual letters to form new words.
Sabotage cards can have a variety of effects such as causing a player to miss a turn, forcing a player to discard cards or reveal their hand.
The second option is to stack a letter card on the grid without playing a point card. While this does not score any points it allows players to cycle the cards in their hand and provides opportunities for strategic letter placement to disrupt other players.
The third option allows players to discard their entire hand and draw a new hand of 6 letters and 3 actions.
The first player to 100 points wins. However this value can be increased or decreased for shorter or longer games respectively.
Stuff I like
Given my general dislike of word games I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying Word Stacker. I think that because the game mostly revolves around changing single letters to form new words, I find it easier to play than the likes of Scrabble and Bananagrams, where the focus is on creating words from scratch. The base mechanic of Word Stacker is much easier than most other word games. This is not a bad a thing and makes it much friendlier to younger players.
Additionally there are multiple interesting ways to score points, such as mixing up words or making words longer. The variety of scoring options is what kept me engaged the most, and it allows for more varied thinking.
Another mechanic that keeps players engaged is the sabotage cards. These cards allow players to perform UNO like actions such as skip a turn, steal a card or draw a card of player’s choice from the deck. In the games I played, sabotage cards weren’t used as much as I thought they’d be, but when they were used it helped keep the game interesting.
Every time I played I noticed a sense of comradery. I played with lots of different groups of people and every time without fail everybody chipped in to help each other with the high scoring cards.
The Mega Mix Up is a great example of this. It requires a player to rearrange all cards on the table to make a series of new words. It scores the most points in the game and is a fun card to play. Every time I saw this card played everybody helped out.
Stuff I don’t like
Word Stacker can suffer from long turn times and would benefit from an optional timer. Codenames uses this to great effect and I think that Word Stacker could work in a similar way. Sometimes people can spend far too long thinking and without interaction from other players this can sometimes make the game boring.
As mentioned earlier, at times the game can almost feel like a co-op game as people help each other out to make the most of scoring opportunities. For some people this won’t be a bad thing but personally I felt the game lacked competitiveness.
It is possible that this is a problem isolated to my gaming group so your mileage may vary. However, usually my gaming group is very competitive. In my opinion it doesn’t affect the game’s appeal but if you are after a super competitive word game then it is worth taking into consideration.
One minor complaint is the UNO style action cards. They add a little flare to the game and help to keep it interesting, but in my games were generally overlooked in favour of manipulating the board.
Changing some of these cards to force players to alter the board without scoring could help with this as it would allow players to utilise the main mechanic. However there would need to be a compelling reason to do so without scoring.
Word Stacker Review
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Word Stacker, however I was pleasantly surprised. The mechanics are simple but well designed and make for a fleshed out game that can be played and enjoyed by people of all ages both at home and on the go. If you are a fan of word games, or are sick of the current selection then Word Stacker is definitely worth a look in my opinion.
For me Word Stacker works great as a travel game and often ends up in my bag as I travel around the country for my day job. It usually ends up on the desk during office lunch breaks and has become a firm favourite with my colleagues. I highly recommend taking a look at Word Stacker, especially given its low retail price, and having a go with different groups of people. It really seems to work with any group and is a very enjoyable game.
Be sure to check out Word Stacker on Amazon and let us know what your favourite alternative word games are in the comments below.