Cost: Free, upgrade for .99
I’ve played a lot of app games this year, and while many of them are fun and compelling, Letterpress stands out. It is every bit the addictive game of the moment, but two qualities make it particularly engaging: it is social and intellectually stimulating. Playing against friends makes this game about connection and competition and the way you play is a challenge of vocabulary and strategy. It is a simple game, but it involves a little more thinking than your average app game, which has caused it to capture my attention. It seems I am not the only one. Letterpress came out in October and was an instant hit; according to this post from the New York Times Bits Blog, which also gives some background on the app’s creator Loren Brichter, it was downloaded around 60,000 times on its first day.
The game’s grid reminds me of Boggle, but instead of making words only with letters that touch, you can use any letter on the board. Sometimes you’ll have lots of vowels and tons of words will spring to your mind, while other times you’ll find yourself struggling to use a z, an x, or a q with no u. All of the letters on the board must be used to end the game. In addition to gaining points for the letters you use, you claim letters as territory. Each player gets a color and your goal is to capture letters with your color and take control of the board. Using a letter shades it a lighter color and means that if your opponent uses this letter in their next turn, they can steal a point from you. Surrounding a letter on all sides with other letters you’ve used turns it a brighter shade of your color and means that your opponent will not get points for that letter if they use it.
The free version of the game allows you to play two games concurrently using a red vs. blue color scheme. Upgrade for .99 to play more than two games and choose different color schemes. My Letterpress games are currently being played neon green vs. neon pink on a dark gray background.
Gameplay requires several lines of thinking at once. You want to make a long word, but you also want to choose carefully about the locations of the letters you play and try to steal points from your opponent. My word nerd friends and I also see it as a way to challenge our vocabularies by trying to amuse or impress each other with our word choices.
The social component of the game works in two ways. Playing against someone or a few people in the same room generates commentary and a quicker response between rounds. It also baffles the outside observer who will inevitably walk in and say, “Why are there three people sitting around a table silently staring at their phones?” Imagine this taking place in a classroom where students could play games against several of their classmates at once, searching the grid for SAT vocabulary words, science terms, literary devices or any other specialized vocabulary they may be studying. The competitive element of sitting near the people they are playing against will inspire some focused thinking and probably a little trash talk. The other way to play is the long game over hours or days, taking a break here and there to play a word and getting an alert on your device when your opponent plays one back. When you stop to play a turn you get a quick brain teaser and a reminder that a friend is thinking of you, possibly with mild aggravation because you just played the word “riboflavin.”
A testament to its brain engaging qualities, Letterpress is included on this list from Open Culture of 200 Free K-12 Educational Resources.
For more app recommendations, visit the YALSA App of the Week Archive.