|From:eg Spiele Cost:$32 Players: 2-4 Playing Time: 30 minutes Type of game: Word Skill level: 9 Complexity: 2 Reviewed by: Peter Sarrett, Issue 5.2 (18), Spring 1998|
Word Whiz caught my attention when it was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 1996. I was concerned that a German word game wouldn't work for English speakers, but fortunately that's not the case. In fact, Word Whiz works beautifully and offers a markedly different style of word game.
Each of up to four players gets a scoring tray with five long columns of holes. They also get five markers, one for each column, representing the five vowels. A deck of consonants is shuffled and split into thirds, the top card of each stack flipped up. And the race is on. Players study the three face-up consonants and try to think of a word which uses all of them. The word isn't just called out, though— simultaneity would be a problem. Word Whiz offers a simple and effective solution without an electronic lockout buzzer: a wooden cylinder. Whoever grabs the cylinder first gets to name a word. Each time a vowel appears in the word, the player advances the corresponding vowel marker up his scoreboard.
If the cards showed K, R, and P, POKER would advance the O and E once each. KEEPER would advance the E three times. Once a marker advances to the top, that player can't score that vowel anymore. This can be tricky. If the E was maxed out already, for example, KEEPER wouldn't have any scorable vowels. If the cylinder-grabber gets brain-freeze or says a word he can't score, he has to sit out on the next grab.
After scoring, the grabber replaces one card with the next one from its stack and the race continues. The first player to advance all five markers to the top of his scoreboard wins
New players tend to go for the easy score. They don't care what word they come up with, what vowels it uses or how many, as long as they get the cylinder first. After a game or two you realize that some vowels (especially the U) are harder to use than others, so you try to wedge one in whenever possible. It's particularly vexing (and all too easy) to max out the E too early, robbing you of the most versatile vowel. The best strategy is to try to advance all your vowels fairly equally, keeping them available throughout the game. Remembering prefixes and suffixes like -ED, -ING, RE-, and UN- is key to getting more mileage from each word.
To win Word Whiz you've got to be able to think— and grab— quickly. You don't need a large vocabulary, but it can come in handy. It's immensely satisfying to come up with a word after everyone's been staring at a tough group of consonants for a while with blank looks. Most combinations are easier and keep the game moving briskly. If quick-reaction games don't freak you out, Word Whiz is recommended.