Introducing BuyWord

If you're a card-carrying member of the cult-of-the-new, you probably don't often take a close look at games that are past five years old. You're probably even less inclined to look at something if you knew that the guy who designed it died ten years ago. Yet don't write off the golden games from the previous decade or two or more too quickly, especially if they're from the hand of Sid Sackson (1920-2002). Over time I've really come to appreciate why he was regarded as a master of his craft, and there's good reason many of his games are still being enjoyed today, such as Acquire and Can't Stop.

In this case, we're talking about a Sid Sackson word game. Now let's be honest: the genre of word games isn't everybody's cup of tea. But this one is different, because it introduces a simple economy to the game. And those who do enjoy playing with words will especially be pleased to know that a very solid word game by the master designer has just been released in a new deluxe edition. Meet BuyWord, a game which has players buying letter tiles and then selling them as words in an attempt to make a profit.

This game struggled to get published due to a very crowded field largely dominated by games like Scrabble and Boggle. In fact, BuyWord only first appeared in 2004, a couple of years after Sackson's death. Yet it went on to win Games Magazine Game of the Year award in 2005, and many consider it a "modern classic in the making". Its release in a deluxe edition should thus be welcome news, and hopefully this new edition will help get this clever little word game into the hands of those who've not heard about it previously - gamers and non-gamers alike. So if you're looking for a holiday gift to get for your Scrabble-loving grandma, or even interested in expanding your own gaming horizons into word games, BuyWord is a strong candidate for consideration, and like many of Sackson's other games, deserves to stand the test of time. Let's find out more!



COMPONENTS

Game bag

For once, there is no box to speak of. That's right - instead we have a lovely and attractive felt-type cloth bag. If this kind of attention to quality and aesthetics doesn't get your interest, nothing will!


The deluxe edition bag

The bag seals closes with the help of a drawstring, and although I was concerned about how the components might remain neatly in the bag after rescuing them from their initial packaging, it actually works rather easily. You just fill the bag with all the game tiles, then add in the money and other paperwork, and it stays together rather nicely during transit after the drawstring is pulled tightly closed.

Component list

Here's what you get inside the bag:
● 117 letter tiles
● 150 money cards
● 4 reference cards
● game die
● rules


Everything inside the bag

Letter tiles

There are a total of 117 tiles in the game, which are made of a very durable plastic type substance similar to tiles I've seen in games like Rummikub. They look and feel good, and should stand up well to a lifetime of use.


All the tiles in the game

The chief feature to notice about the tiles is that under the letters are a series of dots, ranging from 1 to 4 dots. This number will help determine the price of the tiles when buying or selling. The basic concept is that when selling a word, you add the dots together and the value of the word in dollars is the square of the number of dots; i.e. a 4 dot word is worth $16, a five dot word is worth $25, a six dot word is worth $36 etc. That's why difficult letters like J, Q, X and Z have four dots - these will cost more to buy, but can also help bring the biggest rewards during game-play.


The more challenging 4-dot letters

In addition to the standard 108 letter tiles, there are also 9 wild tiles, which only have a single dot, but which players can use for any letter. These are distributed evenly among the players at the start of the game.


The Wild tiles

Money cards

The game has an economic component, which is an interesting take on point-scoring in a word game. Money comes in six denominations: $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. For those who hate paper money - well, this isn't paper, but thin card!


Money in six denominations

6-sided die

This custom over-sized die is used to determine how many letter tiles each player draws from the bag on a turn. It has the values 2, 3, 4, 5, and CHOICE (which represents a free choice on the part of the player who rolled the die).


The six-sided game die

Reference cards

There are four reference cards, one side featuring a handy reference for calculating the value of sets of tiles (in case you don't know how to square numbers!), the other side featuring a handy reference for the tile distribution and values.


Tile distribution reference

Rules

The rules consist simply of a double-sided sheet of paper, and are very easy to learn and grasp, so you'll be up and playing in no time. There's also a large number of variations to try that are included. If you want to learn more, you can download a copy of the rules from the earlier Face2Face edition right here on BGG - the new deluxe edition makes no substantial changes as far as I can tell.


Cover of the instruction sheet

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

The money cards are placed in the middle of the table as the "bank", while the wild tiles are removed and the remaining tiles shuffled in the bag.

Everyone starts the game with $200 each, and a certain amount of wild tiles depending on the number of players (2 for four-players, 3 for three-players, 4 for two-players, 8 for 1 player).


Complete set-up for a two-player game

Flow of Play

Players take turn to be the "Leader", which means rolling the die that determines the amount of tiles that each player will draw that round. Upon rolling "CHOICE", the Leader can choose the amount of tiles drawn that round, from 2 to 5. All players have the opportunity to buy and sell tiles in a round.

Buying tiles

Going clockwise from the Leader, all players decide whether or not to buy their drawn tiles. As explained already, the price is determined by the number of dots on the letters, and is the squared value of this number, which is paid to the bank if you decide to purchase the tiles. You don't need to be good at math, because there's a convenient Price List on the player reference cards.



You can either buy all the tiles or none, not just some of them. Tiles not bought are discarded out of play.


Expensive! - Would you buy these three letters for $100?

Selling words

Again in turns, starting with the Leader, players decide whether or not to sell words. Here's where you want to make a profit! The concept is similar to buying, except now you get money from the bank for using your letters. Obviously the more dots in your word, the higher its value, so if you can make a word which uses ten dots you'll earn $100! You may use one Wild tile per word to represent the letter of your choice.


Sell the word REVAMPING makes a massive $225!

After buying tiles and/or selling words, you may only have a maximum of 8 tiles in hand, and must discard tiles if you exceed this.

End of game

The game continues until there are not enough tiles available in the bag for all players to draw the required tiles determined by the die, at which point the game stops immediately, with all players being given one final opportunity to sell words with their remaining letters. The player with the most money at the end is the winner!

Variations

The rulebook includes a number of wonderful variations of game play. By far the most popular one is the Tile Drafts variant, where all the tiles drawn on a round are placed in a common pool, and players draft one letter in turns before deciding whether or not to buy the complete set they have `drafted'. Here's what some gamers have to say about this variant:

"Variants make this fabulously flexible. We always play with at least the draft variant." - Joshua Pollak
"The tile-draft option is the only way to go, increasing the interactivity and bringing the luck factor under control." - Peter Donnelly
"When playing with families or non-BGGers, go with the random draw standard rules (but even out the tiles on the final turn). Otherwise, the draft variant is very good." - Randy Cox
"Use the standard rules for introducing new players (especially non-gamers), but use drafting for a slightly meatier game." - Peter Drake
"My wife and I love this game. We play with the "drafting" variant, which adds a nice level of tactics. All lovers of word games should give this a try. " - Michael Tsuk
"The drafting variant looks like it would be a good choice who demand a more interactive experience." - Joshua Miller
"After playing with the Tile Drafting variant, I won't use the original rules again." - Tom Vasel
"I highly recommend the "draft" variant." - Gavin Edwards


Other variations give players opportunity to auction or trade letters, or require that words made be placed in a crossword style configuration. There's lots of room for customizing the game experience to your own taste!


End of a $853 solitaire game

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Sacksonesque. Interestingly, Sid Sackson couldn't get BuyWord published when he first conceived it, despite it bearing the hallmark traits of his style of game, traits that are now frankly acknowledged and widely respected. At the time, word games were not in big demand unless they were proven names like Scrabble and Boggle. Fortunately for us, there have been publishers who do appreciate Sackson's genius, and BuyWord finally saw the light of day when it was published posthumously by Face2Face Games in 2004.

Economic. There's a lot of positive things that can be said about BuyWord. The economic element that Sackson has incorporated presents an interesting twist on the traditional point-scoring model associated with most word games. More importantly, it works very well in the manner that it's implemented here. BuyWord especially rewards the ability to create anagrams, and longer words in particular, so it avoids the criticism sometimes made about Scrabble, namely, that it tends to favour those who have memorized long lists of short but obscure words. Consequently BuyWord is more accessible to the average person with a normal vocabulary, because as a rule short words won't earn the kind of points that large words do.

Smooth. I also like the fact that players are thinking and making their decisions more or less at the same time, so there's less down time as can be evident in some word games. There is some potential for analysis paralysis, especially when players try to figure out possible words before deciding what to buy, but for the most part the game flows quite smoothly.

Flexible. A real strength of BuyWord is how flexible the game system is. It's terrific even as a solitaire challenge. And while a four player game is going to depend more on a favourable tile draw than a two player game, the reality is that it works excellent across the full range of players from 1 to 4. The optional variants allow for lots of latitude in customizing the game experience to your own taste, and the tile drafting variant will particularly appeal to those who find luck of the draw frustrating, by putting more decision making in their own hands.

Elegant. The simple rules are also a real plus, because it makes the game very accessible and suitable to introduce to gamers and non-gamers alike. If you're looking for elegance, you'll find it here, both in terms of the rules and the components.


Start of a solitaire game

What do others think?

Fans of word games have a lot of good things to say about BuyWord. Let's listen to some of them:

"It's like Scrabble without the downtime!" - Blue Guldal
"Game is an interesting twist on word games. I like it very much." - dominojones
"Although a game of the 80's, it's amazing how addicting it is. Easy rules and a lot of fun." - De Waey Joeri
"One of the best word games. Fast game, simple rules, innovative idea." - M. Bader
"The variants make the game substantially different. Far more enjoyable than Scrabble, as it involves much more decision making." - David Fair
"When it comes to word-games, I think BuyWord is perhaps the best one I own. I like the economic buying-and-selling game, but also the great anagramming (and unlike Scrabble, it doesn't have to fit in a pre-made grid)" - Scott A. Reed
"Gorgeous. I adore this game." - Nathan Morse
"The king of word games! A simple and elegant game that encourages you to really challenge yourself - and show off your considerable vocabulary. Comes with a whole bunch of variants, and is great fun with any number of players, even all by your lonesome." - Antti Hoo
"WOW!! A Word game that's actually fun!! The best part about this game is that once everyone pays for their letters they can work on their words at the same time!!" - R. Scott Baskerville
"My favorite word game. Integrates money management and investment strategy with vocabulary/word making skills. That everyone plays simultaneously is also a major plus for a game like this." - Boris
"About the only word game I'm willing to play. Great design, simple rules, short game. Nice cross over to the Scrabble crowd too!" - Jeremy Fridy
"Probably my favorite word game." - TrentonTron
"Instant classic from Sid Sackson's closet: after the first game, I wanted to play it again immediately, and after three games, I ranked it with Scrabble and Boggle." - Gavin Edwards
"Scrabble is great, but we run hard into the vocab gap that is so common. BuyWord virtually takes that away, and we can be very competitive. Probably my favorite word game in that regard." - Jeffrey Goetz


Recommendation

Is BuyWord for you? As far as game designers go, they don't get much better than Sid Sackson. His designs are passing the test of time with flying colours, and BuyWord's simple economic engine is an ingenious take on the word game genre. While it's never going to make the BGG Top 100, in a race held among contemporary word games, BuyWord is easily one of the frontrunners. If you like traditional style word games, this is certainly a game you want to consider adding to your collection.

Want to know about some other great new word games I've learned this year? Check out my article - My 2011 in Review: Word Games.

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Nathan Morse
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It's so true: BuyWord is a financial word game. Buy low, and sell high. Making big words can be helpful, but it's all about making sound financial decisions (and predictions) to generate a big profit margin. If you love word games, you can still have fun even if you are in last place, so I've never had a hard time roping people into a game. ninja
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Ed Sherman
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It's funny that you reviewed this now -- we played it a couple of weeks ago after a long hiatus. two of us had played it before and two had not and we all had a really good time. I'm not a big fan of word games in general but I like this one.
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I can't believe it! I finally got quoted in one of Ender's reviews!

Great review, as always. BuyWord is an ingenious game, and is my favorite word game, along with Prolix. I recently got the Gryphon Games edition of BuyWord and it is of exceptional quality.
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Peter Donnelly
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It's been a while, but when we play we round off the figures to the closest $5. It saves a lot of fiddling with money and doesn't much affect the results since it never makes a difference of more than a dollar.
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Joe Childers
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SkookumPete wrote:
It's been a while, but when we play we round off the figures to the closest $5. It saves a lot of fiddling with money and doesn't much affect the results since it never makes a difference of more than a dollar.

Wow, this is a general property of squared numbers that I hadn't noticed before!

- Joe
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Jeremy Fridy
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This is a game where just having a huge vocabulary won't win you the game. Smart buying and selling can make you the money to win.
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David
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I like that coming up with longer words is rewarded in this game (though including the valuable letters is a must!)
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Brian Coppedge
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MainiacJoe wrote:
SkookumPete wrote:
It's been a while, but when we play we round off the figures to the closest $5. It saves a lot of fiddling with money and doesn't much affect the results since it never makes a difference of more than a dollar.

Wow, this is a general property of squared numbers that I hadn't noticed before!

- Joe

This was news to me as well. How useful!

Here's how it works:

The difference between any integer and the nearest multiple of 5 is always one of {-2, -1, 0, 1, 2}.

So any whole number can be expressed as 5*a + b, where 5*a is that nearest multiple of 5 and b is in the range [-2, 2] (a and b are integers).

Then the square of that number can be expressed as (5a+b)(5a+b), which expands to 25aa + 10ab + bb.

25aa + 10ab is clearly always a multiple of 5. That leaves bb, the difference between the square number and a nearby multiple of 5.

The numbers in b -- {-2, -1, 0, 1, 2} -- square to {4, 1, 0, 1, 4}. Luckily, those are all within 1 of either 0 or 5!

Edit: corrected a typo.
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