Scrabble has been the essential word game for almost a century. A competitive crossword that rewards players’ extensive vocabularies and tactical tile placement, the family board game has remained the go-to board game about spelling words for most players.
Best word games
Scrabble isn’t the only brilliant word game to emerge on the tabletop in the last eight-plus decades, however. More recent word games have put their own modern twist on the classic, while others have opted to approach the timeless challenge of coming up with the longest or most impressive string of letters from a completely different angle.
So whether you prefer to use your lexicon to outspell your opponents, combine your consonants and vowels for a cooperative spellathon, or are looking for something that doesn’t require swallowing a dictionary to have fun, there’s a word game out there for you to replace that dusty copy of Scrabble in the cupboard. Word up!
Build up your deck of letter cards to spell more valuable words
What do you get if you cross Scrabble with Dominion? The answer is Paperback!
Tim Fowers’ deckbuilding word game swaps letter tiles for cards, with players spelling words using the letters in their hand in order to purchase more valuable combinations of letters - and, ultimately, the victory points needed to win.
The letter cards vary from the single consonants and vowels essential for any word to more complex combinations such as ‘ING’ and ‘ED’ that help you spell longer words and boost your score. Meanwhile, wild cards help avoid being unable to spell anything, but aren’t worth points by themselves.
Adding to the tactical wordplay are various special abilities on some cards, which offer bonus money, extra cards and other helpful effects when they’re used, encouraging players to not just spell the longest word they can but be clever with their letter placement, too.
Paperback takes the proven formula of Scrabble and mixes it with one of the most popular genres of recent years in deckbuilding to create a word game that has the best of both. Engaging but not intimidating, competitive without being punishing, it’s a game that doesn’t come down just to your vocabulary, but how well you play your cards.
2. Letter Jam
Give your friends clues to work out your secret words together
Cooperative word games aren’t as prolific as their competitive brethren, but Letter Jam shows that spelling words together is just as enjoyable as showing off your own impressive lexicon.
A little bit Hanabi, a little bit Decrypto - and just as good, if not better, than both of those beloved party games - Letter Jam sees players working together to figure out the letter cards in front of them. Each player can see everybody else’s card, but can’t see their own - meaning they’ll need to rely on their companions’ careful clue-giving to score.
Players take it in turns to spell words by using the letters around the table, placing fruit-slice chips to mark out which letter goes where. The players must then use their knowledge of the other letters used to deduce the letter in front of them - if someone just spelt ‘D?G’, could it be an “O for dog”, an I for “dig” or maybe even a U for “dug”? As more words give each player extra hints, they will be able to narrow down what their card could be.
Players don’t just have a single letter to work out, either. Each player starts the game by being passed a randomised stack of letter cards facedown that spell a word picked by their neighbour; their ultimate objective is to decode all of the letters and spell the secret word.
Letter Jam is a sticky, tricky word game that will satisfy avid puzzlers looking for something a bit different from the classic spellathon of Scrabble. With the best words being those that your teammates can guess, it’s also less demanding of players’ ability to think up complex spellings. A delicious, sweet concoction, you’ll soon be back for more.
Scrabble without the board - and no waiting for turns
Bananagrams is now almost as much of a classic as Scrabble itself, despite being a much more recent addition to the word game genre.
It’s one of the more straightforward word games on this list, best being described as Scrabble minus the shared central board. Rather than placing letters in specific squares to rack up multipliers and bonuses, players create their own criss-crossing web of words to use up their letter tiles as fast as possible.
Turns are the other thing that Bananagrams removes from the Scrabble formula, with players racing in real time to arrange all of their letters ahead of their opponents before shouting “Peel!” - forcing everyone to take an extra tile. Once someone has used up all their tiles and there aren’t enough left in the middle to peel, they win.
With no extra points for complicated words or difficult letters, speed is the name of the game in Bananagrams - spelling words with only a couple of syllables is just as effective as somehow managing to pull off “antidisestablishmentarianism”. While needing to think fast comes with its own tension, nobody should need to search a dictionary for 20 minutes or feel frustrated that they can’t use all their letters at once.
All this, and the game comes in a fabric case shaped with a banana. Bananagrams has become a modern successor to Scrabble for a good reason - and it’s still one of the best of a bunch.
You’ll always have the letters you need in this flexible word game
Not having the letters you need is one of the more frustrating feelings in Scrabble. “If I only had an E!” “I could spell dysentery with an extra Y!” Wordsy solves the age-old problem by allowing players to use as many letters as they need to spell their perfect word.
On the table are eight letter cards - consonants, specifically - that players are looking to string together into the highest-scoring word possible. Each pair of cards in a column are worth a different amount of points, so using higher-value cards can be as beneficial as lots of less valuable letters. What you put between those letters doesn’t matter - you can use as many or as few extra letters as you need, as long as you include the letters from the table.
You might have all the letters you need, but time is a different matter. Players only get 30 seconds to put together their combo of letters once one player has come up with their best effort, giving them an extra bonus if they outspell the speedy speller (who also gets a bonus for being so quick).
Seven rounds are played in total, with players scoring for their five best words - allowing a comfortable bit of space to catch up if you struggle to think of the right letter combo during a couple of turns.
With fewer restrictions on the letters at your disposal, Wordsy manages to offer a fun, fast word game that’s ideal for those who’ve grown tired of suffering the luck of the draw in Scrabble or the pressure of coming up with obscure letter combinations.
5. Letter Tycoon
Patent letters and make money from your opponents' spelling
You can’t spell capitalism without capital (letters)! Letter Tycoon introduces an economic layer to word games of strategic spelling by letting players stake their claim to letters of the alphabet.
Like a number of word games - including several on this list - players use the letter cards in their hand to spell words. What makes Letter Tycoon different, however, is the chance to patent specific letters from the words you’ve spelt. Some letters grant specific special abilities, but all of them will see you profit when your opponents use the letters you own to spell words on their turn - meaning you can benefit even if your own word isn’t as high-scoring.
Letter Tycoon’s unique twist on word games is combined with a colourful art style that manages to make simple letters look exciting. With players looking to not just spell the most valuable word for themselves, but also avoid handing extra money to their rivals, it’s a game that goes beyond having the biggest vocabulary to allow players who are clever with their investments to profit from others’ way with words.
6. Spell Smashers
Use the power of spelling to battle monsters
The most famous letter in fantasy gaming might be D (and D), but Spell Smashers is here to give the rest of the alphabet its chance in the spotlight.
Spell Smashers blends the dungeon-crawling of RPGs and adventure games with the word-making of Scrabble and its ilk, as players use the literal power of words to battle monsters, complete quests and gather precious gear for their adventures.
Like a classic dungeon-bash, players equip weapons and armour before entering into combat with a number of monsters ripe with glory, gold and victory points. First though, they’ll need to decide who gets to swing first.
Replacing the initiative rolls of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs, players use the letter cards in their hand to spell the longest word possible. The bigger the word, the higher their initiative, letting them get first dibs on which creature to face in a fight. Letter cards also deal different amounts of damage, so balancing your word between speed and power is key to racking up the greatest trophies ahead of your rival adventurers.
Between rounds, players can turn in complete quests and pop to the local town to upgrade their gear for future fights, hoping to amass the most victory points by the end of the seventh round.
Spell Smashers put an entertaining fantasy spin on word games. It’s an ideal way to mix up traditional Scrabble evenings with the family, or to stretch your vocabulary before your next epic roleplaying campaign.
7. ELL deck
Not just one word game, but infinite
Less a single word game, and more a platform for endless word games, the ELL deck is to word games what a pack of playing cards is to card games.
Originally released with five different games - including the fast-paced Wibbell, with which the deck originally shared its name - the ELL deck includes a deck of cards with pairs of letters on, along with a point value.
While the games in the box offer a selection of varied word games - ranging from classic spelling challenges to storytelling games and Dobble-like races to spot matching cards - a number of additional games have since been made available online for free. The simple nature of the cards makes them the perfect tool for players looking to come up with their own custom word games with friends.
If you’re looking for an instant collection of inventive word games - with limitless potential to add your own creations to the library - the ELL deck is a pocket-sized spark of inspiration that’ll put you under its spell.
Buy the ELL deck from Stuff by Bez.
Draft letter cards to outspell your opponents
Named after Johannes Gutenberg’s revolutionary printing technique, Letterpress combines the familiar spelling challenge of word games such as Scrabble with the card-drafting gameplay of modern hits like Sushi Go and 7 Wonders.
Players start with five cards, choosing one to keep before passing the rest to their neighbour. This repeats until all of the cards have been drafted, giving players five letters to combine with three shared cards - including a guaranteed vowel - in the middle of the table, with the extra option to use a single letter card as a double of that letter.
Avoiding the long individual turns of Scrabble, in Letterpress everyone forms their words at the same time, before comparing their scores. The highest score in the first four rounds doesn’t net you points directly, but lets the winner choose a letter card to use in the fifth and final round. Everyone else still gets a card - although it might not be the one they wanted most - meaning that it’s very possible to catch up and win overall if you make the most of your letters at the end.
Bonus objectives during each round provide extra benefits, including additional letter combinations, but the game ultimately comes down to that final spelling battle. Pull off the most impressive word, and you take the victory.
Letterpress is a more traditional word game than some of the other entries on this list, but it puts a highly original twist on the challenge of spelling words that makes it stand out. It’s also fairly cheap and travel-sized, making it a good companion for word fans on the go.