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Reviews - Unspeakable Words
by Lee Valentine

Unspeakable Words coverUnspeakable Words
Published by Playroom Entertainment
Game Design by James Ernest and Mike Selinker
Released October 2007
96 letter cards, 1 twenty-sided die, 30 Cthulhu pawns, rules

This game is featured in our 2007 OgreCave Christmas Gift Guide

Unspeakable Words is a new Cthulhu-mythos card-based word game designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker, two of the great minds behind Lone Shark Games. As in Scrabble, players of Unspeakable Words string together letters to form words and score points. Unlike Scrabble, Unspeakable Words is not played on a board - players merely play cards from their hands to spell out words and score for them.

Unspeakable Words features a deck of cards. Each player gets 7 cards on each of his turns. Each card has a single letter on it. On the corners of the letter cards are numbers, representing the number of sharp angles in the letter. For example, a simple "T" (sans serif) has two right angles, and thus has a value of 2. An S, which is a continuous curve, is worth 0 points. When a player forms a word out of the cards in his hand, the values of those letters are summed to produce a value for the word. The player collects that value.

Forming words is a potentially sanity threatening exercise. Every time a player plays a word he must roll a d20. If that roll is less than the value of the word then the player loses a sanity point. At the start of the game each player is given five wonderful green plastic Cthulhu game pawns which track his sanity. As he takes a sanity loss, he returns a pawn to the bank.

It's easy to score small numbers of points and retain your sanity, but to score big you generally have to take a sanity hit. You lose the game when you have no remaining sanity. You win the game by scoring 100 points. On your final play you don't score for your word's value unless you have at least 1 token worth of sanity remaining.

The game has a first move advantage, but an alternate rule included in the game allows everyone an extra turn to catch up to the leader to make up for this advantage. One other silly alternate rule allows the game winning word to be made up of letters that simply spell out insane gibberish instead of a plain English word.

Each of the letter cards has a full color Cthulhu-mythos-themed picture on it. Remember "'A' is for 'Apple'" when you were a child? Now "'C' is for 'Cthulhu'" and "'D' is for 'Deep Ones'". My favorite was "H_____", which is undoubtedly a reference to Hastur the Unspeakable, which helps to give the game its name. The cards are slightly thinner than what I would have liked, particularly for a family game, but overall the game gets high marks on component quality.

Unspeakable Words is a very fast, light game. There's some strategy, some luck, and a lot of theme. It's not a hardcore word monger's game like Scrabble, so it won't appeal to that category of gamer. However, it's a fun filler or party game.

As you would expect from a game by Playroom Entertainment, where this game really shines is as a family game. A father and daughter could play this game easily together. It can be used to teach spelling and counting. Since shorter words are less likely to incur a sanity loss, a young player is not guaranteed to be penalized for a smaller vocabulary. If you are a gamer parent with a young child, this is definitely a game you should have in your household. Who knew that Cthulhu was so educational and fun?! At a price of only $20.00, Cthulhu won't be devouring your wallet either.


Lee's ratings

Overall Score: A (as a family game), B otherwise
Rulebook Clarity: A
Ease of Learning: A
Components: B+
Retailer Salability: B+ (if demoed, B otherwise)
Time to Learn: 5 minutes

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