15 Great Word Games

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Writers and editors are among the most dedicated (read: obsessive) fans of word games. (I play Scrabble once a week — a relatively low frequency that may indicate only a mild addiction.) As the name of an old Reader’s Digest feature suggests, they enrich your word power, but they’re also fun. Here is a roster of some of the most entertaining games, from traditional contests like Password to innovative variations like Upwords. Most games listed have children’s versions, and many are available in both analog and digital form.

1. Apples to Apples
Players take turns judging which noun selected by a player from a hand of cards, each labeled with a noun, best matches — on criteria such as funniest, most appropriate, or least appropriate — an adjective printed on another card. (Cards)

2. Balderdash
Players take turns crafting fake definition for obscure words in the hope that others will select the false meaning from a set of possible definitions. (Cards)

3. Boggle
Players take turns jumbling a four-by-four grid of letter cubes, and all players try to form as many words as they can from letters displayed on adjacent cubes. (Letter cubes).

4. Bulls-Eye
Players create words from cards labeled with single letters; they take turns rolling a die to determine the word length that earns points for each round, then advance tokens on a board according to how many points they earned. (Cards and board with tokens)

5.Catch Phrase
Players take turns providing teammates with clues to the identity of a secret word before a timer goes off. (Handheld electronic timer with a database of words)

6. Password
Players try to get teammates to identify a secret word by providing one-word clues; teams take turns, and the number of points awarded for a correct guess decreases with each failed attempt. (Cards)

7. Scattergories
Players list as many words belonging to a category and starting with a given letter as they can. (Cards)

8. Scrabble
Players use letter tiles to form words they can attach to words already placed on a grid ; they rack up points based on the relative values of the letters and of grid squares that, when used, multiply the value of letters or words. (Board and letter tiles)

9. Scrabble Upwords
Players form words by placing letter tiles on a board, but, unlike in Scrabble, all letters have equal value, and bonuses are earned by forming new words by placing new tiles on top of some existing ones. (Board with letter tiles)

10. Taboo
Players try to get teammates to guess a word by providing other word clues, but they are prohibited from using a list of the most obvious clues. (Cards)

11. Text Twist
Players form as many words as possible from a randomly generated group of letters before a timer runs out. (Computer)

12. Word Blur
Players use word tiles to prompt teammates to correctly guess a secret word. (Tiles)

13. Word Zigzag
In this Boggle-like game with a grid of letters (unlike as in Boggle, in this game, the size of the grid is variable), players attempt to find as many strings of letters that form words as they can. Not to be confused with Zig-Zag, described below. (Application, or paper and pencil)

14. Words with Friends
This high-tech multiplayer variation on Scrabble, which has achieved phenomenal success thanks, in part, to a number of celebrity aficionados, allows multiple simultaneous games with known or unknown opponents. (Application)

15. Zig-Zag
Players try to guess each other’s secret words by testing how many letters of another word are in the secret word, and where the letters in common are positioned. (This game seems to be out of print, but used copies are available online, or prospective players could recreate the game materials from descriptions.)

Update: Looking for more? We created another list with 50 more great word games, so check that out

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12 thoughts on “15 Great Word Games”

  1. Howdy from Arkansas, Mark!

    Text Twist is one of my favorites.

    Make sure you look up any words that you don’t recognize; it can help you build your vocabulary!

    Great post!

  2. All good choices, but one of my new favorites is the computer game “Bookworm.” Kind of like Scrabble against the clock with elements of (computer-provided) danger.

  3. How about a Mensa word game? It’s called Carnelli after Jan Carnell, the Mensan who invented it. It’s a word association game that uses “titles”–titles to anything that legitimately has a title,e.g. movie, book, poem, song. A player states a title and the next player must state another title that connects to the first title by author, theme, similar word, actor, director or pun (but not excluding other connections). Moon River, A river runs through it, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (River Phoenix),By the time I get to Phoenix, Raising Arizona, Wild at Heart, So dear to my heart, Dear Prudence and so forth. Any player who slows the game or can’t come up with a follow-on is eliminated and there can be no repeats. Puns are encouraged and the play should be rapid-fire. Try it!

  4. I’d like to add Bananagrams to the list — players create crossword grids from letter tiles. This game can be played alone or with a group. It’s a cross between Scrabble and Boggle and great fun!

  5. Another one I really like for car rides is ‘word mastermind.’ (This game probably goes by many names.)

    One person thinks of a 4, 5, or ‘n’ letter word, and after other people guess, they respond with how many letters are correct and how many letters are in the correct position.

    This is fun even if no note taking is allowed.

  6. I think word mastermind and zigzag may be the very same game.

    I also thought of another one I like: Probe.

  7. And there is a wonderful book by David Parlett called
    Botticelli and Beyond: Over 100 of the World’s Best Word Games

  8. YAY GAMES! I won’t even date anyone who doesn’t enjoy games. I have at least 8 games of WWF going with one of my friends and several on-line Scrabble games going on too. I own most of the games mentioned in this post, just need to find people to play with!
    @Alicevee, I had a friend who started that kind of game in texting, we had a BLAST! (didn’t get much work done, tho…..)

  9. That game sounds great, Alicevee – I can imagine it being used as a drinking game (not disapproving … just making an observation, or maybe a suggestion 😀 ).

  10. re: “word mastermind” and similar: I think we used to call this Hangman, from the sound of it. As a person guessed what letters might be in the word, if the letter was in the word, it would be filled in in its proper location; if the letter was not in the word, you would start drawing a stick-figure being hung on a gallows: You drew the head when the first wrong letter was guessed, then the body, then one arm, the other arm, one leg, the other leg. At that point, if the person hadn’t guessed the word, it became the next persons’ turn.
    Boggle is also a fun word game, and I do love Bananagrams, especially since it’s not set up to be so competitive, and it’s good for younger folks (great while waiting for a meal at a restaurant).

  11. red face: sorry about the misplaced apostrophe up there; my computer didn’t backspace properly!

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