Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less game).
One of the longest-running browser games is WordSplay, an online Boggle clone that has been a going concern for about a decade now. WordSplay has endured because the Boggle formula is naturally addictive: You search for words in a randomized grid of letters until the timer runs out and then compare your lexicographic brilliance against everyone else. It’s a game where language gets reduced to its bare parts, and as you get deeper into the flow, concepts like meaning and pronunciation become more distant. All that matters is the essential question: Is this sequence of letters a word, or isn’t it?
Wordament pushes Boggle beyond that simple binary—just a little, but enough to rejuvenate the game. The game essentially mirrors WordSplay’s massive-multiplayer setup: All players work on the same 4-by-4 grid for two minutes, and then the scores are compiled. Unlike standard Boggle, using rarer letters earns you more points, à la Scrabble. And the words’ meaning can matter, too. In certain rounds, players can earn extra points for submitting words that fit a theme—like “parent” or “aunt” on a “Family”-themed grid.
Because the game is designed to give people that “one more round” urge, all of the grids are designed to make plenty of words available—rarely are less than 200 words up for grabs. This sounds nice, but in practice, it means that familiar patterns of common letters show up a lot. I can’t count the number of times my fingers have done the “RAT/RATS/TAR/TARS/ART/ARTS/TAS/RAS/SAT/STAR” dance. But Wordament makes up for this predictability with nifty challenges like frantic “speed rounds” and “find the ultra-long word” boards—and they’ve just added a few more puzzle types. It’s hard to complain too much about an occasional feel of repetition, as every word game boils the language down to some essential tonic and Wordament is an especially flavorful brew.