Full disclosure: A preview copy of Handsome was provided by Button Shy. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
It’s always nice to see more Button Shy games! Last month was Antinomy, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve got this month. Plus, I’m hoping to check out more from them soon, like Sprawlopolis: Beaches, Blood Royals, and Star Maps, so I’ll hopefully have more to say on that in the near future. That said, let’s dive right in and see what they’ve got, this month.
In Handsome, you’re dressed to impress, but you’d like to be dressed to the nines, literally. The only thing more impressive than your outfit is your vocabulary, so, put it to good use. Will you be able to belt out an impressive word? Or will you just end up tongue-tied?
None. You can give each player some scratch paper, if you want, to keep track of words, but shuffle the cards:
You may need to flip some into the center, depending on your player count:
- 2 players: Reveal 1 card. Deal each player 4 cards.
- 3 players: Reveal 2 cards. Deal each player 3 cards.
- 4 players: Reveal 1 card. Deal each player 3 cards.
- 5 players: Reveal 0 cards. Deal each player 3 cards.
- 6 players: Reveal 5 cards. Deal each player 2 cards.
You’re ready to start!
So, the goal here is to create a great word to earn points, and the player with the most points wins. The scoring’s the interesting part, so I’ll dig into that in a bit. But either way, you want to use the two cards in your hand and the five cards on the table to spell a word; the longest word you can.
Wait, do you have more than two cards in your hand? Well, if that’s the case, all players choose and play cards from their hand simultaneously until they hit two cards in hand. That means:
- 2 players: Play 2 cards.
- 3 players: Play 1 card.
- 4 players: Play 1 card.
- 5 players: Play 1 card.
- 6 players: Don’t play any cards.
Now, make a word! You can only use each of the consonants you can see once, but you can use any number of vowels. The two letters in your hand are private to you, but there are a few special cards:
- J / Z: Counts as bolo and bow tie for scoring. You may only use one of those letters, though.
- Q / X: Counts as bolo and necklace for scoring. You may only use one of those letters, again.
- S / Y: Doesn’t count for scoring, but can help make a longer word. You may still only use one of those letters.
Once you have a word, write it on your scratch paper, and then everyone reveals their word simultaneously! Now you score.
Here’s what’s interesting. You do care about the longest word, sure; give the player(s) with the longest word one point. But you also care about suit majorities:
- The player who used the most bolo cards: +1 point.
- The player who used the most necklace cards: +1 point.
- The player who used the most bow tie cards: +1 point.
All ties are friendly; all tied players score the point, unless one player used the S / Y; then only they score the point. Either way, this means you can earn a maximum of four points in one round (and I’ve never seen someone score 0, but it’s possible).
If you’ve used a word that’s already been used in this game, cross it out and score 0. Nobody likes a copycat. Also, if your word is fake, score 0. I appreciate the effort, but, no.
Once you’ve done the scoring, shuffle the cards and redeal. Play until one player scores nine points (I mentioned “dressed to the nines”). The player with the most points wins the game!
Player Count Differences
The major thing you’re going to notice is that you’re not playing as many cards as player counts increase. This means that you have less agency over which letters are in play, which means you’re relying a bit more on luck to give you “useful” letters. At lower player counts, you can drop some real unhelpful letters into the mix and give your opponent, like, V and K (and keep N and G for yourself!). Either way, I don’t really have a problem with it at any player count.
- If you can, hold on to common letters. You want those combos, like T H or L Y or N G that you can use to build super-long words. If you want to mess with your opponent, drop only one of those letters into the center; it’s not like they can use it without the other. Then you can hold on to even better stuff. Play aggressively, if you can.
- Remember that you cannot use any double letters. No repeating letters at all, ever!
- Prefixes and suffixes are your friends. Like most word games where length matters, -ING, -ILY, PRE-, UN-, DE-, all useful prefixes and suffixes. Know what you’ve got and know where you can use them. It’ll definitely work out in your favor more often than not.
- If you don’t need many more points to win, focus on one suit. I was at 8 points; I didn’t need to score everything; I just needed to make sure that I got at least one point in the next round. I picked three bow tie cards and made it work; that’s the best you can do, sometimes.
- Leverage Wild Cards, if you can. S/Y just makes your word longer, which is nice, and it gives you tiebreaker priority; the others are dual-suited, which makes them uh, suited to your purposes (where your purposes are scoring as many points as possible). They’re a bit tougher to use, but sometimes you can pull it off if you get lucky with the cards.
- Try to avoid making a word with just the cards in the center. If you can do that, everyone can do that. Use some of the cards in your hand, even if that center word is pretty good. You need to come up with something even better. That said, if you can’t, just use the center word. Scoring something (or tying) is better than nothing.
- Just focus on words with lots of unique consonants. You’re going to need to pull out all the stops if you want to actually come out with the win; thankfully, there are a lot of words that fit that criteria. That said, if this method causes you despair, word on the street is that there might be a difficulty setting that’s a bit less strict on repetition…
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Look, I just love word games. They’re so much fun, and I like this one for its interesting twists! I was originally worried it was going to be too similar to Wordsy, but it’s specifically not; the consonants must all be present and distinct, which makes the game much more challenging. And you’re shooting for majority, which guides the words you might choose to spell. Long words are still a good shot, but you better have the right pieces.
- The art style is super pleasant. It’s very old-timey, but I particularly love the blue on the bolo cards; it’s a very pleasant shade.
- Plays quickly, for a word game. This entire genre is like a haven for analysis paralysis. Thankfully your choices aren’t that numerous; the only faster one I’ve seen is Wordsy, if you don’t count Anomia (I kinda count that as a trivia game? Dunno).
- As you should expect from Button Shy, it’s quite portable. An on-the-go word game for the discerning customer.
- It’s also nice that it seats up to six players. I think this is just me recoiling because most of the Button Shy games I’ve played lately I’ve played at two, max, so six seems like so many people.
- The scoring is pretty neat. I like it! It takes some of the focus away from long words, which speeds up the game a fair bit. The not-being-able-to-use-double-letters helps, too.
- It’s almost weird how few of the cards can get used each round in a two-player game. It’s not really a problem with the game, just sometimes odd. At two, I may start using the second half of the deck for the next round and save myself a shuffle; see how that works for me. This really only works at two players, though; at higher counts you’ll have more cards.
- I always forget you need scratch paper to play this. It hasn’t stopped happening, yet.
- A score tracker would be really nice for this game. Just telling you how many cards of each suit you used and what your score was for your word; then you wouldn’t have to worry about anyone copying any words, either, which would be nice. As it currently stands, you kind of have to just lay out all the cards and mess around with them, which can be a bit annoying in the throes of the game. It’s not the biggest deal, though.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Handsome is a fun little word game! I quite like the initial motivation; it’s very slick that 18 cards is the exact right amount for every consonant (with three paired up). I’d be intrigued if this motivated a Wibbell++-esque system where you could play multiple different word games with the Handsome setup; that would be pretty cool. Either way, it’s got what I like to see most in a word game, which is something I haven’t seen before. In Handsome, it’s the scoring system; it’s unique in that it doesn’t overwhelmingly incentivize certain letters or long words (or give you points per letter, as many word games do); it wants you to use certain combinations of letters or try to outscore your opponent in one of three zones. That’s an interesting spin and I’d like to play it more to see how it ends up shaking out for me, feelings-wise, but even now I’d say I’d happily and confidently recommend it. Button Shy has been publishing a lot of solid games, lately, and if you’re interested in a light, fast word game, Handsome is certainly another feather in their cap!