#680 – GRBLD [Preview]

Base price: $XX.
1 – 4 players.
Play time: ~45 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 2 

Full disclosure: A preview copy of GRBLD was provided by Inkwell Games. 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. 

Yeah, a solid chunk of this month is Kickstarter titles. I should be through the woods of it before Halloween, so, hopefully can get a bit spookier around then, but this week and next week are mostly Kickstarters. First is from Inkwell Games — they did Dice & Ink earlier, which I’m really excited to check out once my more social game nights can start up again, whenever that is. Let’s dive in and see what’s going on in GRBLD!

Welcome to GRBLD! You’re the guests tonight and if you can get the letters in the right places and the right categories, you stand to win some fabulous bonuses and prizes! Keep in mind, though, that only one of you can win, so you might have to resort to some underhanded measures if you want that person to be you. Will you be able to out-spell your opponents? Or will you fall victim to the dreaded grblin?

Contents

Setup

Setup is basically trivial. Give each player a player sheet:

You should probably take pencils; I did a fair bit of erasing when I played this one. Shuffle the cards; they’re double sided. One side is letters:

The other side is the categories:

If you’ve done all that, you’re good to go!

Gameplay

A game of GRBLD is a game of drafting, words, and categories. Your goal is to add words Connect-Four-style to your board, dropping the letters in one by one. Just watch out for the grblins! They eat letters, because of course they do. Only one person can get the top score, though!

You’ll do most of the same things over 7 rounds, as each round has three major phases. I’ll go through each. Before you start, though, you’ll generally gain the Start of Round Bonus, which is one of a few things:

  • Writer’s Block: Drop an X vertically into any column and cross out the box it would “land” in. It’s not a letter, but that space is blocked. In the first round, you’ll drop two, and they cannot stack on top of each other.
  • Second Letter: This just lets you use both letters on a given card you draft. More on that later.
  • Letter Bomb: Honestly, this is a thing that my parents were kind of scared of for a while, so hopefully they call this Letter Drop or something, but I digress. You choose three letters (usually consonants, more on why later) and drop them into three adjacent boxes. You cannot gain bonuses from dropping these letters.
  • Grblins!: The Grblins are placed on your board in an empty space by either the player to your left or the player to your right (check the arrows). When you would drop a letter into the Grblin’s column, they eat it. They cannot be destroyed, only defeated by placing a block above them, kind of like Rodent’s Revenge.

Reveal one card randomly from the Letter Cards, category-side up. If you’ve already used that category this game, draw again. Otherwise, that’s your category for the round.

Deal a certain number of cards face-up, depending on your player count:

  • 2 players: 8 cards
  • 3 players: 12 cards
  • 4 players: 16 cards

After that, the round starts!

Draft Letters

To start, snake draft the Letter Cards. If you’re not familiar with snake drafting, essentially you draft clockwise, in order from start player to last player, and then counterclockwise from last player (again, so they take a second card) to start player. You’ll essentially do this start player -> last player -> start player cycle two times, so that way everyone has four cards.

Create & Write Words

Now the tough one. You need to make a word that fits the category provided. There are some caveats:

  • No vowels required. That’s why it’s called GRBLD; you can get vowels for free. For this game’s purposes, Y is not a vowel under any circumstances. Sorry, RHYTHM.
  • You cannot duplicate letters for free. If you’re spelling the word LETTER, you need two T’s.
  • If the card has split letters (Q/X or J/Z), you may use one of the two letters, not both.
  • You may use one letter on the Category Card for free.
  • You may use one letter as a wild by flipping it over. If you do, cross out the leftmost uncrossed bubble in “Used Wildcards”, since, you know, you used one.
  • No proper nouns, English words only, try to keep to the category. Standard word game rules apply.

You may use any number of Second Letter bonuses that you want, but you can only use one Double Word bonus per round (since it lets you repeat the Create Phase with your current cards, I imagine it would get tedious if you could do it more than once).

After creating your word, write it on your board! Choose a column to start from and imagine dropping all of your letters starting from that column and moving toward the right. If there’s already a letter at the bottom, write it in the first open space above it. For each letter you use, mark off that letter in the Alphabet Bonus section of your player sheet, if you haven’t already.

As you write letters, you can gain bonuses through a few methods:

  • Completing a row: Certain rows give you a bonus for completing them; if you do so, circle the row bonus. Unless it’s a Second Letter or Double Word, you must use the bonus next phase.
  • Consonant stacking: If you place a consonant on top of the same consonant, you gain the next bonus from your Bonus Chain. Circle that bonus to indicate that you got it.
  • Boxed Vowels: For this one, whenever you place a vowel in a shaded box, you gain the next bonus from your Bonus Chain. Again, circle the bonus to indicate that you got it.

Use Bonuses

Now for the Use Bonuses Phase. Most bonuses must be used now, which some exceptions (Second Letter and Double Word).

You may gain bonuses from placing bonuses, which you must then use again in this phase. Once players finish using their bonuses, play continues with a new round, starting with the player to the left of the current starting player.

End of Game

After 7 rounds, the game ends! Players add up their scores:

  • Bonus Chain: Certain bonuses are just pure points; add them up.
  • Alphabet: You gain one point for each different letter you’ve used in your grid. It’s often easier to start at 26 and lose one point for each letter you didn’t use.
  • Complete Rows: You gain points for the number of complete rows you have on your grid. Note that 8 rows earns you 36 points and 9 rows earns you 45 points. If you completed all 10 rows, I will gently assume you’re a witch, but you get 55 points. Witch.
  • Letter Multiplier: Instead of row completion bonuses, the top four rows give you points per letter in that row. Tally up your points for each row.
  • Used Wildcards: You take a penalty equal to the value in the leftmost uncrossed bubble of that track.

The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

As with most drafting games, you notice sort of a better variety of options as player count increases, since more cards are added to the mix. This often means that you can get a better “first” card, as there are just more cards available. I’d say that doesn’t matter quite as much in GRBLD, given that players aren’t really getting “good” first cards. It matters what your overall pull is, since you can get a set of cards that lend themselves to a long word (or a word that gives you plenty of bonuses). Beyond that, I wouldn’t say I notice many changes. You may get a bit luckier with the grblins, given that you’re passing your sheet to two different players and they may not be able to coordinate messing you up as well as one player can, but that seems … difficult to prove, in practice, so I’m not going to suggest that as a legitimate difference between player counts. As a result, I wouldn’t say that I have any particular preference on player count.

Strategy

  • Think through your block placement. This can be pretty critical, especially initially, since you will make decisions that will affect which vowel boxes are available to you and how easily you’ll complete your first row.
  • Similarly, you’re going to want to drop some grblins in specific spots if you want to mess up your opponents. I try to place them below Vowel Boxes so my opponents will have to sacrifice the box in order to block them, which is rude but, I mean, efficient. Or put them on top of a player’s tallest column so that the grblin + the block makes that column a bit unwieldy?
  • Remember common prefixes and suffixes if you want to lengthen your words. I occasionally try to grab an N and a G, since I can use Second Letter bonuses to use their other letters and get a longer word with ING at the end. -ED, RE-, UN-, all good uses of prefixes and suffixes for words.
  • Also keep in mind, though, that diverse combinations of letters can really prevent you getting messed up. You obviously don’t want to take four S’s if you can avoid it (unless you’re planning to try and sell ASSESS as the word for whatever category you’ve got), so make sure you’re pulling letters with a word at least somewhat in mind.
  • I try to avoid getting certain blocks until the grblins are placed, so I can cover them in the same round. You can only hold off blocks for so long, but try to be strategic about when you get them so that you’re not cut off. If you don’t get any more blocks, the grblins become unblockable and just … kill a column for you. Obviously, that’s not particularly ideal, so try to avoid it.
  • Don’t leave big gaps in certain columns, though, or it will be hard for you to get the completion bonuses. This is a big problem, and the grblins don’t help; if you have a big chunk missing from any columns, you will struggle to get the big bonuses for completing those rows (along with the points for doing so!). Naturally, this means try to advance your board at about the same pace.
  • Using the double-word late in the game can really help you clean up in the 4x letter row. If you’re using it in the last couple rounds, you might be able to get five or six letters in the top row, and that’s a ton of points! Usually enough to edge you towards a win, which is always a nice outcome.
  • Careful about making any single column in your grid too tall. If you do, you’re rapidly going to find that it’s hard for you to complete that row and it will start constraining your words. That said, if you’re consistently generating 9-letter words that fit the category and dropping them perfectly with no errors, I have a lot of questions, anyways.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Always down for a word game. It’s just a genre that really appeals to me! I don’t really know why; I think it might have been all the spelling bees I did growing up. I do like how the letters themselves matter a bit more for placement, since you’re trying to get those combos working for you.
  • I like that the rules specifically allow you to replace the grblin with a Block if you’d prefer not to have a negative game. I think Unfair also did this really well, but I generally am a big fan of games that allow players to replace take-that gameplay with neutral or positive actions. It makes the game less stressful / less irritating, in my opinion. Though, to GRBLD’s credit, I don’t really find the grblin that annoying. I appreciate that the option exists!
  • The categories are a nice way to attempt to even the playing field in a word game (since usually players with access to a wider vocabulary have an edge). This is an interesting move I don’t see in a lot of word games, actually. It reminds me a bit of Anomia, a more category-focused game, and I like that. It does lead to a decent amount of “hey this word totally works for this category” justification, but it’s a game, as long as they have a good explanation, let it go.
  • Has a very cute game-show aesthetic. I quite like the color scheme and the overall aesthetic; I’m really hoping that they make the full published version pop.
  • As Wordsy proved, giving players flexibility without forcing them to rely on vowels can still make for a fun word game, and GRBLD does well with that flexibility, too. There are so few vowels, anyways, who cares if you just kind of ignore a couple? A lot of word games do not, apparently, so, that’s been helpful.

Mehs

  • Making the player boards a bit bigger would help a lot with drawing the grblin. I think I’m just particularly bad at precision drawing, but bigger boxes always help me out. Then I could give it little arms or a better face, both of which I think would sorely improve my impressions of the little guy.
  • I’m not really into the name “letter bomb”? I get that it’s harmless, it just seems like letter drop would have worked as well. I think that sort of thing just stressed out my parents when I was growing up and now I have some residual stress about it? Weird.

Cons

  • There’s a lot of information to keep track of on the player board, and that can occasionally lead to some mistakes. It’s a very busy player board, and it’s not always clear when something should be filled out, circled, used, or crossed off.
  • It would be helpful if the game made it a bit more clear that the letter multiplier bonuses in the top four rows weren’t contingent on those rows being cleared. This is kind of a direct consequence of the player board thing, I think, but it meant that in my first game I overindexed on trying to complete the rows so that I could get the multiplier bonus, only to find out that I already got the multiplier bonus. It’s a small con, but I would like that to be more clear.

Overall: 8 / 10

Overall, I think GRBLD is quite fun! Naturally, this isn’t surprising; I’ve made it very clear that I like word games. There’s something … fun … about spelling. Nope, I’m making it weird. Oh well, that’s just how it’s gonna be. Anyways, I kind of wish that this had been more dice-rolling than letter-drafting, but I think it’s pretty obvious that that would cause a lot more problems than it would solve. Barring that, I think this is a very fun little game! I love the aesthetic of it (though I’d love for it to pop a bit more); the color scheme is unique, the game-show-thing it’s got going on is fresh, and it just works, for me. I do wish that some things about the player board were cleaner, though; if it were larger, I think it would be easier to write in, the information density would be lower, and then it would hopefully be easier to distinguish the row completion bonuses from the multipliers. There’s a lot to like in this, though! I think the categories add a nice splash of variety, even if there’s a little bit of time where everyone argues why their word should fit in the category as listed (BARRELED is … fine for KITCHEN, I suppose). It forces you to think a bit more creatively; I’d love to see more category cards (or themed category cards!) in the final release. If you’re into that sort of thing or you just want to get more words in your games, I’d suggest checking GRBLD out!


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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