Full disclosure: A review copy of Four Word Thinking was provided by Chronicle Books.
And we’re back on the beat with a few more reviews. This time, we’ve got another game from Chronicle Books, Four Word Thinking! Rather than spend a bunch of time on a recap, here, let’s just launch right into it.
In Four Word Thinking, players are makin’ words recklessly with zero consequences. The key here is to make words quickly. The challenge is that words have to be four letters, and all words are made in real time. I’d say the tiles add to your woes, but it really just depends on how you feel about hex tiles, I suppose. Will you be able to make words quickly enough to win? Or will this just be the foreword to your loss?
Not a ton, here. Shuffle the tiles, placing one in the center and deal each player two. Players shouldn’t look at them, yet:
Give each player tokens in the color of their choice:
And then set the points tokens aside:
When you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start!
The gameplay’s not too hard, either. Four Word Thinking is played over several rounds as players try to come up with four-letter words as quickly as they can (everyone’s favorite four-letter words have, predictably, been omitted to make this a family-friendly game).
To start, one player says “Go” and players reveal the center tile and can start looking at the tiles in their hand. Usually, I have whoever won the previous round flip the center tile for a mild disadvantage. You may play any tile in your hand adjacent to any other tile, provided the following two conditions are true:
- A white section of the tile is connected to a black section of the other tile (or vice-versa). Essentially, the underline must be completed.
- All connected four-letter words are valid words. Depending on how you place your tiles, you may make multiple words at the same time. All words must be valid in order for that tile’s placement to be valid.
If the tiles you connect have none of your tokens already on them, place two tokens on each four-letter word. If either of the tiles you connect have your tokens already on them, place one token on each four-letter word you create. Draw a new tile! You can only have two tiles in your hand at a time.
After you place all 12 of your tokens, you’re done! Everyone stops and you reveal all of your created words. If they’re valid, you win the round and claim a point token! If you mess up and create an invalid word (and get called on it), you must take the tokens you played on an invalid word and one extra token back, and the round continues.
Once the round ends, take the tokens back and shuffle up the tiles, dealing each player two new tiles. Play continues until one player has three point tokens!
Player Count Differences
There are a few. At two, since you’re kind of limited in expansion opportunities based on your opponent’s speed, you can see faster players start to build out long chains of single tiles so that they can just expand while their opponent analyzes. You score fewer points per tile this way but you’re not hamstrung waiting for another player, so it potentially shakes out. The thing to be careful about is that you give your opponent a lot of real estate in this kind of situation, so you essentially need to be playing twice as fast as they are to remain in the game. At higher player counts, you won’t see this, as much; if any player starts forming a chain, the other players will set upon it and just rapidly end the round. Or, more specifically, it’s harder to rely on your opponents’ speed as a factor when you have multiple opponents. It can shake out unexpectedly. Plus, you’ll have more of your own avenues because certainly someone will be laying tiles, and your opponents building off of each other’s tiles doesn’t preclude you getting a two-token play in there, as well. Plus, the game moves a bit quicker with more spots available, even if it becomes harder to analyze all available spots. The priority starts to shift at higher player counts from “what’s my best move?” to “what’s my fastest move?”. And that’s fine, generally speaking. I haven’t, admittedly, had the chance to play this at the higher end of the player count spectrum (ongoing pandemic), but I enjoyed it enough that I’d be down to try it. I will say I don’t have much of a player count preference, though; trying it with two players is a fun head-to-head experience, but more players adds the frenetic speed that I tend to look for in real-time games.
- Your best strategy is to go quickly. I’ve found there to be diminishing returns on trying to get the Perfect Placement, in that it usually takes me three to five times longer to find a spot that will give me two words over a spot that will give me one word. As you might guess, that’s not great, even if it is impressive when you land it. Instead, focus on scanning the tiles that your opponents are placing to see if you can build off of them and then quickly executing.
- Generally, try to move in a circular pattern of some kind; don’t just stick words onto your own tiles. The best way to focus on your opponents’ tiles is to be kinda movement-sensitive. When a new tile is placed, look at it! What are the other five available slots looking like? Can you quickly build off of one of those? Generally speaking, a tile your opponent just placed is a pretty good bet to be a tile you haven’t already built off of, so a quick tile throwdown can pretty easily net you a couple tokens.
- If you’re stuck, just drop the tile as quick as you can so you can move on, even if it’s not worth the two tokens. I’ve definitely built off of my own tile just to get a tile out of my hand. Sometimes your opponent isn’t moving that quickly, you can’t find a good outlet, or you just don’t have the tile you want. This does happen with less frequency as the round goes on, just because more spots become available pretty quickly. Even if players try to build tiles such that other tiles become harder to place, the tiles have six edges, so they can’t really cover all of them.
- Ideally, you can get into a groove and just drop tiles quickly. Sometimes it just happens! You can see the words spelled out perfectly and you just drop drop drop tiles until you’re done. It’s infrequent, but useful when it does happen.
- There aren’t a lot of ways you can meaningfully affect other players, since all you do is give them additional avenues to score more points. It’s not worth investing time in trying to block off spots or snake your opponent out of certain placements unless you’re extremely good at making predictions quickly. Adding a tile to any spot essentially creates two additional spots where an opponent can place a tile and score two tokens without needing to touch a third tile. It’s kind of how hexes work; they rapidly expand the playable area. Instead, just focus on what your opponents are playing
- Just in case it wasn’t clear, not playing to deny your opponents additional spots doesn’t work either. This is kind of a nihilistic way to play, since you’re basically not playing at all, but if you don’t play you won’t score points, and you need points to win. Just figured I’d make that clear.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I like the color scheme of this game. The blue and the orange complement each other quite nicely, even if having a game with both major black and major white elements makes editing these photographs more difficult than I would like. I’m just focusing on the tiles having hard edges and going to hope that works out for me.
- Fun variants, too. The major variants allow you to either give each player a separate play area (you play alone and first to make 12 words wins, essentially), or to replace a tile that a player played with another tile. The latter incentivizes dropping multiple words in quick succession (to “protect” your placement), which is pretty interesting, but it could potentially stalemate if players keep attacking the same tile. The take-that element of that seems frustrating, but I think it’s mitigated enough by being forced to discard the replaced tile that I would still enjoy the game.
- It’s very satisfying when you can connect more than one word at a time. I talk occasionally about “feels good” and “feels bad” moments in gameplay, and this is certainly one of the formers. Getting two or three words off of a tile placement is awesome.
- The racing elements of the game are well-designed; players are in a rush, can generally see how their opponents are doing, and the round ends as soon as a player goes out. I think Four Word Thinking makes it pretty clear the entire time how players are doing, which for a racing game is good! You should be able to quickly see where you’re at, relative to your opponents, and how much more you need to do in order to win the round / the game.
- Fairly portable. The game’s on the smaller side, so it’s not too difficult to fit into a bag or a pouch or whatever you hold games in.
- Having the black and white sectors need to align makes it very easy to potentially match up tiles, which is nice. It makes it immediately clear how to match words up, which is nice. The underlining helps, as well. It’s a good double-coding, which I often need for things like this otherwise I’ll just goof on myself. New players don’t always recognize it, but once they know what to look for, things progress pretty smoothly.
- I’m generally pretty pro-word games, as well. Just generally a fan of them? I like making words and such.
- The game can potentially take a fair bit longer with more players, as there are more potential players who can win the round before someone must win the game. This is a pretty classic / boring interpretation of the pigeonhole principle, but, what can you do? If a player must win three rounds in order to win the game, then the maximum number of rounds you can play in a game is 2X + 1, where X is the number of players. In that last round, one player must win. It means that the game can take longer at higher player counts, just as a function of how many rounds can be played. It can be mitigated by one player just being faster than the others and winning more, but, meh.
- I do wish there were some sort of “take a token back to discard your tile and take a new one” type of rule, just because occasionally there’s junk tiles that I don’t feel like I can use all that well. I tend to fixate a bit, and if I can’t make a tile work I can spiral until I find a spot for it rather than just trying my other tile. I would love to be able to take a token back to dump a tile so that I can just stop looking at it, even if that’s not terribly helpful.
- The game can end up eating a lot of table space. It largely depends on how tiles are placed; if every player explodes out from the center and you’ve got six players, you might get some very weird shapes that don’t compress well. Fundamentally, the game tends to do that because it’s difficult to match multiple adjacent edges on a single tile, so gaps tend to emerge over time. Just make sure that you’re prepared if you’re playing at six for that possibility.
- This box shape is mildly cursed. It doesn’t really … sit well on the shelf (because it’s a weird hexagon), putting the components back inside isn’t particularly great (because it’s a weird hexagon with weird hexagons inside), and it’s not really the same size as any other game box I have (because it’s … a weird hexagon). It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not what I would call an ideal box shape beyond very much conveying this game is about hexagons.
- At high player counts, the decision space can become overwhelming for players as there are just too many different junctures to place a tile. This is more a “just warn your players not to try to read everything”. As the playable space expands, it’s best to just continue to focus on a small section of it, rather than everything all at once. The latter case can be … too much.
- Real-time word games do have a limited audience, though I love them. Both real-time games and word games can be polarizing, so naturally, their overlap has an even smaller audience that’s hyped about them. I’m in that audience, but it’s worth checking with your group before you play.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed Four Word Thinking! I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s my favorite word game, but it has a lot of things that I like! I tend to enjoy real-time games, and I think there’s a lot of fun to be had in the real-time word game space. I find that this may not necessarily be true for a lot of other players, though? I think word games have a similar issue as trivia games, in which players interpret being good at a word game as being “smart”, and some folks interpret having trouble with word games as being a commentary on their intelligence. I don’t generally think that’s true, but it’s something I try to work around when I’m introducing a word game to a new group. What Four Word Thinking does well here is essentially limit player options around what words can be created. It’s not so much a word game as it is a speed-tile-laying game that’s a collection of two-piece puzzles. The pieces are informed by a player’s knowledge of words, but they’re not particularly restricted. Knowing more words will only help you so much. As a result, Four Word Thinking does a good job sliding into a niche of “word game for folks who otherwise don’t really like word games”, or a word game to help players new to the word game genre get acclimated. It’s fun enough that I would be down to play a couple quick rounds, but if I’m going to pick a word game for myself, I’d probably err on the side of something more complicated, like Ponkotsu Factory or something. That said, Four Word Thinking does a lot of things right (even if the box shape is a little weird), so if you’re looking for a quick, fun, and simple real-time word game (or any part of those things), you might enjoy checking it out!
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