Base price: £13.
2 – 10 players.
Play time: 20 – 30 minutes.
Buy on Amazon!
Logged plays: 2
Full disclosure: A review copy of Zilch! was provided by DMC Magic, LTD.
The one thing that I kind of regret as I write more and more about board games is that there are just … a lot of games coming out each year. There’s just no way to play all of them. Growing up, the landscape was a lot less expansive, so, you know, everyone played Clue, Monopoly, Life; those sorts of games. Occasionally, you’d hear about folks playing Pit or Careers or something that was at least still pretty close to the critical mass of society. While I love the explosion of games that’s been happening over the years, I feel like we are kind of losing the thread of “classic games” that everyone has played. I have this discussion with other folks from time to time about what our “classic” will be, and I’m still not 100% sure that I agree with their choices (or my own). Just something that I think about from time to time. It does mean that I occasionally try to play games that aim to emulate the classics, to some degree, and I got an email pitching a Scrabble-meets-Bananagrams game that piqued my interest enough to try it. That game’s Zilch!, so, let’s check it out!
There’s not much of a theme to Zilch!, and that’s fine. Here’s the gist. No turns; real time. In the center of the board are eight letter cards, and everyone wants to try and spell a four-letter (or longer) word as quickly as possible. Once you’ve got one, yell it out! Then, take the letters as you spell the word to show your work (and check that you’ve spelled a word like, say, “crumb” correctly). The dealer refills and you keep going until the deck is depleted. The player who takes the most cards wins. Sounds easy? Well, make it a bit more complicated! What happens if nobody can find a word? Then yell “Zilch!”; everyone has one last shot to find a word or the player who yelled “Zilch!” gets all eight cards. Too good at word games? Add more cards to the center and increase the minimum word length. Will you be able to get the most points? Or will the only thing you’re able to spell be TROUBLE?
Overall: 7.25 / 10
Overall, I found Zilch to be a pleasant and fun little word game. It was pitched to me as a bit of Scrabble and a bit of Bananagrams, and that seems to be a pretty accurate description. As I mentioned, you’ll flip some cards face-up and then race to see who can come up with a valid word the fastest. It doesn’t really need to be more complex than that, and Zilch! makes a smart choice in having the letters (and wild cards) really pop with a pop art-esque style that’s both really engaging and fun. Your art style should, to some degree, match the game’s whole aesthetic, so there’s a good meeting here. I was writing the other day about a game that covers its edge cases well, and I think Zilch!, with one weird exception, mostly does that, too. It covers the case where no word can be found (you call “Zilch!” and then other players have an awkwardly-unspecified amount of time to find a word before you take all the cards), it covers the case where both players say a word at the same time (they split the awarded cards), and it covers the case where someone wants to challenge or says an invalid word. The one issue that comes up is actually in that last case. In a two-player game, it’s a bit confusing if one player is frozen (from saying an invalid word) and the other player has all the time in the world. If they call Zilch!, do they just get the pot unchallenged? It would make sense, I suppose. The only other issue that comes up during gameplay is a classic graphic design problem: the Ms and Ws look pretty similar. Granted, they’re printed the correct-way up no matter which side the card is turned, but in a speed game looking at the wrong corner of the card can (quite literally) spell disaster. Having a line under the correct side of the letter can clear that up pretty well, or just letting a player make an honest mistake. Your call.
That all said, I’m a well-known fan of real-time games and word games, so Zilch! hits at a pretty enjoyable spot, for me. I particularly like that the game can be made to be more difficult by adding more cards and increasing the minimum word length (from 8 / 4 to 10 / 5 or 12 / 6, for the most difficult mode). I think that games, to some degree, are at their best when they scale to meet their players, and seeing that even a simple game can reach for that height makes me happy. Plus, like I said, I’m just a fan of word games. They’re all a hoot. Zilch! makes for a nice game that can broadly appeal to fans of word games, even if they’re not going to get dragged into the rabbit hole of more complex fare like Hardback or Ponkotsu Factory (though I’d recommend both). If you’re a fan of the genre, you want a quick and approachable word game for fans of real-time games, or you just like a small game with some bold colors, you’d probably enjoy Zilch! I’ve had fun with it.
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