A few years ago, before I began writing reviews, I used to enjoy a show on Youtube about boardgames. On the show, a geeky celebrity gathers up some of his celebrity friends, and they play various tabletop games. One of the first episodes that I watched featured a word game called Unspeakable Words. The people on the show had so much fun with it that I decided that I needed to have a copy. The one problem with the game was that it was next to impossible to find a copy to purchase. A while later, a campaign for a reprint of the game showed up on Kickstarter, and I was thrilled. I quickly pledged for the game, excited for the day in the near future when I’d be able to play the game with my family and game group and laugh it up. Good times ahead!
The Kickstarter campaign came and went, and, as the game took longer and longer to deliver, I actually forgot that I had pledged for it in the first place. In the interim I began to write reviews, first on the now-dead NerdyRaptor, and then here on TechRaptor, and the volume of games that I played increased exponentially. With that increase in volume came perspective.
That perspective makes it difficult to go back and re-read old reviews, because as I play more and more games, I become more critical of the games that came before. There are certain foundations in tabletop gaming, usually mechanical, that are being used in new and exciting ways that often improve upon what came before. There are also new mechanics and themes that are so much better than older ones that they’ve essentially replaced them entirely. That doesn’t mean that older games are objectively worse, there are still older games that are among the best ever, it means that it’s impossible to look back on earlier, less elegant implementations and approaches, and not judge them more harshly than I did originally. With that said, I find it hard to believe that I ever thought highly enough about the ideas and mechanics in Unspeakable Words to actually pledge for the game.
The core concept of the game is simple; be the first to a set score (typically 100) without going insane. Players have a hand of 7 cards that they use to form a word on their turn. Each word (minimum 3 letters) can only be scored once, and when scored the player rolls a d20 as a Sanity Check. If the roll is equal to or higher than the word’s score they are safe. If the roll is lower than their score they lose one of their five Sanity points. If you fail the Sanity check when a word would score you enough to win, you lose Sanity and score zero for that word instead. If you run out of Sanity entirely then you are out of the game.
The best part of the game comes in to play when you are down to your final Sanity. When this happens, you are no longer limited to English, and can play any selection of letters that you see fit. Cards are worth points based on the number of angles of the letters, so most often the words will be a collection of the most angular, high scoring letters such as X, Q, H, and A. It’s silly and funny to play and try to pronounce words like XQHAAK (20 points!), which can score a ton of points quickly, but it also puts you at greater risk of losing your last point of Sanity. In order to actually stay in the game and have any chance at winning you need to play it safe, which is a giant thematic disconnect. Instead of feeling insane and zany, it generally makes players play even more safely, which flies directly in the face of the theme of losing your sanity, and negates the advantage of being able to play whatever letters you want. Most often, when someone is down to their final Sanity point, they play safe, simple words that just sound like fart noises in order to score some points, but not enough points to put themselves in great danger of being eliminated from the game.
The idea of Unspeakable Words is really fun, but the execution isn’t. It ultimately ends up being a bland word game with dice-roll determined player elimination. There’s not really any strategy, because you draw letters at random, and the funniest and most entertaining part of the whole game usually ends up being super anti-climactic as you usually end up just putting yourself out of the game entirely.
A note on “chrome”: Unspeakable Words has decent components. The art is best summed up as gradeschool-Cthulhu, so it is family friendly, but it isn’t really all that striking or evocative. The Cthulhu minis are a fun touch, although they are simply used to track Sanity points. I got the deluxe version, which includes some glow-in-the-dark components for when you want to turn all the lights in the room off to try and forget that you just played this game.
The bottom line:
Unspeakable Words is more of a novelty than a game. The best part of the game comes when you are down to your last Sanity point and you begin making up words and their definitions, but once you’ve played the game once you realize that if you are going to have any fun making up words or actually going for a good score then you are more than likely going to put yourself out of the game entirely in the process. The only alternative is to play it so safely that you essentially eliminate the main appeal of the game. There are a few laughs to be had with the Unspeakable Words, but the game itself isn’t all that interesting, and it makes for an occasional filler at best. If you do get a copy don’t expect to play it often, because the novelty wears off quickly.
Get this game if:
You want a few laughs.
Avoid this game if:
You want a game that takes thought, planning or strategy.
You want an engaging experience.
You want a game that you will play more than once or twice before you grow bored with it.
The copy of Unspeakable Words used for this review was received as a Kickstarter pledge reward paid for by the author.
Unspeakable Words is good for a few laughs occasionally, but there isn't enough game here to warrant multiple plays at any one time. There isn't anything that is inherently broken about the game, but after the initial novelty wears off there isn't much left beyond a bland word game with some card drawing, dice rolling and player elimination.