From boardgame classics to high-octane heart-pumping efforts, these games will fire up your inner lexicon
Word games have come a long way from you staring for hours at a grid of letters in a badly printed magazine, only to find irritating typos littered in words printed diagonally and backwards. But on your iPhone, word searches, crosswords and boardgames take on a new lease of life.
In this round-up, we unearth the very best, including exciting online battles, action-packed dexterity tests with words at their core, and thoughtful titles perfect for anyone with a thing for words who’s settled down for the long haul.
Free + IAP • v01.16.02 • 71.3 MB • By Spry Fox, LLC
Alphabear begins with a grid of letters in a field, usually with a few small bears lurking and making odd not-entirely-bear-like noises. Tap out a word and the letters are removed, enabling the bears to literally expand into the new space. All the while, remaining letters count down, turn by turn, transforming to stone when they reach zero, scuppering subsequent bear expansion. The key is to never let that happen – or to at least strategize to keep the biggest areas of space open, in order to grow the biggest bears.
At the end of the round, your score will be totted up. Do well enough and you’ll likely be awarded a special bear, which can be used to power-up subsequent attempts in a mildly baffling meta-game. There, you select bears that provide bonus boosts and make certain letters appear more frequently; and after a game, they take ‘naps’ that put them out of action for minutes or hours, forcing you to continually change your selection. It’s all a bit weird, but the core game clicks quickly, even if it takes a long while to master. Also, note that while Alphabear has freemium timers that limit how many goes you can have in quick succession, you can be rid of them for a one-off $4.99/£4.99 ‘infinite honey’ payment.
Coolson’s Pocket Pack
Free • v1.0.1 • 17.0 MB • By Things Made Out Of Other Things Ltd.
A word game about stacking and packing, Coolson’s Pocket Pack finds chocolate letter squares falling into a shallow well. At the foot of the screen is a little carton, into which letters must be packed. Only your penguin boss is more than a little particular: packed letters must write out words.
Fortunately for you, the boxes are typically three slots in size, sometimes as few as two, and only rarely creep up to five. The snag is that this conveyor-belt word game moves at serious speed, and also has a vitally important chain mechanic. If you recycle a letter (that is, move it back out of a carton once it’s been placed within), the chain is broken. But keep the chain going and you end up with huge scores.
This is therefore a game of spelling, speed, strategy and nerve – and also for obliterating arrogance regarding your word-game skills when you’re deep into a chain and abruptly forget every three-letter word you’ve ever known.
Free or $1.99/£1.99 • v2.1 • 10.4 MB • By Solebon LLC
More or less Boggle smashed into Risk, Letterpress is a combination of land-grab conquering and anagrams. It’s played on a five-by-five grid. Tap out letters and submit the word you’ve spelled and those tiles gain your color – but surround any letter and it gets a deeper shade. That second point is key, because it means your opponent cannot flip such letters back during their go. Your ongoing aim is to therefore secure as many letters as possible while simultaneously eating into your opponent’s territory. Games end when every tile has a color or when both players pass twice.
This is an online-only title, and the free version enables you to play two games simultaneously. A single $1.99/£1.49 IAP upgrades you to have potentially limitless games on the go at once. At the very least, try the freebie download. Genre mash-ups don’t always work, but Letterpress is very much an exception – a fun, clever game that’s easy to learn but tough to master.
$1.99/£1.99 • v1.3 • 51.1 MB • By Simple Machine, LLC
If you’re the kind of person who thinks even the likes of Pocket Pack is a bit sluggish, try LEX. It’s word games introduced to a vat of rocket fuel, resulting in the kind of experience that will have you curled up in the corner, shaking.
Yet it all starts so sedately. You get a row of nine letters, each of which has a timer. All you need to do is use any letter before it fills up with red, and since LEX happily accepts words with as few as three letters, this is all pretty easy – right up until you’ve levelled up a few times.
At that point, all hell breaks loose. You’re frantically tapping words, trying to think several moves ahead, and yelling at the app when it flings a J, X and Q your way in quick succession. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled heart-pounding experience of the kind not usually associated with word games; and if nothing else, it’ll certainly help you think more quickly when playing other games in the genre.
$7.99/£5.99 • v5.13.0 • 91–178 MB • By Electronic Arts
It feels a bit weird having to explain Scrabble in this feature. After all, Scrabble is the word boardgame, and one that’s been mercilessly ripped off countless times on mobile. But we’ve gone for the original in our list, on account of it still playing really well.
As ever, you get a 15-by–15 board, on to which you place tiles from your hand, gradually fashioning a little crossword puzzle of sorts. Cunning use of double- and triple- letter and word tiles can hugely increase your score. At the end of the game, whoever has the most points wins – simple.
In a constantly changing gaming world full of gimmicks and the next big thing, there’s something comforting about Scrabble’s focus and simplicity. Moreover, it works very nicely on iPhone – the board can be zoomed or seen as an overview, and you can play online, with multiple people on a single device, or against a computer opponent.
Note that for licensing reasons, the US and non-US versions of this app vary slightly in appearance and rule-sets.
$2.99/£2.99 • v3.1.3 • 14.7 MB • By Zach Gage
SpellTower is the best of the iPhone games where you face a letter grid and drag out words by using snake-like lines. In its most basic incarnation, Tower, you start off with a static grid. Your only foe is gravity – remove some letters and they vanish, those above quickly falling into the empty space. However, there are other rules to be mindful of: blue tiles when used eradicate entire vertical lines; black squares are spacers, merely getting in the way, but can be obliterated by making a word next to them; and when words beyond four letters are made, tiles surrounding them are also taken out. High scores therefore rely on careful strategizing, manipulating the grid to set up lengthier words, while wearing your smuggest possible expression.
Said expression will probably vanish on tackling SpellTower’s other modes. Puzzle starts off with a half-empty grid but adds a new line every time you make a move. Ex (as in extreme) Puzzle mode cranks up the minimum word rate, rapidly introducing tiles that can’t be used unless you drag out words with four or more letters. And then Rush mode adds a timer, as if your SpellTower life wasn’t difficult enough already. Each mode provides a unique experience, and SpellTower as a whole is unmissable for fans of word games.
$1.99/£1.99 • v4.1.2 • 128 MB • By Ayopa Games LLC
The conceit in W.E.L.D.E.R. is that you’re extracting words from some kind of steampunk word machine – the Word Examination Laboratory for Dynamic Extraction and Reassessment. Why? Who knows? Perhaps scientists have found the meaning off life lies in crossword puzzles.
The mechanics are broadly similar to Bejeweled and other gem-swappers, only in W.E.L.D.E.R. you’re swapping tiles with letters on. As you’d expect, complete a word and it blows up, enabling new tiles to fall into the well. The snag is that you have limited moves, and only get a small refill as a reward for every 250 points. W.E.L.D.E.R. is therefore a much more thoughtful title than its appearance might suggest, and games can often last a long while, as you figure out the best way to use your last few moves.
W.E.L.D.E.R. offers several modes to shake things up a bit – set challenges; a sandbox to play around in – and also various power-ups to discover. It also wisely enables you to temporarily quit any one mode and return to it later. So if you fancy a word game to potentially play over hours rather than minutes, this one’s a cracker – one of the very best the iPhone has to offer.
The best of the rest
$2.99/£2.99 • v1.1.3 • 2.4 MB • By Mrgan LLC
In a chilling dystopian future, revert the redacted text in communications from friends and allies, in an attempt to beat the system.
Free + IAP • v1.0.8 • 13.2 MB • By NimbleBit LLC
Grab land by tapping out words, and then go for the enemy stronghold, in order to get yourself another go and wipe out their territory.
Free or $1.99/£1.99 • v1.5 • 88.4 MB • By Triplezero
Make words on a hexagonal grid suspended in space, marching towards the edge against the clock, or just explore in the zero-stress limit-free mode.
$1.99/£1.99 • v2.0 • 27.7 MB • By Brainium Studios LLC
Find all the words lurking in a jumble of letters. Alternatively, pop clouds or build a tower by spelling out words from your letter pile.
$1.99/£1.99 • v1.6.1 • 30.8 MB • By Sirvo LLC
SpellTower meets Tetris in this oddball mash-up, designed to “punch your brain in the face” through having you juggle falling blocks and word-searching.
Free + IAP • v1.2.6 • 58.4 MB • By ZWorkbench, Inc.
Crosswords meets dungeon crawling, QatQi has you explore your confines by laying down words, locating bonus coins in the darkness.
Words With Friends
Free + IAP • v4.021 • 185 MB • Zynga Inc.
The most famous not-Scrabble-Mr-Lawyer-Honest of them all, Words With Friends is a hugely popular take on the famous boardgame, now even working in the Messages app.