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Friday 1 January 2010

It ain't Scrabble

I begin with a confession. I do not enjoy playing Scrabble. Considering that I like to write, and I enjoy words and reading, some might find that surprising. I find it all a bit tedious and lacking in substance. Plus from the two recent television programs devoted to the game – the BBC has recently broadcast a small season devoted to the playing of games and games history, playing Scrabble seems to have come down to the sound of the word and learning by rote rather than in understanding and speaking the language. Nevertheless, my dislike of Scrabble does not mean that I will not look at the occasional word game. Thus I picked up a copy of LeCardo.

LeCardo is an English card game designed for two to four players, aged eight and up, published by Leo Marshall Designs. Where Scrabble has the players scoring points by constructing single words, points are scored in LeCardo by constructing one or more compound words or phrases such as “off side” or “wind power.” The constructed compounds can be whole words, be connected by a hyphen, or have spaces between.

The game comes as a deck of fifty-five cards. The cards themselves are done on a light and glossy card stock and are easy to handle. Three of fifty-five cards give the game’s rules while another lists all of the cards in the game along with their score values. The remaining fifty-two cards are all word cards, each marked with a single word, a score value, and an appropriate line art illustration. Each illustration is colour coded according to the card’s score value, so the blue cards (such as “over” or “under”) are all marked with a one; the red cards with a two (like “line” or “work); the orange cards with a three (“by” or “top”); the green cards with a four (“bed” or “word”); and the pink card with a five (“paper”). Note that there is only the one card that is worth five points.

At game’s start, the cards are shuffled and each player receives a hand of seven cards. On his turn a player lays his cards on the table attempting to form compound words. Cards are placed so that the new compounds read left to right or down, but not right to left or up. New cards can be played alongside existing cards so that much like Scrabble, a grid of words is formed. Once a player has played as many cards as he is able to, he adds up the total score from the new compounds that he formed during his turn, refreshes his hand, and play passes to the next player.

All new compound words have to be agreed upon by everyone around the table. Should a new compound be disputed its cards are returned to the player who attempted to place them down.

If a player cannot place any cards, he can instead discard three cards and replace them with new ones from the deck. He also loses his turn. The game ends once all of the cards have been played or when no one can play any cards. The winner is of course the player with the highest score.

The game is designed to last no more than fifteen minutes and with less than four players our games rarely last longer than ten. With four players we found that the game comes with enough cards to last about five or six rounds and no more. A good sized playing surface is required though, as the card grid can spread out a little.

LeCardo is quick and easy, and is what can be described as an intelligent filler game. For younger players it probably has an educational aspect, but even for adults it requires a little thought. I much preferred playing this to Scrabble and the group that I tried it not only liked it, but were happy to play it again. This is recommendation enough for LeCardo to remain on the games shelf downstairs where it can be found and be brought out to play with ease.

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