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Friday 14 September 2018

Friday Filler: Movable Type

Movable Type: The Pick-and-pass word game for families, friends, and word nuts is the card game of drafting letters, spelling words, and winning letters to create one final game winning word, all whilst attempting to meet the challenge presented by an array of classic authors, from Ada Lovelace and Agatha Christie to Oscar Wilde and Lu Xun. Published by Uncanny Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Movable Type is designed to be played by between one and six players in roughly twenty-five minutes or so. In actuality, it is designed for two to six players, but the rules do include a solo variant.

The consists of some one-hundred-and ten cards. These consist of seventy-six Letter Cards and nine Vowel Cards, nineteen Author Cards, five Round Tracking Cards, and one Solo Game Card. The Letter and Vowel Cards are clearly marked with their letter and vary in point value from one for A, E, I, and O up to six for J and K. Each Author Challenge Card is nicely illustrated with a portrait of the author and provides either an extra letter, an extra syllable, or an action. So for example, the Johannes Gutenberg Author Challenge gives a player the letter L to add to his collection if he plays a twelve letter word; the Louisa May Alcott Author Challenge allows a player to add the top card from the deck to his collection if he plays a word shorter than anyone else; and the H.P. Lovecraft Author Challenge gives a player the ING vowel to add to his collection if he plays a word without any vowels in it! (The designer, of course, getting to make some literary jokes here.)

Movable Type is played over five rounds. In the first four rounds, each player receives a hand of five Letter Cards. He chooses one of these cards and places it face down in front of him. He then passes his hand to neighbouring player—the direction changing from round to round—and receives a hand from his other neighbouring player. Players continue drafting and passing the cards until they have five Letter Cards in front of him. At the end of the drafting process, each player attempts to spell a word using both the letters they drafted and some of the common letters and vowels on the table. Anyone can use these common letters in their word and they can also use letters twice if they appear as doubles in the word. Once everyone has revealed and scored their word, the player with highest scoring word gets to draft any of the letters on the table into his collection. Then the player with next highest scoring word gets to draft any of these letters and so on and so on down to the player with the lowest scoring word. If a player’s word fulfills the conditions of an Author Challenge Card, he takes the appropriate card too.

Over the course of the first four rounds, each player is trying to win as many Letter Cards and Author Challenge Cards as they can to add to their collection. It is these cards which each player will use to spell out a word in the fifth and final word in the game’s last round. There is an extra challenge here in that a player cannot look at the cards in his collection once they have been added to it—he has to rely upon his memory as to what his collection contains until the fifth round when he can use them. The player with the highest scoring word created using the Letter and Vowel Cards in his collection in the fifth round wins the game.

Physically, Movable Type is simply, if handsomely presented. The cards are of decent quality and easy to read, whilst the Author Challenge Cards are pleasingly done and themed. The rules are easy to understand and easy to teach. The solo variant is played against a separate Author Challenge Card, called the Brontë Sisters Solo-Bot, in which a player attempts to play cards which outscore the sisters who get the Letter Cards that the player does not use. The playing time is the same as the full game, but the rules and mechanics are actually more complex. It should be noted though, that like most word games, having a dictionary to hand to settle any word disputes is a necessity.

To be fair, Movable Type is not going to be a game for everyone. After all, not everyone is good at spelling or enjoys it. The likelihood is that players who are will have an advantage over those who are not. Movable Type is unlikely to be a game for the latter, whilst the former will doubtless enjoy it. The game is light enough for casual players to enjoy and challenge enough for more experienced players to play at the same level.

Initially, the play of Movable Type is counter intuitive as it would seem that a player’s word score from round to round should add up to something, perhaps a final total at the end of the game. That it does not—through the drafting mechanic, the Author Challenge Cards, and the hidden Letter Cards—actually lifts what would otherwise be a simplistic and obvious word game into a design with some depth, providing an extra level of challenge and thoughtful play. Movable Type: The Pick-and-pass word game for families, friends, and word nuts presents an interesting twist upon spelling and word games and should appeal to ardent and casual gamers who like both. 

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