rgience. gbrnoi. Those two words might sound like gibberish but they do a good job showing the premise of the 1973 Parker Brothers game Grapple. In Grapple players come up with words and then scramble them up in order to try and confuse the other players. The goal is to unscramble the other players’ words while your words go unsolved. So have you figured out the two words at the beginning of the review? Well the words just so happen to be generic and boring two words that do a good job of describing Grapple.
How to Play Grapple
There are two different games you can play with the Grapple tiles: the basic and variant game.
Place all of the letter tiles face up in the center of the table so all of the players can reach them. The number tiles are set off to the side of the table. If there are less than five players remove the highest number tile remaining for each player less than five. Each player takes a tray. The player who has been chosen to roll first will take the die. The players choose how many rounds they are going to play.
Playing the Game
A round begins with the current player rolling the number die. The number on top determines the length of words for the current round.
All of the players think of a word with the same number of letters as the number that was rolled. When a player has thought of their word they take all of the tiles from the middle of the table that are needed to spell their word. If a letter is no longer available, the player has to think of another word. All English words other than proper names, abbreviations, and words that use hyphens or apostrophes are allowed. A player should spell out the word on their own tray (so the other players can’t see) to make sure they have all of the correct tiles. Each player then mixes up the letters so the other players have to unscramble the letters.
When all of the players are ready they turn their trays around at the same time. All of the players then try to guess the words that the other players came up with. Players can try to solve any word other than their own. When a player guesses a word correctly they get to take the highest number tile remaining. After a player has guessed a word they can continue guessing the other players words that haven’t already been guessed. Players continue trying to guess the scrambled words until they have all been solved or the players agree that they can’t solve the remaining words. Any unsolved words don’t give out points.
When the round ends all of the players score points equal to the number tiles they collected during the round.
All of the letter and number tiles are then reset for the next round.
End of Game
The game ends when the agreed upon number of rounds have been completed. The player who has the most points wins the game.
Set the number tiles and racks to the side as they aren’t used in the variant game. Place all of the letter tiles in the box.
Playing the Game
One player will be in control of the box of tiles. Without looking at the tiles the player will take one tile out of box at a time and slide it towards the middle of the table. When a player can form a word that is at least four letters long with the tiles on the table, they say the word out loud and take the corresponding tiles. The player arranges the tiles in order to form the word they created and place them in front of themself.
Tiles keep getting slid onto the table as players try to form additional words. In addition to creating words from the tiles in the middle of the table, players can use the tiles in the middle of the table with the words claimed by players to form new words. The letters from previously played words can be rearranged but all of the tiles have to be used in the new word and at least one tile from the center of the table also has to be used. When forming a new word the meaning has to change from the original word. For example an “s”, “ed”, “ing”, etc can’t be added to a word to create a new word.
End of Game
The game ends when all of the tiles have been added to the table and none of the players can find a way to use the tiles left in the middle of the table. Each player counts up the number of tiles in front of them. The player with the most tiles wins the game.
My Thoughts on Grapple
When I first looked at the rules for Grapple I was surprised to find out that Grapple actually includes two different games. A game including variant rules is generally not that big of deal as a lot of game do it. Most of these variant rules are only slight tweaks to the main game though. I was surprised to find out that Grapple’s variant game wasn’t just a slight tweak to the main game but a totally different game. Basically you get two games for the price of one with Grapple. As the games don’t share a lot in common it makes sense to look at the two games separately.
Let’s start with the main game. The main game of Grapple is basically a word scramble. A die is rolled to determine how long the words will be for the current round. Each player then has to think of a word of that length and mix up the tiles to try and confuse the other players. All of the players then try to guess what words the other players came up with.
I have played a lot of different word games. Most word games tend to share a lot in common with one another as they usually revolve around spelling words. While Grapple shares some mechanics with these type of games, I can’t remember another word game that utilizes the same main mechanic as Grapple. The idea of having to unscramble the other players’ words is an interesting idea and a somewhat fun mechanic for a word game. It is not something that I would play for long periods of time but it is a solid distraction.
The difficulty of the main game can vary pretty significantly from round to round. The length of the words play a big role in the difficulty of any given round. Rounds where you make four and five letter words are pretty easy as there are only so many different combinations so you will eventually figure out the correct word. Most of the four and five letter words can be solved in around a minute. On the other hand the six and seven letter words are really hard to figure out. Unless one of the players is a master at this game there will likely be at least one word that no one will be able to figure out. The difficulty comes from there being so many different potential letter combinations that most players aren’t going to go through all of them trying to figure out the word.
This is why I think the main game is something that some players will be significantly better at than others. If one player is significantly better at unscrambling words they likely will destroy the other players. If the players are equally skilled I can see the game being pretty close. I can see a lot of games ending in blow outs though since some people are just better at unscrambling the words.
The alternative game in Grapple has players trying to quickly form words. New tiles are added to the table and the players need to figure out words that use those letters or find ways to combine those letters with words that have already been formed. The ultimate goal is to have the most tiles in front of you at the end of the game.
While the main game of Grapple felt original, the variant game feels like something that I have played before. I can’t think of the name but I know that I have played at least one game in the past that used this exact same mechanic. I appreciate that Grapple included an additional game but it isn’t particularly original.
The variant game might not be that original but it is a decent speed word game. Basically I see two different ways of approaching the variant game. The first option is to just try to form as many short words as possible using the tiles in the middle of the table. By using up the tiles as quick as possible you take control over them before someone can use them to steal the tiles from one of the words you have already formed. If you can form a lot of four letter words before the other players you have a good chance of winning the game.
The other option in the game is to try and use the tiles to steal tiles from other players or strengthen your own words. If you are good at rearranging the letters to form new words it could be quite beneficial to pursue this strategy. Stealing other players’ tiles is beneficial because you gain tiles while they lose tiles. You are also forming longer words which gives you more tiles while also making the tiles harder to steal since it is much harder to add additional letters to longer words.
I like that the alternative game has two different strategies of how to play the game. The problem is that you most likely can only really focus on one of the two strategies. You really don’t have the time to focus on both strategies. When a new tile comes out you have to either be focused on forming words with the tiles in the middle of the table or thinking of ways to add the middle tiles to words already in front of one of the players. If you split your focus you likely won’t do well in either.
Now that I have looked at both games you are probably wondering which I think is better? Well that kind of comes down to the individual player. Some people seemed to prefer the main game while other players liked the alternative game. I would say that they are both decent but unspectacular games.
The biggest problem that I had with both games is that they are kind of boring. If you are not a huge word game fan I don’t think you are going to get much out of Grapple. I think there are better word games out there that you should try before Grapple. If you are a big word game fan though I think you could actually enjoy Grapple as the main game is actually kind of unique.
Should You Buy Grapple?
Grapple is the definition of a very average word game. I give the designer(s) credit for coming up with two different games that utilize the same components that still play quite a bit differently. The main game requires players to try and unscramble words created by the other players. This is a unique mechanic for word games and can be enjoyable in short doses. The alternative game is a speed game where players try to quickly form new words or rearrange words with tiles that are added to the table. The alternative game is a lot like several other word games that I have played. Basically both games are decent but are also kind of boring.
If you are not a big word game fan I think there are better word games out there. If you really like word games and think the scramble mechanic of the main game is interesting, Grapple might be worth picking up if you can get a good deal on it.