One of my favorite types of board games recently has been the party word game. Some of my favorite more recent games include Codenames, Cross Clues, and Just One. What I like about these games is that they do a good job creating interesting twists on the word and party game genres. I am always excited to try out another game from this genre. This is what brought me to Letter Jam as it seemed to fit the same mold. Letter Jam is a truly original party word game that is quite fun, even if it might not be quite as good as some of the best in the genre.
The best way to describe Letter Jam is to call it a cooperative deduction word game. It kind of feels like what you would get if you combined a deduction game like Mastermind, with a word game, and threw some cooperative mechanics into the mix.
Basically at the beginning of the game each player is given a secret word by the player to their right. The goal of the game is for each player to guess their secret word. To do this players need to figure out the letters they were given one at a time. Clues will be given to help each player figure out what letters they have in front of them. Each clue consists of a player coming up with a word, and spelling it out by placing number chips next to the letters in the order that they appear in the word. Players must use the letters they can see to try and figure out their own letter which they can’t see. At the end of the game each player tries to form a word without looking at their letters. If all of the players can form a word they will win the game.
If you would like to see the complete rules/instructions, check out our how to play Letter Jam guide.
When I first heard about Letter Jam, I was intrigued as it had a truly interesting premise. I have played a lot of board games, and yet I can’t recall one playing quite like Letter Jam. That is quite a rare occurrence. The combination of a deduction game like Mastermind with a word game was such an interesting concept. While I was intrigued by the premise, I was curious how it would work in action.
For the most part I would say that it works quite well. The game has elements of your typical spelling word game, and yet it feels like a totally different game as well. I will admit that the game will likely not be for everyone. If you are not really into word/spelling games, Letter Jam’s mechanics are unlikely to change your mind. If you even have a passing interest in the game’s premise though, I think you will really enjoy the game.
At its core Letter Jam is a spelling game as you try to come up with words that utilize the available letters. People with large vocabularies and are generally good at spelling are going to have a clear advantage in the game. With Letter Jam being a cooperative game though, this is not nearly as big of a problem. If one player is generally better at these type of games, they can spend more time helping the other players. They could give more clues and thus give more help to their teammates.
What I think makes the game is the deduction mechanics. I am generally kind of ho-hum when it comes to spelling games. I don’t mind the genre, but I wouldn’t call it one of my favorites either. The introduction of the deduction mechanics really makes Letter Jam stand out amongst the crowd. It is hard to explain exactly why, but it is quite fun trying to figure out what letter you have in front of you by deciphering the clues that you are given. In many ways the game shares this in common with what I enjoy most about Mastermind.
I think one of the main reasons why the game succeeds is that it actually involves quite a bit of skill. There is some luck involved with what cards you have to work with. Skill is going to be the main deciding factor in how well you do though. The key to doing well in the game is for the players to give good clues. The ultimate clue to give is one where there is only one option for a player’s letter. These type of clues guarantee that the player will figure out their letter. If you can do this with two or more players, it will go a long ways towards winning the game.
There is skill to giving a good clue. When you give a good clue you get a really strong sense of accomplishment knowing that you really improved the odds of your team winning the game. In a lot of ways this element shares a lot in common with a game like Codenames. The clues you give are completely different. It has that same feeling though when you can give a good clue to your teammates.
With Letter Jam being a party game, you would typically expect it to be rather easy to pick up and play. Ultimately Letter Jam is pretty straightforward where players shouldn’t have too much trouble playing it. The game has a recommended age of 10+. I think this is mostly because you need a decent sized vocabulary in order to do well in the game.
While the game is not particularly difficult, I thought it was a little harder to explain than I was expecting. The game requires more explanation than some other games in the party word game genre. It is just one of those games that takes a while for players to totally understand what they are trying to do. The game has a learning curve especially if you want to do well. Once you adjust to the game though, it is quite easy to play.
I was kind of surprised that Letter Jam is more difficult than I expected. I don’t know if this is necessarily a good or bad thing. Generally my group does really good in these type of cooperative word party games. For some reason things didn’t go as smoothly in Letter Jam though. I am not entirely sure why either. We still really enjoyed the game, but we weren’t as successful as we normally are. I think there are a couple potential explanations for why we had more troubles with Letter Jam than we typically do with these type of games.
I think the main culprit is just the letter distribution that we had available to us. While Letter Jam relies on a lot of skill/strategy, there is an element of luck as well. The letters you have available will determine how good of clue that you can give. Simply put some letters don’t work particularly well together. If you get stuck with a lot of these letters at the same time, your options will be limited. This will likely lead you to giving a worse clue. Worse clues reduces your chances of getting each player to form a word at the end of the game.
Maybe it was just due to bad luck, but there were times where we had trouble coming up with good clues. For much of one game we had zero to one vowel at max available to us. This really limited our options as we usually had to use the wildcard to actually have vowels to use.
While it is sometimes required, you want to avoid using the wildcard whenever possible. Basically it should be used as a last option. A clue that doesn’t use the wildcard is almost always better than one that does use it. When giving a clue you want to limit the number of letters that each player doesn’t know. If the wildcard isn’t used, each player should only not know their own letter. This should reduce the possibilities significantly making it easier to figure out the letter. When you introduce the wildcard though, there is now a second letter than none of the players know. This can open up several additional potential words thus reducing the amount of information each player receives from your clue. You generally want to avoid using the wildcard if possible for this reason.
Somewhat connected to the game being more difficult than you would assume, if a player makes a mistake early in the game it can snowball quickly. You generally don’t want to take educated guesses when there are several potential options for your current letter. You should only make an educated guess, without strong evidence, when you are starting to run out of clues. Sometimes you may think there is only one potential option, but you missed another leading you to make an incorrect guess. Guessing one of your letters wrong could have ripple effects. At the end of the game you may end up with a group of letters that don’t form a word. You may then end up second guessing every letter which might make the situation even worse. If possible you should try to confirm a letter is correct before you try to move on to the next.
Ultimately I had quite a bit of fun playing Letter Jam. While I don’t think it reaches the level of a game like Codenames, it is still a great game that any fan of party word games will likely really enjoy. At its core the game may seem like your typical spelling game. The addition of the deduction mechanic really makes the game though. While simple in concept, the idea of trying to figure out your secret letters through clues given to you by other players is really fun. There is quite a bit of skill to the game, as the clues you give will have a big impact on how well you do. Letter Jam can be quite difficult at times. There is a learning curve and you may fail more often than you typically do in these type of games. Some of this is due to luck as the distribution of cards available to you determines how good of clues you can give. This leads to a sense of accomplishment though when you give a good clue. Letter Jam is still quite fun even if your group may struggle in some games.
My recommendation for Letter Jam is quite simple. If you don’t generally like word or party games, I don’t think it will be the game for you. If you generally enjoy these genres though and the premise of adding a deduction mechanic to them intrigues you, I think you will really enjoy Letter Jam and should consider picking it up.
Year: 2019 | Publisher: Czech Games Edition | Designer: Ondra Skoupý | Artist: Dávid Jablonovský, František Sedláček, Lukáš Vodička, Michaela Zaoralová
Genres: Deduction, Party, Word
Ages: 10+ | Number of Players: 2-6 | Length of Game: 45 minutes
Difficulty: Light-Moderate | Strategy: Moderate | Luck: Light-Moderate
Components: 64 letter cards, wildcard, 8 number chips, 6 red tokens, 9 green tokens, 6 card stands, 6 pencils, 4 setup cards, guessing sheets, instructions
- A really interesting twist on your typical word game.
- Has quite a bit of skill involved, where you feel a sense of accomplishment when you give a really good clue.
- Has a bit of a learning curve and can be kind of hard to win.
- There is some reliance on luck as the letters available to you may limit the clues that you can give.
Recommendation: For fans of party word games that are intrigued by the addition of a deduction mechanic.
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