Word games have been around for a long time. Arguably the most popular is Scrabble. Ever since Scrabble was first introduced, many companies have tried to create their own Scrabble. These games have gone in many different directions. One particularly popular idea for word games have been to combine them with a dice game. Off the top of my head I can name Ad-Lib Crossword Cubes, Boggle, Perquackey, Scrabble Crossword Cubes, and Word Yahtzee which utilize dice to determine what letters players have to use to form words. Today I am looking at Spill and Spell which was one of the first word games to utilize letter dice when it was released back in 1956. For a game that is over sixty years old at this point, I was curious whether it would hold up. Spill and Spell is a solid little word game that the whole family can enjoy even if it fails to be particularly original in any significant ways.
How to Play Spill and Spell
Note: These rules and the review in general are for Spill and Spell games from before 2003. The main gameplay seems to mostly be the same, but there was some changes to how you score points.
- Take one of the cubes. Each player will roll it once. The player that rolls the letter closest to A will start the game.
Playing the Game
You will begin your turn by rolling the cubes. If you roll a Q without a U you can choose to re-roll the cubes. The timer is then turned over.
You will try to use the letters that you rolled to form words.
The words must be placed into a crossword. When forming words you may not use proper nouns, foreign words, or abbreviations.
You can keep rearranging the cubes until the timer runs out.
Once the timer runs out you will score points based on how you used the cubes.
For each word that you formed you will score points equal to the number of cubes you used squared (the number multiplied by itself).
If you aren’t able to use all of your cubes, you will lose points equal to the number of cubes that you were unable to use cubed (multiply it by itself).
End of Game
The game ends when one or more players have scored 300 points. All of the players will get the same number of turns.
The player that scores the most points wins the game.
My Thoughts on Spill and Spell
If I were to describe Spill and Spell in just a couple of words I would say that it is basically what you would get if you took Scrabble and turned it into a speed based dice game. Instead of playing tiles to a board, you are rolling dice and trying to form words with the letters you rolled. Like Scrabble though you only score points if the words are arranged into a crossword. When time runs out you score points based on the words you created as well as the dice that you weren’t able to use.
While the ultimate goal of Spill and Spell is to use most if not all of the dice, an emphasis in the game is trying to form longer words. This is because scoring in the game is based on the length of words. Creating a short word is better than not using the letters at all, but whenever possible you want to try to create as long of words as possible. This is because each letter you add to a word increases the value of that word exponentially since the points are equal to the number of letters in it squared. For a quick example a three letter word is worth nine points, while a four letter word is worth sixteen points. If you are able to create really long words you can score 100 points or more from just one word. This works in reverse as well though as you don’t want to leave too many dice unused as the points you lose will grow exponentially as well.
Because of how scoring is conducted in the game, Spill and Spell does rely on a decent amount of skill. The game doesn’t really have any strategy outside of trying to create long words whenever possible. Most of the skill in the game comes from two areas. First the game relies on speed. You need to think quickly if you want to maximize your score. You can’t sit there trying to find the best words as you will run out of time. A strong vocabulary is important as well though. The players that know the most words have a larger pool to draw from when trying to form words. Unless they are horrible at speed games, players that are generally good at games like Scrabble will likely be pretty good at Spill and Spell as well.
I personally don’t have strong feelings either way about the word game genre. Generally I prefer games from the genre that have players coming up with clues for certain words or games that utilize other types of wordplay. I am not as big of a fan of games that rely on spelling. I think this is mostly due to being pretty average at those types of games. While Spill and Spell is far from a fantastic game, I thought it was decent. Trying to quickly form words with the letters you roll can be fun. I have always liked speed games, and I appreciated this aspect of the game. Those who like word games that rely on spelling will likely enjoy the game as well.
The game also deserves some credit for being quick and easy to play. As the rules basically boil down to rolling dice, and forming words with the letters you rolled; it isn’t surprising that the game is pretty easy to play. I think the game could be taught to most players within just a couple minutes. The game has a recommended age of 8+ which seems about right. In fact I could see the game working pretty well as an exercise to help with spelling skills (you may want to eliminate the timer for this though). The game also plays pretty quickly. It will somewhat depend on how well the players roll, but I would guess most games could be finished in 20-30 minutes. This is partially due to the fact that you could score a third or more of the total points you need in just one turn.
While I had some fun with Spill and Spell, it does have three main issues.
The first is that the game relies on quite a bit of luck. Going into the game, I knew that it would rely on a decent amount of luck. How could it not as any game that relies on rolling dice is going to have some reliance on luck. In the case of Spill and Spell what letters you end up rolling are going to have a pretty big impact on how well you are going to do. Your vocabulary and how quickly you can come up with words will have an impact. If you don’t roll the right letters though, there isn’t much you can do. You would prefer not to roll letters that are harder to use, and you also want enough vowels that you can form several words. If you get too many uncommon letters or not enough vowels, you are going to have a very hard time doing well in a round. For example on one turn I literally only rolled one common vowel and a “y”. Not surprisingly I didn’t score many points that round.
Arguably the biggest problem with the game is just that it is not particularly original. The whole concept of using letter dice to create a crossword is not a particularly original concept. For example Ad-Lib Crossword Cubes, Scrabble Crossword Cubes, and probably quite a few other games have basically the exact same premise. The only thing that really differentiates these three games is the number of dice, the distribution of letters, and the scoring is slightly different in each game. Otherwise they are same game. Spill and Spell does deserve some credit as it came out before these other two games, but that doesn’t change the fact that there really isn’t anything particularly original about the game. If you already played one of these other games, you pretty much know what to expect from Spill and Spell.
The final issue with Spill and Spell is that it is mostly a solitary game. Outside of comparing your scores at the end of the game, the other players have no impact on your game. Basically each player takes their own turn while the other players just sit there and watch. In a way it kind of feels like each player is playing their own game and then you see who did the best at the end. Those who actually want some player interaction in their games are bound to be disappointed. Basically the game feels more like it was meant to be played as a solitaire game as you try to improve upon your previous high score. With more players you will spend more time watching the others play, than playing the game yourself.
As for Spill and Spell’s components it really is going to depend on the version of the game that you end up playing. There have been quite a few different versions of the game made over the years and the component quality differs between them. For this review I used the 1957 version of the game. I would say that for the most part the components are basically what you would expect. I kind of wish the letters were engraved into the dice so you wouldn’t have to worry about them fading off, but this was pretty typical for the 1950s. The dice are kind of small, but are solid enough. I think the game could have done a better job differentiating between the letters that look similar though. Basically the components do their job, but are nothing special.
Should You Buy Spill and Spell?
At the end of the day Spill and Spell is a decent game, but it is far from spectacular. The game is at its heart your typical word game where you are given some letters and you try to form words with them while creating a crossword. There is a speed element to the game as well as you only have a limited amount of time. Based on its scoring Spill and Spell really emphasizes players forming longer words. This leads to a decent amount of skill as having a large vocabulary and being able to think of words quickly can really help. Spill and Spell is quick and easy to play where the whole family can enjoy it. There is a pretty big reliance on luck though as a bad roll will likely heavily impact how many points that you can score in a round. The game is also more of a solitary experience as there is little player interaction. The biggest problem with the game though is the simple fact that there are several other games that are basically the same outside of a few little tweaks.
My recommendation for Spill and Spell comes down to a couple of factors. If you have never cared for word games, you probably won’t enjoy Spill and Spell either. If you already own a game like Ad-Lib Crossword Cubes, Scrabble Crossword Cubes, or one of the many other similar word dice games and are happy with it, I don’t really see a reason to pick up Spill and Spell as well. If you don’t own one of these other games though, and you think the premise sounds interesting; it might be worth checking out Spill and Spell if you can get a good deal on it.
Buy Spill and Spell online: Amazon (1957 edition, 1966 edition, 1972 edition, 1972 edition, 1978 edition), eBay. Any purchases made through these links (including other products) help keep Geeky Hobbies running. Thank you for your support.