Within the realm of casual games, one of the most popular sub-genres are word games. We have seen many such games appear in the social space before ranging from Scrabble and Lexulous to Playfish’s Word Challenge and Zynga’s Word Twist, but aside from the Scrabble-type games, there isn’t much in the way of true multiplayer experiences. A new startup from Bangalore, India, iPlaySocial is looking to usurp the 80 year old game with its very own, and very different title, Grabbler.
This particular game plays almost like a reverse of Scrabble. Rather than placing words on a board from a pool of letters, players find themselves making a selection of words on a board. No, it is not a word find. Players are given a 12×12 grid of letters with four cubes selected in the center of the game board, and must create a word that builds from one of them. The trick, however, is that each cube can be selected and rotated to change the letter displayed.
The game continues until each player passes consecutively and cannot make any new words from the grid. Like with the initial four cubes, and like Scrabble, players want to try to interconnect and use their opponent’s letters for more points. As you can probably guess, the one with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Grabbler is certainly an interesting game but its most unique feature is a bit of a double edged sword. The human brain works and remembers most things through patterns (hence why people use mnemonic devices). Take Word Challenge for example: The player is presented with an empty list of possible terms of varying sizes to fill with words formed from a handful of scrambled letters. The way the brain is able to compose those words is by seeing patterns within the mess of letters.
What is the pattern? It depends on the person, but a common way is recognizing full words merely by seeing the first and last letters. Take a scrambled word like “hrsoe.” From these letters you can probably see “horse” because your brain picks up the first and last letters and fills in the rest with what it expects. Therein lies an issue with Grabbler: Since the you cannot see all six sides of a cube, finding a word becomes an effort in guessing. Granted, as the game progresses, there are less guesses to make, but you still end up flipping letters as you try to figure out words on the spot. Unlike Scrabble, you cannot plan ahead and strategize quite as well.
Nevertheless, Grabbler is still an interesting word game for those that like the genre. It’s different, clean looking, and is one of the few that allow you to play with multiple people. It is actually likely that anyone who plays the game for a while will develop tricks, strategies, and begin to see their own patterns. Assuming this is the case, Grabbler could very well take off, and surprisingly enough, it is the hope of the developer that the game will become popular enough to become a physical board game. At the moment, it is difficult to tell when and if this will happen, but if it does, it will mark a very curious first for the social gaming space.