Review: Letter Jam
Letter Jam is a cooperative word game from Czech Games Edition, who also publishes popular party games like Codenames, Trapwords, and That’s a Question. This game is yet another interesting, enjoyable word game from them, and is better with more players.
Letter Jam feels like a mix of Hanabi and Scrabble. In this game, each player receives a set of letter cards that spell out a secret word. Players may not look at their own letters, but must instead use clues given by others to figure out their what their letters (and in turn, their words) are.
To begin the game, each player creates a secret word for their neighbor. By default, these words are 5 letters long, but players can modulate their length to make the game easier or harder.
Players mix up their chosen letters and pass them to the player on their right. Everyone then splays out their letters in front of themselves, face-down.
Each player places their leftmost card in a stand, such that everyone except them can see its letter. When this is done, each person will see something like this:
Using the letters they can see, one player gives a clue to the others. (Players are encouraged to first discuss who the clue-giver should be.)
To give a clue, the chosen player uses the letters she can see to form a word. Then, she places numbered poker chips in front of her teammates to indicate where their letters fall in the word. The clue-giver is allowed to “double up” on a letter, using it multiple times, and there is also a “Wild” letter in the middle which is always available to be used.
To continue my above example, suppose this player was chosen to give the clue. She makes the word “SALADS” using the letters she can see. Since the word is six letters long, she distributes tokens #1-6 to her teammates, as shown below:
Each player who received a chip then records information about the clue word on their own sheet of paper. For example, the player with the “A” can see the letters “S,” “D,” and “L,” and he knows that his letter – whatever it is – appears in the second and fourth spots in the word. So on his sheet, he writes:
Using this information, he may either make a guess about what his own letter is and move onto his next one, or if he is unsure, he can keep it for the next round, to try to gain more clues about it.
The flower tableau in the center acts as a game timer. Each time a player gives a clue, they remove a token, and when all tokens are gone, the game ends. (The red and green colors do have significance, but I’m going to gloss over their meaning, because it’s something of a minor detail.)
At the end of the game, players earn points for correctly guessing letters in their secret words. Obviously, the more letters they guess, the higher their scores will be. Letter Jam isn’t win-or-lose, per se, but instead, players aim to get the best overall score they can.
I found Letter Jam to be a pleasant surprise. In general, word games aren’t my thing, but somehow, CGE manages to keep making ones that I enjoy.
This game presents an interesting challenge: all players see a different subset of letters, and they need to collectively figure out who can give 1) a helpful clue, 2) a clue that is unique enough that it will still be apparent with missing letters, and 3) ideally, a clue that uses all other players’ letters. The game timer mechanism keeps the pressure on, providing a sense of urgency to figure out the secret words.
Letter Jam has excellent production, with spot-UV detailing on the cards and sturdy, Splendor-style poker chips. I appreciate that the game includes regular-sized pencils – many games would just use little golf pencils – as well as a sharpener. All in all, it is a great-looking game.
I enjoyed trying out Letter Jam. It is a nice successor to Codenames and Trapwords. Of the three, Trapwords is still my favorite, but each of them has their own merits. Letter Jam will be a great fit for folks who enjoy games like Hanabi or Code 777, where players need to figure out their own information through others’ clues. Fans of party games will also definitely want to check it out.
A review copy was provided by Czech Games Edition.
The Bottom Line