We are always on the look out for new and interesting games, but being busy and sort of trapped at home with a new baby means that we can’t spend hours trying out new games at our local game shop. For Christmas I thought it would be fun to get JT a subscription service that delivers one new board game every month. The subscription is through a company called Game Box Monthly and so far, it is pretty awesome. There are various subscription lengths, and you can go in and list the games that you already own so that they don’t send you repeats. Plus if there are any games that you really like but don’t own, you can put them on your wishlist and you may get lucky. (I’ll go into more detail on the subscription service after a few months of use.)
Our game for the month was Letter Tycoon, possibly because Paperback was in my wishlist (and has only recently come back into print). I’m a fan of word games because, even though I’m pretty bad at spelling, I know a lot of words on account of being a bibliophile. Letter Tycoon was fun because it combined the best parts of word games with some fun strategy game features.
Letter Tycoon is a 2-5 player game, for ages 8 and up (though I think some of the strategy complexities might be lost on players below 10-12 years old), and it takes around half an hour of play time unless you have a baby, and then it takes a bit longer.
When unboxing the game, I was struck by the simplicity and cohesiveness of the graphic design. This game knew exactly what it was, a strategy word game with a casual theme that wouldn’t distract from the mechanics. It has a strong typography that brings the whole thing together and simple line drawings to deliver a mechanical/steampunk vibe. The pieces are high quality; thick wooden coins and sturdy cardboard stocks accompany nice shiny cards.
Setup isn’t complicated, but does take up a little bit of table space. (Don’t mind my dog eating his dinner in the background.)
- The goal of the game is to have the highest combined score of patents, coins, and stocks. The first player to reach the target patent value($45 for a 2 player game and increasingly less for each player up to 5) triggers the last round of the game.
- Each letter of the alphabet has a patent that you can purchase for varying amounts of coin. A patent can only be owned by 1 player and whoever owns the patent for a given letter gets paid 1 coin from the bank whenever another player uses that letter. The vowel patents are in orange, regular patents are in teal, and patents with special powers are white. You can only purchase a patent for a letter that you just used in a word (if I spell ‘TAR’ the only letters that I’m allowed to purchase are T, A, and R, and only if I have enough coins to afford one). You can also only purchase one patent per turn, so it doesn’t do you much good to horde up a bunch of coins and never spend them.
- Discard pile (self-explanatory)
- Draw pile (also self-explanatory)
- The community pool always consists of 3 cards that the current player can use to add to their hand if they choose to do so. The longer the word you create, the more coin and stock you might receive. With a 7 card hand and a 3 card community pool, you can create a word up to 10 letters long (if you can think of one), without using any special power patents. At the end of each turn any used community cards are replenished, so if you are counting on a letter in the community pool to stick around, think again because someone else might use it.
- Stocks are used in conjunction with coins left and patents at the end of the game to determine the final score. You can only get stocks if you build larger words; you get 1 stock if you build a 6 or 7 letter word, and an additional stock per letter for any word over 7 letters.
- You get coins either when you spell words or when someone uses a letter that you own the patent for. 3 letter words get you 1 coin, 4 letter words get you 2 coins, and on up to 7 letter words which get you 6 coins. Any word over 7 letters will not net you more coins, just more stocks. If someone uses your patents, you get one coin for each use.
- There is a little cheat sheet for each player with the coin and stock values for different lengths of words, and on the back it tells you exactly how many of each letter there is in the deck in case that has an effect on which patent you want to purchase.
- Your hand consists of 7 cards. After you have made your word and purchased any patents you wish to, you have the opportunity to discard any cards left in your hand (if you want) and draw back up to 7 to end your turn.
These are not all the rules, but should be enough for a basic walk-thru.
A few turns in, I spell the word ‘FOX’ and then use my coins to purchase the special power card X which gives me the ability to reuse one letter twice (either from my hand or community pool). JT has already purchased his first vowel patent (I), and the V patent. I only have a B, and now an X. I used the O from the community pool and the F and X from my own hand.
At this point JT is a little bit ahead, and will stay that way for the rest of the game. With each game that we have played, whoever buys out vowels the quickest wins the game; I guess it is hard to build words without using vowels!
With the special ability from the X patent (you may use one letter card twice), I’m able to reuse the letter S to make the word WASHES, getting me 2 more coins and a stock than I would have gotten with just WASH. You can only use one special ability per turn, and some are less useful than others. The B special for instance is that you earn double coins/stocks for any word you spell that begins and ends in a vowel…unfortunately I never really did use that one because I don’t know as many words beginning and ending in a vowel as I thought.
At this point, we are about halfway through the game, but its already clear that JT is in the lead. He has a stack of coins and stocks that I can’t compete with and 3 very useful vowel patents: I, A, and O (which means the bank is paying him money for most of my turns). My word HONERS gives me a fighting chance, but its not quite enough to bring me even. JT has the power card V patent, which gives him the option to create more than 1 word per turn. If he can create a 4 letter word and a 3 letter word each turn using the 10 cards available to him, then he pulls in at least 3 coins each turn. If I can’t make a word that is 6 letters or more each turn, then I can’t pull ahead.
By the end of the game, we already know who is going to win, and its no shock that JT pulls ahead, though it is a close game. He got to $45 worth of patents first, but because I got one more turn (he started the game), I was able to pull even on patents. Our stocks ended up also being the same count, we both had 5 stocks. What won him the game was his massive collection of coins. With 10 coins stacked up next to his patents, I knew it was game over for me.
All in all I think its a great game and I’m glad that it showed up at our doorstep because I’m not sure I would have noticed it at the game store. Even though I haven’t yet won this game (I lost every time we played!), I would still play again because I like the challenge of building bigger and better words.
You will probably like this game if…
- you like word games (like Scrabble or Bananagrams) but you are looking for something a little more strategic or complex
- you like Paperback and are looking for similar games
- you like an empire building game like Machi Koro but can’t spare an hour to play
Note: We only played this game with 2 players, so when we play with more people, I’ll make sure to update this post with thoughts on how it works with more players.