What's Eric Playing? #121: Word Domination Review
I’ve been at a loss since so many Kickstarter games have been arriving lately: Sol, Word Domination, Solstice, Innovation: Deluxe, Rewordable, and countless others. Add in some new purchases like Bärenpark, New York Slice, and Between Two Cities: Capitals and I’ve pretty much been playing new games for a while. Which, in my opinion, makes it impressive that I’ve gotten in enough plays to get any of these reviewed (much less several of them), so here we go!
In Word Domination (at least, the non-cooperative version), you play as many different supervillains vying for the world’s priceless treasures, like Old Faithful, the Eiffel Tower, or … Italy. Guess you figure you might as well take it while the taking’s good. To assist with the myriad thefts you’ll need to commit, you’ve got some dastardly zeppelins to help, well, you know, lift stuff. If you manage to steal enough, then everyone will truly know that you’re the worst. Will you prove yourself a villain among villains? Or will you, like your zeppelins, just be mostly full of hot air?
So there’s a cooperative mode and a competitive mode, so I’ll talk about each in turn.
First thing’s first: which villain will you be? Give each player a player mat with a character:
If it’s your first game, you should play on the blue side. In later games, you can use the ability on the other side, if you want.
Next, give each player some zeppelins:
You’ll find a bunch of letter tiles:
Use them to create a grid, based on the number of players you have.
- 2 players: 16 tiles (4 x 4)
- 3 players: 25 tiles (5 x 5)
- 4 players: 30 tiles (6 x 5)
Finally, pick a player to start the game and have them put the round tracker on the Round Mat:
Once you’ve done all that, give each player a tile (to form their starting “hand”) and you should be ready to start!
Just like in the competitive game, give each player some zeppelins:
Unsurprisingly, you’ll find a bunch of letter tiles:
Use them to create a grid of four 3 x 2 sub-grids, laid out like so:
Finally, pick a player to start the game and have them put a zeppelin of any color on the Round Mat:
Once you’ve done all that, give each player a tile (to form their starting “hand”) and place the Police Tracker between any of the four sub-grids and you should be ready to start!
Two very different games; I’ll explain each.
So the competitive game is played over 6 rounds. After a complete cycle of player turns, have the Start Player advance the Round Tracker by one. At the end of Round 6, the game ends.
On each turn, you’ll do the following:
ADD YOUR HAND TO THE GRID
You’ve got a tile in your hand, you must add it somewhere in the grid. It must be adjacent to a tile that’s in the grid (orthogonally, not diagonally). You must use this tile in the word you spell on your turn. If you were to, unluckily, have more than one tile in your hand, you must use all tiles this turn, if you can.
SPELL A WORD
Now, spell a word. It must be a valid English word, no proper nouns, and it cannot have already been spelled before by another player (and no prefix / suffix nonsense; if it’s the same root word, you can’t use it). Whenever you use a letter, place one of your zeppelins on it. Again, you must use the letter you added this turn in your word. Other rules:
- You can use letters from anywhere in the grid; they don’t need to be adjacent.
- You can use each letter tile exactly once. (Unless otherwise stated.)
- You may use any letters you’ve already stolen.
- You cannot use letters other players have stolen (they’re removed from the board). More on that later.
If you find that you’ve used a black Arsenal Tile, you gain an extra Arsenal ability for that turn. It may let you block certain letters from being used, use a letter twice, add a zeppelin to a word you didn’t use, or any other crazy effect. These are some serious supervillain weapons probably.
STEAL LETTERS / BOOT OPPONENTS
If you’ve placed a zeppelin onto a tile with an opponent’s zeppelin, return their zeppelin to them. If you forget to do this, it will hurt you later.
Once you’ve done that, if you placed a zeppelin onto a tile that already has one or more of your zeppelins, you steal the letter! Remove it from the board, replacing it with the top tile from the stack (upside-down) on the “STOLEN” side. Add the tile to your stash, and place a zeppelin on the “STOLEN” tile in the grid. As you do this, more tiles will be stolen, so the grid will ultimately look a bit like this:
Those will be worth points at the end of the game, so try to steal letters that are orthogonally adjacent to each other.
Note that if you place a zeppelin onto a tile that has a zeppelin of yours and a zeppelin of your opponent’s (in this case, they forgot to boot you on a previous turn), you still steal the tile. You’re supervillains. Yes, it’s mean, but that’s the rules.
You can steal more than one letter in a turn.
DRAW A NEW TILE
Take a tile from the top of the stack and add it to your hand. Your turn ends.
HELPING OTHER PLAYERS
There are specific rules for how you can help other players. If you’d like to make your opponent an offer, tell them this:
- The number of letters in your word.
- The number of letters your word lets them steal.
- The letter in the word you want to claim as payment.
They can accept or reject your offer. If they accept, you may add your zeppelin to the letter you claimed as payment, and may steal it if you already have a zeppelin on it. If it is an Arsenal Tile, you may use that ability as though it were your turn. If they reject, you may make more offers.
FORCING A HAND
If your opponent is taking a bit too long and every player has offered a word, or if they tried to spell a word and it was a fake word, put them on the clock! They have 60 seconds to accept an offer or spell a word of their own. If they don’t, they lose their turn. If they lose their turn, they may discard their hand and draw a new tile.
I am obliged by the rulebook to remind you that it’s poor etiquette to offer opponents low-quality words so that you can force their hand. It’s … it’s a game, so don’t be a jerk.
END OF GAME
Once all players have gotten through Round 6, it’s time to score. Remember your board?
Well, now it’s time to tally points. Every STOLEN tile is worth one point for the player controlling it, unless it’s part of a group of three or more connected STOLEN tiles. If that’s the case, each tile is worth 2 points. That’s pretty good!
If you control tiles that haven’t been stolen (such as the “T” in this case), they can be used to “bridge” two groups of tiles together, and the STOLEN tiles in those bridged groups count as part of the same group. Use that to gain even more points. In the above photo, the T connects two groups of two tiles into one group of four tiles, meaning they’re worth eight points total, rather than four!
The player with the most points wins!
This is a bit different, but plays by the same principles.
So, you’re working together as minions of a great supervillain to steal one of the greatest prizes of all: the Eiffel Tower! Unfortunately, it’s kind of … bolted to the ground, so you’ll have to cut through the legs first so that your boss can swoop in with a giant zeppelin and pick it up. As you do. If managing the crowd wasn’t enough, you also have to worry about the cops noticing you cutting through the legs of a priceless monument. It’s going to be tough!
First, decide on your difficulty:
- Mall Cop (easy): Tourist Limit of 9; Tool Box size of 4
- Police Force (medium): Tourist Limit of 8; Tool Box size of 3
- FBI Agents (hard): Tourist Limit of 7; Tool Box size of 2
Those may not mean much, yet. Well, now, each player should build their Tool Box. Choose tiles from the stack and add them to your player area. You may want to pick at least one vowel and remember that RSTLNE are six of the most common English letters. That said, if you see a lot of I’s and N’s on the board, a G might not be a terrible choice. Play it by ear. You’ll start with zero tourists.
Everyone plays turns until you either win or lose. You lose when:
- Three of your minions (zeppelins) are captured by the cop; or
- You exceed your Tourist Limit.
So, try not to do either of those.
On your turn, much like the competitive version, you’ll spell a word using tiles from the grid you set up earlier or from your Tool Box. Your Tool Box tiles are never “spent”, they’re just permanently available to use. As you accrue Tourists, you can use their tiles as well to scare them off. You’ll place zeppelins (minions) on any tiles you use on the tower legs. Generally, I explicitly forbid players from telling other players words on their turn. Prevents some quarterbacking and lets players feel like they have their own turns. I find it’s better / more fun for everyone, this way.
Arsenal abilities don’t work like they usually do. Instead, they all have the same ability, which is “one fewer Tourist will arrive this turn, to a minimum of 0”.
If any player places a second zeppelin onto a tile, it’s stolen. Flip it over. If all of the tiles in one of the sub-grids are stolen, you’ve cut through a leg! It … makes a very loud noise, which immediately attracts three Tourists, so be careful. If that pushes you over your limit, you automatically lose.
After every player’s turn, the security guard makes a clockwise sweep around the tower, moving between the next two legs in sequence. If, during that sweep, he’d pass any zeppelin tokens, he captures them. If he ever captures three or more, you lose. So don’t let him do that. Each time he completes a full rotation around the tower, advance the Round Counter by one.
Once he’s moved, add Tourists! You should add a number of Tourists equal to the Round Counter. Yes, that means at Round 6 you’ll be adding six Tourists per turn, so be wary of that.
If you haven’t lost by the time you cut through the fourth leg (or haven’t lost immediately after that with the influx of new tourists), your boss comes and picks you and the rest of the minions up in his Mega-Zeppelin (along with the Tower!). You win!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
Generally, as with most games with direct player interaction, I find adding more players to be a bit frustrating as you now have to account for more variation between turns. It’s thankfully not possible for someone to steal a letter from you before you get another turn (unless they have an Arsenal ability, in which case, oof), but it starts to require a delicate balance of all players blocking each other or one person will be able to shoot out in front. This is a difficult technique to master (I find that new players often don’t notice this), and is also much the reason why I don’t play Carcassonne with more than two people. I personally recommend it at two. If you want a more hectic, aggressive game, play with more people.
As far as the cooperative game goes, it doesn’t really matter how many players you play with provided all the players are about the same skill level, especially given how I’ve recommended playing. If you don’t play that way, then, well, your risk.
I’ll just mark these ones where it matters.
- Long words are generally pretty good. This gives you the most zeppelins on the board, which is usually to your advantage. If you can steal 5+ tiles in a turn, you’ve pretty much got it made. This may not always be true in co-op, as you might want to be strategic about the words you spell to cut through certain parts of certain legs.
- Remember prefixes and suffixes. They’re great ways to arbitrarily lengthen a word. -LY, -ING, PRE-, -ERS, all sorts of great ways to maximize your word length.
- Anagrams are your friend. Since you can’t spell the same word, it’s really useful if you can spell words that use the same letters. ELECTIONS and SELECTION, for instance, have the same technical root, but nobody would call you on those being the same word.
- (Competitive) You really want to steal adjacent tiles. You essentially double your score once you’ve stolen three adjacent tiles, so… do that. In the same vein, do everything you can to block your opponents from doing the same thing.
- (Competitive) Fight for the good letters. If there’s only one E or S on the board, hope you know a lot of words with those letters, because you’ll be spelling one every turn. If you don’t, they might get stolen. Just hope that your opponent forgets one turn.
- (Competitive) In higher-player-count games, suggest some words. It might be mutually beneficial. If you can get them to let you steal letters, it’s not a bad idea. Especially if it knocks a good letter off the board and into your stash.
- (Competitive) Some arsenal tile abilities are pretty usually worth it. Ones that either flummox your opponents (Krypton Ray adds an extra tile to their hand that they have to use; good luck with that X and J, friend) or really help you (X-Ray Goggles might help you steal a letter that you didn’t even use this turn!) should definitely not escape your notice.
- (Cooperative) You need to end the game quickly. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting overrun by tourists.
- (Cooperative) Never spell a word using a letter on the sector that the guard will hit next, unless that letter will get stolen. This should be obvious, but sometimes people forget. Not only do you get a minion captured, but it basically didn’t count. If you need to use that letter to get a word spelled, well, that’s on you, but try to avoid it.
- (Cooperative) Some turns you’ll just need to manage Tourists. Don’t forget to do that or you’ll lose.
- (Cooperative) Don’t forget that if you cut through a leg you attract tourists and add additional Tourists. That means if the Round Marker is on 3, you’ll technically gain 6 Tourists at the end of the turn. Again, if you go over the Tourist Limit, you immediately lose.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Love the theme. It’s super fun! Supervillains canvassing objects to steal priceless treasures is pretty unique.
- The art is also pretty great. Very reminiscent of Ryan’s other work (Paperback, Burgle Bros., Fugitive, etc). It’s a really good, consistent style.
- It’s a very different word game. Sure, there are still elements of a classic word game (generally the player who spells the longest words tends to do the best in the competitive modes), but you’re focusing much more on which letters you use than what words you spell, which is interesting. It’s sort of a logical extension to the patenting letters mechanic in Letter Tycoon, but more as an area control game.
- Oh, I also love word games. Seriously, I’ll play pretty much any of them.
- The grid expansion via players adding tiles is a neat mechanic. It doesn’t quite make up for the number of tiles removed via stealing, but those tiles are still in play for the player who stole them, so it works.
- Honestly, stealing is a nice mechanic as well. It increases the incentive for you to use certain letters over others, and even essentially forces you to use certain letters if you don’t want an enterprising opponent to steal the only E (or worse).
- The co-op is a nice addition. It’s a pretty different game (since spelling the longest words might not be the best strategy, in this case), but it retains the feel of the competitive game (and is a really good way to teach the game). I’d recommend it.
- Arsenal tiles are good. I don’t mean good as in “you should always go after them”, but rather the abilities are solid and don’t feel out of place in the game. I also really appreciate that given the game’s state it might not be in your best interest to go after them. There’s a lot of player choice in how they attack the board, and I really like the addition of the arsenal tiles to that decision tree.
- Component quality is pretty good, too. The tiles are nice and the zeppelins are good, too.
- The villain player powers seem to be expensive nukes. Sure, they’re really strong, but they’re also pretty expensive. I’d’ve preferred something a bit more tame that I could use more often. It doesn’t really impact the game for me (since they’re an optional mechanic), but it’s definitely on my “would be nice” list.
- I think Jeff Beck and Tim Fowers are conspiring to only make weirdly-shaped boxes. I’m actually pretty sure this is the case. I don’t honestly mind all that much. Just means I need to come up with a better storage schema.
- You should definitely enforce a “no suggesting words for other players” rule during the cooperative game. This is a place where an alpha gamer can run train on other players if you’re not careful.
- There are a few typos (in the rulebook / on the player mats). Kind of a bummer.
- It can be an analysis-paralysis party town. I mean, you’re essentially trying to consider what words your opponent can spell, what words you can spell, what tiles you want to steal, how that lines up with your future turns’ strategies, etc. It can be a nightmare for certain players, so just help them and play with a timer or use the “propose a word” for them thing from the rules. It’s better this way.
OVERALL: 9.25 / 10
Overall, Word Domination is awesome. I mean it; I really like it a lot. It does what a lot of my favorite word games do, in that it takes a word game and applies a fun spin on the concept (like Paperback / Hardback) to create something genuinely really fun. I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played and it feels like a fairly different experience each time, just because we frequently get a very different grid of letters (and spell very different words). The mechanics are very well polished. Everyone I’ve played it with has asked to play it again immediately after we finish, and I’d honestly highly recommend it.