The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Handsome

The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Handsome

T.C. Petty III’s word-crafting microgame Handsome, with art from Bryan Fischer, is the latest in Button Shy Games’ line of eighteen card wallet games. It plays up to six players, and only takes around 15-20 minutes to play a game.

The game is played over a series of rounds. In each round, players use the two cards in their hand, along with five shared cards on the table, to create words, in a similar fashion to  how players make poker hands in Texas Hold ‘Em. All players write down their words, and reveal them simultaneously when everyone at the table is finished writing.

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When creating words, players are free to use any vowels they like as often as they like, but can only use the consonant cards from their hand or on the board -- and they can only use each card once. So with L, N, G, T, H, and S/Y, a player could make LENGTHS or LENGTHY, but not LENGTHENS, as that uses the N card twice.

Editor’s Note: I spoke with Button Shy’s Jason Tagmire, who said they would add an “easy mode” in the rules that allowed cards to be used multiple times, due to numerous requests from players.

The value of the words are decided by the three suits -- bowties, bolo ties, and necklaces -- of the cards that make up the words, with the winner of each of the three suits getting one point. A fourth point is also awarded for the longest word each round. Ties are friendly in all four of the point-scoring categories, with all tied players getting one point. The game ends when a player scores nine points, as they are considered “dressed to the nines.” With the friendly ties, this usually only takes about three or four rounds.

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The hook here is that it’s a word game that only uses 18 cards, yet manages to represent an alphabet of 26 letters. There are probably a lot of clunky ways this could be achieved -- like by removing less frequently used letters -- but the beauty of Handsome is that it uses the entire alphabet, even rewarding words that use the rarer letters, and minimizing the value of the popular, and easy to pluralize with, letter S.  The deck in Handsome has no vowels, and doubles up the letters J, Q, X, and Z onto special double-suited wild cards, as well as doubling up the S and Y on a suitless card. Every other consonant has its own card.

While the lack of vowel cards make for an easy comparison to Gil Hova’s word game Wordsy, which I previously reviewed here, the suit majority scoring, the restriction of using each consonant card only once, and the lack of any real-time element make this game play quite differently. On a related note, I had the chance to play my review copy of Handsome with Gil Hova at Granite Game Summit, and he gave it his endorsement, calling it “quite clever.”

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Pros: As with all of Button Shy's wallet games, this game is about as portable as games can get. It is very easy to teach and learn, plays very quickly, and does not take a lot of table space, making it the perfect game to break out in situations like waiting for food at a restaurant. The game scales well all the way to six players, which is quite a feat for a microgame.

Cons: As with all word games, literacy and language barriers can be an issue. The game requires paper and writing implements for each player -- although I have played it where players just say their words instead of writing them down, which worked well enough when we couldn’t find enough pens and pencils. Two of the suits heavily feature red, and can get confused, so I’ve had to make sure I refer to the suits using the bowtie, bolo tie, and necklace terminology instead of using colors. I’ve had multiple games end in ties, and hope the finalized rules include something to break the game ending in a tie -- possibly a one round finale between the tied players?

Overall, Handsome is a solid word game, and another addition to the Button Shy wallet game catalog that impresses with its clever, elegant design using such a limited number of components. It is a no-brainer for fans of word games, considering its portability, play time, player count, and price point.

Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Handsome from the publisher.

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