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Letter Tycoon

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

This has rapidly become one of my 'go to' gateway games. It is certainly a favourite word game.

In Letter Tycoon (Breaking Games), players are dealt seven cards representing letters and they use these, and the three communal cards laid out on the table, to make the longest word they can. They are paid in coins and stock for the word they play.

The unique feature of Letter Tycoon is that, in this game, players spend their income to buy the patents on any letters they have used. They then earn dividend income whenever that letter is used subsequently by another player. Patents vary in cost - with vowels and commonly used consonants selling for a higher price than more rarely used letters - and some low frequency letters also give their patent owner a special ability.

Letter Tycoon is easy to learn and play, and it will obviously appeal to word game enthusiasts who have not previously encountered anything beyond Scrabble. While Scrabble cannot properly be played by more than two players, Letter Tycoon scales well for almost any number, though the rules suggest up to five.

The game is not without its flaws, however. It can be improved with some small but significant tweaks to the rules. In particular, the rules specify that the communal cards are replaced when used. This means that players cannot realistically plan ahead while others are taking their turn because they cannot be sure what letters will be available to them. If instead you rule that the communal cards remain unchanged for the whole round, then players can plan ahead with certainty. Playing this way very dramatically reduces downtime and more than doubles the speed of the game.

Some players find it odd that the income paid from patent use comes from the bank rather than the player using the letter. You can try playing the game instead with players paying each other for the use of their patented letters. This is not a simple alteration though: the reason the game has stocks as well as coins is to avoid a player with a long starting word gaining too much of an early patent-buying advantage (the stocks count just the same as coins when reckoning end scores but they cannot be used to buy patents). Merely substituting player payouts for those from the bank could unbalance the game.

The idiosyncratic font used for the letters was a perverse choice, and the steam punk design elements seem an irrelevance, but Letter Tycoon is nonetheless well produced; the wooden coins prove a particularly popular component. If you like word games, Letter Tycoon is definitely one to look out for. It is a game you’ll be playing a lot and one you’ll almost certainly be breaking out for non-gamers.

(Review by Selwyn Ward)

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