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Movable Type

Updated: Mar 13, 2020

Word games aren’t always a hit with hardened games players. That’s not due to any lack of literacy on the part of gamers. It’s because, as often as not, word games just come down to who draws the best combination of letters. There are some notable exceptions but, in the main, word games don’t so much involve strategy or tactics.

Designed by Robin David and published by Uncanny Cardboard, Movable Type has the look of a very typical word game. It comprises a deck of 76 letter cards, assigning a value to each letter that broadly correlates with that letter’s ease of use; so A has a value of 1 while Z has a value of 7. The object is to make words with the highest total score. Nothing special here… Except, that, in this game, players aren’t just dealt the hands they play with. Movable Type avoids the luck-of-the-draw pitfall that besets so many other word games by the simple but effective expedient of applying a drafting mechanic. From the hand you are dealt, you pick just one card and pass the rest to the neighbouring player, and so on until you’ve drafted a full hand. This immediately reduces the likelihood of the deal overly favouring one player over another. In addition to players’ hands of five drafted cards, they can also make use of three ‘common’ cards that are available for use by all of the players. Two of these cards are drawn from the top of the deck containing all the letters of the alphabet (consonants and vowels) but one is taken from a separate smaller additional deck made up only of vowels. This ensures that there is always at least one vowel available to all the players.

In addition to the letters, three ‘Author Challenge’ cards are displayed. These feature portraits of famous (mostly 19th Century) writers. Each provides a bonus benefit to a player that meets its specific requirements. The bonus will give the player an advantage in the end-game round.

In the 360º Board's Eye View shot, the common cards are NDI. One player plays JN from his hand and adds all three common letters to make DJINN to score 14. Another plays FALG and uses the NI from the common letters to make FALLING for a score of 15 (the game allows players to choose to use a letter as a double letter but only scoring it once). The third player plays SWPE and uses the DI to make SWIPED to score 16. The score of exactly 16 allows that player to claim the Frederick Douglass author card. Two players qualify for the Emily Dickinson card (for playing a word with a double letter). This tie would normally mean neither get the card but the player with the shortest word (DJINN) decides to take the Louisa May Alcott card, allowing the other player to claim Emily Dickinson.

Four drafting rounds are played. The players that score best in each round get to add to their ‘collection’ two of the letters played by any player in that round. Players with lower scores add just one of the letter cards to their ‘collection’. It is the fifth round that really determines the winner of the game. In that round, players compete to make the highest scoring word but they do so using the letters in their ‘collection’ plus any of the letters in the usual common pool of three. This device of building the hand you’ll be playing in the round where it matters most adds a surprising degree of tactics to a conventional word game. When you come to choose the letters to go into the ‘collection’ that you’ll be using in that end-game round, do you choose letters that have high scoring values or do you go for those that you know will be easy to use? During the drafting rounds, players aren’t supposed to look at the cards they’ve previously put into their ‘collection’, so this is a game that also incorporates a memory element.

The cards and their points scores are clear and easy to read, with artwork suggesting old-fashioned printers' type. The card quality is fairly basic, however, so you'll need to sleeve them if you want to avoid them showing wear.

Though the rules are straightforward, there’s a surprising amount in this game. Be warned, though, as with all word games, you can expect squabbles over spelling. In a sense, there’s a presage of that built into the very name of the game: many of those 19th Century authors would have quibbled over whether the Type should more correctly be described as Movable or Moveable. :-)

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