Updated: Dec 26, 2019
At Board's Eye View, we enjoy playing word games and we're always on the lookout for a word game that offers a twist to those we've previously played. FReNeTiC was being shown off by Accentuate Games at the London Toy Fair in January and, more recently, at the UK Games Expo, and it certainly packs that twist.
The seemingly odd use of capitals in the name of the game isn't the effect of randomly pressing shift on our keyboard. The caps are there because the name of the game is created by combining five chemical symbols from the periodic table: F, Re, Ne, Ti and C. And that is this game's twist: all the tiles which players draw from a bag are symbols representing elements. At the start of a game, eight tiles are drawn and placed out on the periodic table printed on the board (four more are added on each subsequent player's turn). Players then have 45 seconds to write down as many words as they can that can be spelled using the letters from at least two of the elements. The letters have to be used in the order they appear in the chemical symbol; so, taking the elements used to make up the name of the game, TiRe would be a valid word but FiT would not be because it would involve reversing the Ti of Titanium. Symbols can be used more than once so, for example, Ba and Na can be used to spell BaNaNa. Words score the value of their combined atomic numbers: so TiRe would score 97 points (22 for Ti plus 75 for Re) and BaNaNa would score 78 (56 for Ba and 11 for each use of Na). The winner is the first player to hit a total score of 1000.
Where two players make the same word using the same elements, only the first player scores. You will often find you draw very few tiles with vowels and the rare vowels you have are inflexibly in combination with another letter. This means that you will quite often find two or more players coming up with the same word because it is one of a very small number of words that can be made. It can be very frustrating therefore to find your score invalidated simply as a result of turn order. Given that players are required to write down their words, this first player advantage seems an unnecessary rule. We found the game played better when we agreed to abandon the rule and allow players to score for all legal words they had written down regardless of turn order. We retained the rule, however, that players cannot score for a word already played by themselves or another player on a previous turn.
The other cause of frustration in FReNeTiC is the sand-timed 45 second rule. It obviously ties in with the name of the game: time is so tight that game play is indeed frenetic. We can see also that the designer, Graeme Fraser-Bell, must have been keen to avoid the tedious longeurs of games like Scrabble, where players agonise for hours over their turns. Of course, play in FReNeTiC is simultaneous so if you find 45 seconds too much of a rush, it's easy enough and equally fair on all the players to extend the time, either allowing an extra turn of the sand timer or substituting an alternative timer.
The all-important tiles for FReNeTiC are thick card. Players raised on Scrabble complained they'd have preferred more durable plastic or wooden tiles. On the other hand, some components seemed over produced: the periodic table board has quite a lot of unused space and we weren't convinced it was necessary to include in the box four pencils and notepads. Surely, anyone who buys and plays a word game can be expected already to have pens and paper to hand.
Despite these quibbles, there's an interesting game here, and one that plays quickly, even if you relax the 45 second rule. Indeed, we actually found games could run quicker when players were allowed more time to find words. The extra time meant more higher scoring words, so less time in total to reach the 1000 point victory target. The chemistry theme may make FReNeTiC seem an unlikely contender as a party game, but we found it filled that role rather well, especially as it's a game that can be played pretty much without any upper limit on the number of players.