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There's a rather cerebral quiz show on BBC TV called Only Connect. It mainly involves spotting often cryptic or obscure connections between letters or pictures in a sequence but there's a quick-fire round where teams have to identify words or phrases with the vowels removed. That's the idea too in Cameron Art's equally quick-fire 2-5 player game.

VOWL is an easy to learn tho' rather challenging word game. Players are racing to be the first to get their scoring token to meet their victory point token on a score track. The game is played using decks of cards each of which shows the consonants in a word (ie: with the vowels all removed). The cards are divided into Basic, Advanced and Expert; broadly reflecting their difficulty.

On your turn, you roll two custom six-sided dice. One shows a number (3 or 4; the dice is 3/3/3/3/4/4). That's the number of Basic cards that you draw. In addition you take the number of Basic, Advanced and Expert cards indicated by your position on the scoring track. The second dice shows whether you attempt the challenge solo or (with three or more players) partnered with another player of your choice or as a head-to-head against another player. Roll solo and you have to get words for all the cards within the 25 seconds on a sand timer. Roll the partner option and you add another three Basic cards but both get to come up with words. In either case, you only succeed if you come up with words for all the cards within the time limit - actually quite a tough target even with just the Basic cards. In the head-to-head mode, both players have their own piles of cards, based on their respective positions on the scoring track, and they are racing to be the first to get through their stack. If the timer runs out before either player completes their stack, then the player who has got through the most cards wins. In all the modes, you can pass and move onto another card but you'll have to go back to cards you pass and still get words for them.

As you'd expect, there are rules on where the vowels can be added. There must be a single vowel between each letter. You can't add a vowel in front of the first letter but you can add one at the end. So, for example, for TTL, 'total' is correct but 'title' wouldn't be allowed because tho' the E at end is a legal addition, 'title' doesn't have any vowel between the T and the L. Some even of the Basic cards can be very challenging - especially where they have commonly combined consonants; for example: STP, SPR. We found players could often quickly rattle past a couple of cards but then get stuck on an awkward one, and that wasn't always an Advanced or Expert card. Cards are only really harder if you don't spot the word!

For some players, the time challenge may just be too constricting. The game actually includes a 15-second sand timer for stepping up the difficulty but in our several Board's Eye View plays, we never found ourselves reaching for it. We did tho' experiment with lengthening the time limits, substituting the timer on a phone. There were games where players went several rounds with nobody succeeding in getting through all their cards in 25 seconds. In those we found that it improved play, and avoided players giving up on the game, when we doubled the time limit.

When players succeed on their turn then they have the option either of moving their scoring token two places forward or of moving the token forward just one space and moving their victory token and the victory token of an opponent one space closer. There may be tactical advantages in moving your victory token - not least in bypassing spaces with particularly demanding extra card requirements, but at the expense of also assisting an opponent.

There can also be tactical play in your choice of an opponent to go head-to-head with when that comes up on the dice. Just as in the anecdote of the two hikers who encounter a bear - you don't have to run faster than the bear just faster than the other guy. Even if you're struggling to succeed in getting thro' a solo challenge in 25 seconds, you can score a success in a head to head just by doing better than the other player.

Tho' we never felt the need to step up the difficulty by substituting the 15-second sand timer, we did find ourselves making judicious use of the two-sided board. Tho' playing with the longer score track obviously extends the playing time, it allows for a more tactical game.

If you like word games and you've maxed out on Wordle, then VOWL could be just the thing for you.

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