I have to confess a prejudice against Composition (Coo' Games) that I realised I'd have when reading the rules: I do not like repeating the same word in word games, something encouraged here. Aside from finding it dull and (obviously) repetitive, it harks back from my one and only play of Tim Fowers' Paperback (Fowers Games) in which a player culled his deck, made the word ZONE several times and won; sour grapes, maybe, but I found it uninteresting and against the spirit of word games.
I found the Composition rules unintuitive and so my first play was quite discordant: when I reprised my efforts, I was more in tune with the game. While Composition can accommodate a duet to a quintet, the included solo mode was my mandate, given Covid Lockdown and a non-word-game-playing family. Ages ten and up are suggested, though, like similar games, it is word power that will tell the most and any great disparity there will result in an unsatisfying experience on both parts. So, with that prelude out of the way, how does the game actually play?
Composition is primarily composed of four decks of cards, as well as 'rose' tokens, which are the currency. The largest deck is Note cards, which are open-drafted each round; the Crescendo deck consists of cards bought blind which can be permanent letters, single-use letters with powerful abilities or cards that allow you to keep more Note cards round to round. The smallest deck comprises Award and Ovation cards, which are objectives and expensive but useful letters respectively; the last deck is made up of Character cards and their Starter letters which remain for the whole game, leading to the repetition I mentioned. Character cards could be dealt at random, or allocated as a 'handicap', depending on whether you think S-U-N is more useful than E-L-F, I-N-K or C-A-T.
Each round, players take Note cards, compose words using these and Starter cards, possibly add Crescendo cards, too, with the aim of making a great score and earning an Award, all while building up enough Roses to buy an Ovation card: yes, that is a lot of key words. The game length is limited by Award and Ovation cards per the number of players, so the 30-60 minute play time should be about right, if everyone playing stays allegro, otherwise things might get a bit adagio.
Once the terminology and theme are out the way, there is a solid word spelling game here. Yes, it is derivative - at the least Letterpress (aka Moveable Type) (Osprey Games), Letter Tycoon (Breaking Games), and both of the Fowers' word games (Paperback and Hardback) feel like they have provided the bassline if not the melody. However, taken on its own, Matthew Hocker's Composition should entertain an ensemble of word game aficionados quite admirably. That is especially so if they are gamers, too: many cards have extra powers, symbols and bonuses on them which lend themselves to chaining and even a little engine-building.
The solo game riffs off Composition's essential rhythm and sees you trying to beat the clock, winning Awards and buying Ovations at as high a tempo as possible. You are given four Starter letters in this mode, randomly taken from the Characters' decks. While I didn't go gaga over the debut, I enjoyed the encore considerably more, this time around appreciating the quality production of thick stock and clear graphic design of the cards, with art by Olivia Raum and Becky Titus. The text in the rulebook is faint and a little too piccolo to read clearly, especially the names of the decks.
My dislike of playing the same words aside (I ignored that option), I did feel that Composition lacked a little soul; though, to be fair, it never hit a bum note after I had the rules down. A caveat must be given in these tumultuous times, of course, that playing a concerto with a larger orchestra might well be a more resounding experience.
(Review by David Fox)
Coda... 'The stage is set, the audience hushed, the composer taps his finger on the table, makes a word, takes a standing ovation, and bows out to roses and applause.' Theme in word games is often a bit thin, and Composition is no exception, adding a thick layer of keywords over the letters and objectives in the game, just about keeping in step throughout the whole performance.
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