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Letter Jam

We've heard Letter Jam described as a party game. It's really not. If you're breaking this out to play at parties then either you're going to the wrong sort of parties or you're the wrong sort of guest. I suppose the confusion arises because Letter Jam is published by Czech Games Edition who had such a smash success with their earlier game Codenames, which is a word association game that you can, at a push, play as a party game - especially if you play one of the editions with large-format word cards and big teams of players.

Letter Jam is a more sedate fully cooperative deduction game designed by Ondra Skoupy where 2–6 players can each see everyone else's cards but not their own, rather like Hanabi (Abacusspiele) and Pikoko (Brain Games). As the title suggests, the cards in Letter Jam each show letters. Players will try to help each other determine the letter in front of them by offering to make up words that utilise the letters hidden from each player. They place out number tokens so players can all see the position of each letter in the word. A wildcard letter is always available to be used in any word, and there are always six letters in play - so you'll have non-player letters displayed when you play this game with fewer than six players. That said, this is a game that's at its best with 5 or 6 players.

There are some initially fiddly seeming rules that are there to ensure that everyone takes turns in offering clues - tho' this really isn't a cooperative game where you need to fear it'll be taken over by a bulldozing alpha player. Otherwise, however, this is a game that's easier to demonstrate than to explain: it sounds more involved than it is. We were surprised that art credits for this game are shared among four different people (David Jablonovsky, Frantisek Sedlacek, Lukas Vodicka and Michaela Zaoralova) tho' we realised eventually that the striking strawberry on the box relates to the 'jam' in the title.

The game comes with a pad on which players can record the clues and their guesses at the words and so the possible letters they've had in front of them. You'll need it because more often than not a clue will narrow down the options for your letter but won't pin it down to only one option, so you'll need to triangulate from two or more clues. When your pad runs out tho' you can substitute a blank sheet of paper.

We were surprised to find this game comes with a set of six pencils and a pencil sharpener. It has 8 numbered tokens. That's enough for most purposes but it would've been nice to have a #9 token for those rare occasions when a player comes up with an especially useful nine-letter clue word. We'd have happily foregone the pencils and sharpener for an extra number token. The cards show letters white on black, so all the letter cards have black edges. Black edged cards are notorious for showing wear, and especially so in this case because players will be pushing their letter cards into plastic stands. And the cards are a non-standard size so you won't find it easy to sleeve them.

These, however, are all trivial gripes in the context of what is actually a very good word game. It doesn't demand an encyclopaedic knowledge of particular letter combos (as per Scrabble) tho' you do need to be able to spell the words you choose(!) Players will enjoy playing Letter Jam and you'll find they want to come back for more.

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