I scrolled through the top 30 word games on BoardGameGeek recently (as you do!) looking for more to sate my logophilia, and discovered that, with the exception of Krazy Wordz (#16) (Ravensburger/Fishtank), The Chameleon (#23) (Big Potato), and Linq (#28) (Arclight/Kosmos), I'd played them all (whether I own them is a matter of preference). So, it's safe to say I'm always happy to have the chance to try another word game. And Letterpress (Osprey) has a solo mode into the bargain...
Designed by Robin David, Letterpress (aka Movable Type, Second Edition: we reviewed the original Movable Type two years ago on Board's Eye View) retains the most common element of word spelling games: letters valued according their difficulty of use. It also throws into the mix a guaranteed vowel each round, drafting, objectives ('make a 7/8 letter word', 'word with only one vowel', etc) and THE ELIMINATOR from the Gladiators TV series. Yes, all your hard work will come down to the final round (though spandex, sweat, and tears are optional).
In each of four rounds, three letters are shown in the common pool, then players draft one card from selections of five, four, three and two before adding a final one to their hand, to be tasked with making as high-scoring a word as possible. Well, usually: a player may eschew high points and target an objective instead which, if won, will add more letters to their 'Collection', the set of cards the player will have to work with during THE ELIMINATOR fifth round. Words are written down, revealed, then compared. The winner of each round (player with the highest score) gets to pick two letters for their final round Collection; other players just take one. Crucially, players get to choose letters from any of those used by any player - not just themselves - and the picks are done in rank order according to that round's scores. That means it's certainly very advantageous to win in these rounds, but none of the scores will carry forward, and if you achieve one of the three objective cards displayed each round then they too add letters, or letter combinations like LY or ING, to those you can use in the all-important final round.
To do well in Letterpress, you'll need always to plan your selections with that final round in mind. You'll want to make sure you have letters you will easily be able to use but you'll also want to include sufficiently high scoring (lower frequency) letters to help you achieve an end-game winning score. It can be frustrating to play a game where you win every round yet get beaten in the round that counts, because Letterpress really does come down to a single word for good or ill. That's Letterpress's USP and you're going to have to decide whether it is for you or not.
Aside from the 2-6 player game, Letterpress also incorporates the option to play solo against the Rotary Printer. This makes for an enjoyable pastime. The game plays in much the same way, but with two common cards, a one-player draft, and a bar of 13 points per round. The target score is made up of cards you don't use, so longer words are rewarded here. The normal mode should be considered a learning game for the better challenge of the 'hard mode' play, which really does reward good planning and makes victory less certain.
Overall, I came away appreciating Letterpress's unique format for a word game. I'd probably prefer the letter ownership of Letter Tycoon (Breaking Games), or the co-operative brilliance of Letter Jam (CGE), but if you're all about the big moments in games, then Letterpress could well be for you. The solo mode was a very welcome addition to a game that had already made a solid impression.
(Review by David Fox)