Being an avowed logophile and board game care bear, the last few years have seen several entries into the cooperative word game genre that tick all the boxes for me: Word Domination (Uproarious Games), Codenames Duet (CGE), Letter Jam (CGE), and the one that rules them all, Just One (Repos Production). Now, from Scorpion Masque and distributors CoiledSpring Games, there's an old-fashioned new kid on the block, Master Word.
I don't normally lead with presentation in a review, but Nils, the artist, has done a fantastic job of minimalist design which lets you know as soon as you see the box that there's a dash of retro within. This is provided by the deduction element from the 1971 classic, Mastermind (Pressman/Invicta) which combines with some contemporary cooperative word association to produce a game that feels both fresh and familiar at the same time.
Simplicity is present throughout, from the exceptionally clear rule book to the 150 double-sided master word cards, 30 clue cards, 3 guess cards, tokens, and dry-erase markers with accompanying wipe. In each short game, one player is the Guide, who reads the master word and displays its category for all to see. The remaining players - Seekers - have up to six rounds to write potential clues on cards and arrange them in a row. The Guide places thumbs-up tokens at the end of a row equal to the number of clues which accurately describe the master word. Instead of a clue card, a Seeker can write on one of three guess cards instead: if a word on a guess card is the answer, everybody wins; in any other scenario, the game is lost.
Rather than having Mastermind's white and black pegs (right colour, wrong place and right colour, right place) the 'thumbs up' tokens are excruciatingly vague, particularly when two are placed... getting all or none is usually better information for the team. To combat this, once per game the Guide may move a token onto a clue card to indicate its particular pertinence.
That's your lot: and it's great; maybe not Just One level greatness, but still excellent. It's light, thinky, fun, suitable for most ages, with an undoubted mass market appeal that remains well within a gamer's comfort zone.
An issue common to dry-erase games is that the clue cards will get smudgy after a few plays, which is a shame. The little box of master words has a thoughtful divider, but it is possible to accidentally glimpse a future word; and - tho' this applies to any word game - it's possible the master word isn't known to the Guide, especially at the lower end of the age range or the higher numbered cards. That said, you could easily come up with your own category and master word.
One thing that surprised me is, while the player count is shown at 3 to 6 (Seekers in a three-player game get two clue cards each), the game plays perfectly well at two players, with the Seeker having 3 cards: seems like an opportunity missed, either by Scorpion Masque or the designer, Gerald Cattiaux. Oh well.
I can highly recommend Master Word for anyone who likes light word association games, especially cooperative ones. The production is almost perfect, mechanics tried and tested, and with the game explainable in under a minute I sincerely hope it finds a wide and appreciative audience.
(Review by David Fox)