In a world of socially driven turn based games shined the kitschy stylings of Zynga. Games like Words with Friends, Hanging with Friends, and Scramble with Friends have dominated the word game genre. Playing your Facebook and iOS Game Center friends for wordy supremacy made Scrabble and Hangman type games popular again. Letterpress enters the scene like the new kid in school who just moved to town, he’s got a different attitude and style then the rest of the kids you’ve grown up with.
Find words, steal letters, block scoring opportunities, hoard those precious vowels. Players take turns making words from a 5×5 grid of letters. As a letter is used it gets colored with the a player’s color who used it last. If the next player tries to use another player’s letter, they are allowed too, they won’t get any points for it, and the letter will change to the most recent player’s color. Therein lies the twist, defending letters and specifically playing words that force the other player to score lower by using the letters you’ve claimed. Fighting for vowels becomes a huge part of the game because most words tend to have them. You can further protect a letter from being stolen by surrounding it with other letters of the same color, these letters are an even darker version of a player’s color. I’m sure some of this is hard to follow, Letterpress has a slight abstract element to it but I promise it’s really easy to grasp once you play a few turns.
Letterpress does some new things that word games haven’t been doing but that’s not what sets it apart from the other alphabet slingers. Where the app shines is in its design. Letterpress is the personification of minimal design. No shiny buttons, over the top interface elements, gradients, or drop shadows. Simple, clean, intuitive controls, and effortless interactions.
Letterpress is played over Game Center on the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Send game invites to your buddies and see if you can still remain “friends” like those other word games. It’s free to get going and 99¢ to unlock more visual themes and the ability to play multiple games at a time.
If there is any criticism, I’d like to see more competitive elements in the game. As it stands now, you play the game and once you win you start another, again, simple and minimal. What it’s missing is a running record of wins and losses, gameplay stats, game center achievements, and any other statistical elements that might ramp up the competition. As with anything, Letterpress might consciously be keeping those options off the table at the risk of losing their minimal allure. As a game in an flooded genre, Letterpress stands out for all the right reasons. I look forward to more from the folks over at Atebits.