Game Night Blog Carnival: Quick Word Game? Bananagrams!

Welcome to the Game Night Blog Carnival for June! You can get more information about the carnival at the main Game Night site.

BananagramsDo you like word games? Is Scrabble too slow for you with all those pesky turns? Is your Internet connection down so you can't play Words With Friends? If so, may I suggest shelling out $15 for a copy of Bananagrams?

What's In The Bag?
In exchange for your hard-earned cash you get a handsome banana-shaped and banana-colored cloth zipper pouch packed full of letter tiles. The distribution of letters across the 144 tiles roughly corresponds to Scrabble, but there are no points and no blanks. The instruction sheet lays out the game rules for you, including the use of silly banana-related command words: For instance, someone calls "Split!" to signal all players to turn their tiles up and start the game.

Game Play
At its core Bananagrams pits you against the other players in a race to use all your tiles to make interconnected words in a grid, Scrabble-style. You start by turning all the letter tiles face down in a pile central to all players, then each player draws a number of tiles based on the number of players. Once everyone has their tiles someone calls "Split!" and everyone turns their tiles up and starts building words as quickly as possible. You don't take turns, and you don't have a shared game board - everyone builds their own word grid with their own tiles. You can remove words from your grid and rearrange letters to make different words at any time.

You have the option of dumping a tile you can't use back in the central pile, but you draw 3 tiles to replace it. This really helps if you have a letter you're stuck on or if you have a Q and no U. Once someone uses all their letter tiles in their word grid, that person calls "Peel!" and every player draws one more tile from the central pile. Sometimes one person gets on a roll of adding single tiles to their grid and calls "Peel!" several times in a row, but sometimes having more letters to work with lets another player add a longer word to their grid all at once and catch up, so it tends to even out.

Once the central pile has fewer tiles than the number of players, we call "Last Licks" (a throwback to Cosmic Wimpout) to let everyone know that the game is almost over. The first player to use all their letters during Last Licks wins the game. Endgame variations exist where the winner needs to tell a story using all the words in their grid, or the player with the most creative or unusual word on the table gets a prize. And if you're with the right crowd, some of the words can get a little silly.

On Kids and Crowds
Kids can get into this game, allowing a fun way to teach spelling and expand vocabularies with a short time investment per game. The instructions suggest ages 7 and up, and that seems about right since it requires a decent vocabulary and good spelling skills. If you're an adult playing with kids you can vary the rules easily to figure out how to keep the game fun for everyone. Rules variations include giving fewer tiles to start and slowing the action down to allow more time to make words before drawing more tiles.

I've played with 2 players up to 6 or 7. Playing with 2 is still fun, but it's more likely that one player will drive the action with tile draws. Playing with 4-6 gives more people the chance to use all their tiles and force a tile draw, but more players tends to mean drawing tiles more often which can bury people who are stuck with problem letters. Larger groups make for a faster game since there are fewer tiles to draw, but you can always pick up a Double Bananagrams Game Set with 288 tiles to support larger groups. For me, 4 players gives the optimum pacing without being overwhelmed in tiles.

Parting Shots
Bananagrams is easy to learn, inexpensive, compact, and portable. It can fit in a large purse, a backback, or your car's glovebox easily. If you're going camping I wouldn't pack it - the tiles make it heavier than a small dice game like Cosmic Wimpout or Zombie Dice, plus it requires a smooth table to play effectively. As an added bonus, you can use the letter tiles in your RPG: either as props for word puzzles or as terrain for miniatures (walls or raised platforms especially).

The one drawback to Bananagrams I've found: it's not for everybody. People who need time to think up words tend to lag a bit behind, and that makes the game less fun for them. But when a table full of people with roughly the same skill level sit down to play, the game play gets brutally fast. I think four of us played a few games in about 5 minutes each, and several times we had two people calling "Peel!" simultaneously.

If you enjoy fast word games and have friends that can challenge you in that arena, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Bananagrams.

TL;DR - Executive Summary
  • Bananagrams is a race to build interlocking words Scrabble-style out of a pile of letter tiles. 
  • Play Bananagrams as a party game. You will need a table or other hard and smooth surface, preferably without a tablecloth. Great for kids with growing vocabularies.
  • It supports 2-8 players, ages 7 and up. Sweet spot is 4 players, balancing chaos vs. concentration.
  • It takes 10-15 minutes to play a single game, depending on player skill.
  • Bananagrams rewards fast word-making, so it can be frustrating to someone not mentally wired for coming up with words in a hurry.
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1 comment:

  1. This is a cheap, watered down version of Syzygy. We've played Syzygy with mixed groups of all ages including one with both a 6 year old and an 89 year old. We've played with people for whom English is a second or third language and with dyslexics. All of the above had great fun and no one dominated the games. Syzygy has twice the number of tiles as Bananagrams, so it's more suitable for larger groups. The letter distributions (number of tiles per letter) are also better, making for a more challenging game.