Loren Brichter is a well-known developer that created Tweetie, one of the first widely popular Twitter client for the iPhone. Tweetie was bought by Twitter and Loren was a part of the Twitter development team until he recently resigned from the company. He has hinted that he was going to restart his own company, Atebits, by developing a new app for the iOS platform. After many speculations regarding what kind of apps Loren would build, yesterday we saw the release of Letterpress, a beautifully designed word-based game.
Loren was inspired to create a two-player word-based game that he could play with his wife because he found the two of them playing SpellTower, another well-known word-based game, independently - instead of against one another. As someone who also loves to play word-based game with my wife, I was interested to find out how Letterpress would play out.
Letterpress is a Game Center-powered word game in which two players fight for territories in a 5x5 grid. There are three basic rules to play this game: 1) words must have at least two letters, 2) they can only be played once, and 3) they may not be a prefix of a previously played word. For example, if a player has played the word "DOUBTS", then the other player can't play the word "DOUBT". However, they can still play "DOUBTED" or "UNDOUBTEDLY".
To form a word, you tap (or press) letters in a sequence. The game doesn't require you to select adjacent letters, so you can choose any one of the available 25 letters. You can also drag the letters to position them in any order you want. Once you're ready to play the word, tap the Submit button. The letters that you have just submitted will have your color, unless they were your opponent's "protected" tiles.
The game ends when all the 25 tiles have already been played, i.e. they all have their own colors. The player who owns the most tiles wins the game. The game can swing from one player's favor to the other's throughout the game, because the ownership of the tiles are easily flipped. That's why Loren Brichter, the developer of this game, setup a rule where you can defend (or protect) your tiles, by surrounding them with adjacent tiles that have the same color.
Protected tiles are shown in darker background colors and cannot be flipped by the opponent. If you want to break the protection, you need to flip at least one of the unprotected adjacent tiles that are protecting that tile. This rule sets the game apart from other word games - it is no longer a typical word game where you play to find the longest possible word. While Letterpress might be easier to play compared to other word-based games, it requires you to have a specific strategy if you want to win the game.
Letterpress is available for free on the App Store. You can invite and play up to two concurrent games, but if you want more, there is an in-app purchase that would unlock the maximum number of game invites and seven new colorful themes. After unlocking the game, you will also be able to view all the words that have been played in each round.
What makes Letterpress a great game
When I first played Letterpress, I had the expectation of playing yet another word-based game. The two initial Letterpress games that I played were horrible because I treated it like other word-based games like Ruzzle or Scrabble. It turned out that Letterpress is more similar to a strategic board game where you need to build and defend your territory while attacking (or taking over) your opponent's. Having played more than 10 games within the span of four hours, I have to say that the game surprised me in a nice way and I really like it.
Letterpress has a very clean UI design and uses intuitive gestures to trigger smooth animations that make the overall experience enjoyable. I love the fact that the game has several different themes to choose from, because it allows the players to be more attached to the game emotionally as they personalize the game to suit their preferences. I hope that new themes would be added in future updates.
I also enjoy the creative use of several snarky words as button labels, such as "D'oh!", "Shucks!", and the very popular "Oh, Silly Error". Due to the popularity of Letterpress and the fact that it uses Game Center for every move that each player makes, you are bound to see the "Oh, Silly Error" message whenever the game could not reach Game Center server. I personally find this as a very creative use of typically boring labels for buttons, but unfortunately some of them may not be appropriate for younger audiences.
Note: If you are constantly experiencing the "Oh, Silly Error" error from Game Center, the only way to fix it is to kill the app and restart it again. You may need to kill the app several times before Game Center can fully restore all the game states. I personally find that removing all the finished games helps to reduce the load of Game Center server to remember those states and reload them each time you open the app.
After playing more than 10 games, I think I'm starting to find a good strategy that would help me play the game with focus. Here are some of them that you might want to try:
- You should treat Letterpress as a turn-based board game where it can end in anyone's turn. Each time you play a word, you must ensure that your opponent won't be able to win easily within his next turn.
- Letterpress is a territory game. You fight for the limited 5x5 board of tiles. To prevent your opponent from coming up with words to play and flip your tiles over and over, you really want to secure your tiles. Protecting your tiles can be considered as building up your defenses.
- It is much easier if you start with an area that is easier to defend, such as any one of the corners; then move your way towards the center while defending your corner. If you're not playing first, you should aggressively attack your opponent's corner by dismantling as many protected tiles that your opponent has as possible.
- Within each move that you make, you should always prioritize on how to defend your corner first, dismantling your opponent's protected tiles second, and occupying free tiles last. Because the game can end during your opponent's next turn, having as many protected tiles as possible usually makes it harder for your opponent to swing the game in his/her favor.
- When there are four or less free tiles, think of words that can use as many of these letters as you can; and reserve them for your final turn. It is typically better for you to end the game during your turn, hence keeping these finishing words can become handy when you can make that final move to end the game victoriously.
- If you have mastered the corner strategies, you might want to try securing the difficult letters, such as Z, Q, J, X, and K, first. Because it is difficult to play words that contain these letters, the tiles that contain them are also less likely to flip ownership. Hence, it is better for you to become the first player to occupy these tiles whenever possible.
Based on the games I have played, I found these strategies to be quite good. You may need a different strategy if your opponents play different styles of Letterpress. I will try a more aggressive strategy later and will share it with you if it works well. As of now, I think it's better to play a defensive game and attack sparringly until you can end things in one move.
I really like Letterpress. It's not your typical word-based games. It is more like a strategic board games with a slightly lower entry barrier compared to other, more complex board games. The fact that it uses Game Center and only requires two players make it easier for me to find opponents. I highly recommend this game. It is free to play, so you can try to play the game and see if you like it.