Wordstop is a very simple game to review because it is, in fact, a very simple game. In it, you play against an opponent and take turns trying to not make a word by playing one letter at a time. If you make a complete a real word, you lose. For example, if the current field looks like AB, then I could play any letter on either side of the two already there except for T, C, and D on the left because that would make TAB, CAB, and DAB respectively.
The twist is that the letter you play for your non-word must be part of a real word, so I couldn’t play ABW but I could play RAB because RAB is both not a real word and still part of another word (CRAB). This means you have to have a sufficient diction to force your opponent’s hand into having no choice but to complete a real word and lose.
The problem is that given a sufficient diction, foreseeing the outcome of a game is rather easy. It boils down to a game of Nim, the game where players take turns removing stones from piles and the person to take the last stone wins (or loses, depending on how you play). The problem is that Nim is a mathematically solved game, so any game that is similar to it has a very inconsequential feel to it, including Wordstop.
If you envision it as a branching decision tree, you can see that the opening move determines quite a bit. It removes the other 25 children from the top layer and some on the second layer, but the second player’s turn has just as much impact. And as the turns progress, the number of possibilities very quickly dry up, so about three turns in, you can determine either the absolute outcome or the possibilities of who wins.
Of course, that is based on the assumption of perfect play with two players having incredible vocabularies, but I would say I managed to accurately predict the winner of my matches about 80% of the time after four turns. And then the game ends very suddenly. It, for some reason or another, made me feel really empty when I first lost and oddly blasé when I first won.
Everything else about the game is pretty good. The asynchronous multiplayer structure is very familiar (think Draw Something where it tracks turns in multiple games) and works well for Wordstop, and the tutorial is short and effective. I wonder, though, what made the developers Word Play Limited choose to layout the letters in a QWERTY arrangement instead of straight alphabetical. I think this works better; I’m just curious about their reasons.
It is 99 cents in the App Store, but there are also in-app purchases. You have stars that you can spend on bombs that eliminate letters from the keyboard that you can’t play and Word Wizard access which is a post-game analysis tool that shows you possible plays you could have made. I’m not sure what the upgrade over the free version is, but in-app purchases in an already paid app never make me feel comfortable.
Personally, I don’t think Wordstop is worth playing. I really had to force myself to keep going to see if my experience with it would change. It’s competently made and has a unique take on the already flooded genre of word games, but its base design reduces to something that is over simplistic in many situations. I feel, though, if you put yourself in the right mindset—that is, vowing to play solely by the seat of your pants—this could be fun. But I can’t stop thinking ahead, and when doing that in a strategy game ruins the whole shebang, well, there might be a problem.
+ An interesting idea
+ Simple and easy to pick up and play
– The core conceit is easily mentally modeled, removing much of the fun in the process
– In-app purchases in a paid app are still gross
Final Score: 5 out of 10