They say you’re never too old to design a game, but you’re never too young either! Pick a Vowel is a new tabletop word game from the fertile young mind of local schoolboy and up-and-coming designer, Sam Gallon. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Sam, who gave me a rundown of his creation that is currently enjoying a robust Kickstarter campaign.
Fortunately for Sam, I quite enjoy word games so I was enthused about Pick a Vowel right out of the gate. The prototype is perfectly functional and comes complete with an eye-catching (work-in-progress) game board, a variety of cards, a few score-pads and 5 super-sweet, wooden ‘vowel-tokens’. I found the game easy to pick up with intuitive mechanics that manage to carve out a distinctive, interactive play-style. To be sure, the game does feel similar to popular contemporaries like Scrabble and Boggle, but, as hinted at in the title, vowels are emphasised in the formulation of words. It is certainly an impressive idea and Sam assures me that it is merely an extension of a school project that he hopes will catch on outside of the confines of the classroom.
Always do your best in school. You never know when it might turn into a lucrative game product!
Brief Rules Description
As mentioned, the game is very easy to pick up and play. Each player (between 2 – 5) picks their favourite vowel and the corresponding token and, armed with a pair of D6 dice, the action begins! During a player’s turn he/she must first roll the dice. Each player must then choose between the 2 numbers so that their token lands on a favourable square on the game board. A square may contain a consonant or (less frequently) an interactive (?) card or a vowel (!) card. In this way each player moves around the board collecting letters and game-cards to add to their pool. Words are formed by expending letters from your collection. It is up to you to decide when to use that valuable ‘A’ or ‘O’ you’ve been sandbaggin’ for a rainy day! Word formation follows the same basic rules of Scrabble; if it’s in the dictionary, it’s a goer.
Zoom around the board. Collect letters. Make Words. Easy!
The goal is to win by accumulating a set of words that score more points than your opponents. Similar to Scrabble, each letter has a corresponding number of points assigned to it. As such, badass letters like ‘Q’ or ‘K’ score more points than pansies like ‘S’ or ‘P’. Since vowels are a relatively scarce and valuable resource, they score 2 points each. The gameplay quickly evolves to a point where you target particular words based on the letters you have already. For example, I often found myself chasing an ‘S’ or a ‘T’ to go with my ‘H’. Sam has recognised this and added ‘objective cards’ to the gameplay. Similar to Ticket to Ride, players can choose a number of secret objectives to complete during the course of the game in order to beef up their end score. (This is easier than it sounds; I struggled to wrangle the right letters to make words that included the sequences ‘DG’ and ‘ION’). The game ends and scores are tallied when the agreed word limit is reached.
Turns out Sam is pretty good at his own game!
Sam took me through a quick but enjoyable 1v1 demonstration game. The beginning is predictably fast-paced and uneventful as each player must first accumulate a handful of letters before thinking about making words. Soon I had a pool of about 5 consonants and a vowel card and I found myself deep in the tank considering all the permutations. A player is allowed to play only 1 card per turn so choosing the right vowel is of the utmost importance. I must admit, as an aspiring wordsmith, I was hoping to reel off a series of blockbuster sequences, but the best I could manage were modest efforts like ‘STORY’ and ‘PURGE’. We kept the game to a relatively brief length by assigning a 4 word limit to proceedings and, after playing a few sneaky interactive cards that allowed me to steal some of Sam’s letters, the word limit was reached and we tallied up the scores. Turns out Sam defeated me with a score of 33 to my 22. Congrats to Sam for breaking my winning streak!
A meagre score. But fun was had!
Pick-a-Vowel is a fun and intelligent take on the word game genre that perhaps works best as a teaching tool to demonstrate the importance of vowels in the English language. Sam has put a great deal of effort into his creation and I wish him the best with his Kickstarter campaign. I encourage you, dear reader, to head on over to the website and back this most deserving project.
Thanks to Sam for the demo. Drop everything and go back Pick a Vowel!