Once more unto madness, we delve again into a game based upon the cosmic horrors of H.P. Lovecraft. This one, however, revels in the joys of insanity and the absurdity of eldritch abominations as a word game.
Stated well by the game itself, every player takes the role of a mythos researcher, reading the words man was never meant to spell. Danger lurks, waiting in every odd angle and strange corner, and the further you dig into forgotten, forbidden knowledge of a universe so infinitely greater than yourself, the closer to death or sanity you tread.
Cards, Dice, and Totems to an Elder God
Players are dealt letter cards and must use them in a fashion not dissimilar from Scrabble to form real words of their choosing. Each completed word is scored based on the number of angles in the letters, which are listed on every individual letter card to save any counting or arguments. Once a total is determined, the spelling player must roll a twenty-sided die and overcome the value of the word, or risk his sanity. Thus, a strategy is developed. Players must risk madness over points, and choose whether to spell and play longer, higher value words in a race to win or shorter, safer words to protect themselves from descending too far into deranged musings. The goal of the game is to reach 100 points, and the pace is truly dependent on how daring the players are.
Each of the 96 letter cards are well designed, fully colored, and artfully illustrated with both great detail and comedic value. Each card features a letter, point value for that letter’s angles, a cartoon of a Lovecraftian creature representing the letter, and finally a more mundane representation as well, for example: “P is for Proto-Shaggoth peeking at a Penguin“, or “L is for Leng Spider licking a lollipop“. The cards are reminiscent of children’s alphabet flash cards, and while they feature monsters, they are not entirely inappropriate for a younger audience. Each critter is playfully drawn, and though it may be hard to explain to a young one exactly how to pronounce “Tsathoggua“, it’s doubtful that the child will have nightmares from the imagery or themes.
While Unspeakable Words is ostensibly a card game, it comes with a nice collection of 30 small Cthulhu pawns, which serve as totems for your researcher to stave off danger and insanity. Each time a player fails to match or beat the score of their attempted word, they must sacrifice a totem, representing sanity slowly slipping away. If a player loses their last pawn, they are out of the game.
The Final Unspeakable Word
While the game could have used some more clear rules on exactly what counts as a word for use in play James Ernest and Mike Selinker have put together a fantastic, fun product. It’s easy to play, fun for a group up to 6 (more with added pawns which can be ordered from publisher Play Room Entertainment), and while it doesn’t make you tremble in fear, it does capture what is fun about the Cthulhu mythos in the modern day. The rules booklet is printed in several different languages, but the English section comes in at a total of three pages, two for game rules, product description, and play examples, and the last including a set of optional rules that add some great new elements to the game and are strongly recommended. These don’t change the core concepts of play, but do increase the pressure a bit.
The target audience is most certainly the same crowd as those who would enjoy games such as Scrabble or Crostix, but brings in character unseen in such games, making it an excellent purchase.
Ia Ia, C is for Cthulhu cuddling close to a crab, Fthaghn!