Letterpress is a new iOS game from Atebits, creators of Tweetie (which subsequently became the official iOS Twitter app). The game is available now as a free Universal download and is starting to look like it will be the next big asynchronous multiplayer craze.
Letterpress is a two-player word game. Players are presented with a grid of letters and are tasked with “capturing” as much of it as possible. Spaces may be claimed by tapping on them to make a word — unlike many other word games, however, there is no need for the letters to be touching. Once a word has been captured, the other player gets to take their turn, and does exactly the same — they may even capture their opponent’s letters, which steals points and changes the letters in question to their own color.
Letters may be protected from capture by surrounding them with other captured spaces — if this happens, they become a more “solid” version of the player’s color and may still be used by the other player to make words, but may no longer swap color. Once all of the letters on the board have been colored, the final scores are totalled and a winner declared.
It’s a simple, effective and quick to play game that works well, though inexperienced players sometimes find themselves suffering “stalemate” for a few turns as they repeatedly capture one another’s letters rather than attempting to expand. Because there is no requirement for letters to be arranged in linear paths, however, players have many more options on a single turn. This helps to prevent the “analysis paralysis” many players suffer in titles like Words With Friends, where they spend a long time agonizing over what is the “best” move out of a rather limited set of options.
Letterpress is a free game and can be enjoyed ad-free without paying a cent, but a single optional $0.99 in-app purchase upgrades it to the “full” version, which allows more games to be played simultaneously and the ability to select a variety of different color themes rather than the default “red, white and blue” aesthetic.
There are a few minor issues with Letterpress at present — most seriously is the fact that Game Center, which handles the game’s multiplayer connectivity, sometimes does not appear to cope well with the heavy load of players. Some App Store reviewers are complaining of dropped games or being unable to start matches against opponents — some suffer strange issues such as being able to play matches started by others, but not those which are started by themselves, and vice versa.
The game also does not have a local “pass and play” multiplayer mode for two people to compete on a single device. This is a disappointing oversight, as the nature of the game means that there is nothing that needs to be kept “secret” from the other player. Several App Store reviewers have complained about the lack of this facility, so Atebits should look at implementing this in a future update.
As it stands, however, Letterpress is a simple but fun game that is proving justifiably popular. It is a fun game with an attractive, clean, minimalist presentation, and it does not “punish” free players with heavy advertising or nag screens — instead, it rewards its paying players with additional flexibility and content. It will certainly be interesting to see how Atebits builds on this initial success in the near future.
Letterpress is currently ranked at the No. 396 spot in the top free iPhone apps category and the No. 246 spot in the top iPad apps category, according to AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.