Cross-platform lexical strategy with Word Off

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By Pete Davison Comment

Word Off is a new cross-platform asynchronous multiplayer word game from Toy Studio. The game combines wordsearch mechanics with territory control, and is available now for free via Google Play, the iOS App Store and the Web, with players able to easily maintain the same matches across all three platforms.

A game of Word Off takes place on a grid made up of hexagons, each of which has a letter printed on it. Each letter has a particular point value similar to those seen in Scrabble and its numerous imitators. The objective of the game is for players to either score more points than their opponent after a fixed number of turns has elapsed, or capture the enemy’s “base” hex on the opposite side of the board.

Each turn, players may capture territory by spelling out a word. The word must start either on a hex under the player’s control or one adjacent to it — it may not be started using a hex under the control of the other player. Once a word has been submitted, the player scores points according to the value of its letters, the letters used are refreshed to new ones. In a nice touch, the dictionary definition of the word is also displayed. If the move causes the player to own the majority of claimed territory on the board, they gain a 20-point bonus — in highly competitive matches, this bonus is often passed back and forth a number of times.

Players are also able to use up to three “boost” items in a single game. These are purchased using the game’s soft currency, which may be acquired by winning games or purchased directly. The functions of these items vary from doubling the value of a word or letter’s score to assisting with defense against the other player’s assault. While it would be easy to see them as a “pay to win” option, the limitation of no more than three per game helps prevent their abuse.

The game’s cross-platform play works smoothly for two reasons. The game is built in HTML5 and requires a proprietary user account, which may optionally be connected with Facebook.  If a connection is made with the social network, players can easily find their friends who are playing. They also then have the option of sharing their moves on their own and their opponents’ Timelines as a means of both viral promotion and of notifying the other player it is their turn. Alongside this, the game offers push notifications on iOS and Android and desktop notifications on the Web-based version as well as the facility to email players when it is their turn. These features are enabled by default but may be switched off if the volume of notifications is becoming too great for the player.

The game monetizes through sales of the aforementioned soft currency, which may also be used to purchase new, more complex board layouts, and advertising. Ads may be removed for a one-time fee — though they do not appear to be present in the Web-based version of the game at this time. The ads take the form of small banners on the game’s main menu screen and full-screen commercials following a player’s turn. On the iOS version, these ads are often video trailers for other games, and are at times not age-appropriate for Word Off’s family-friendly audience — at the time of writing, for example, a frequently-occurring ad is for Glu Games’ 12+ rated Deer Hunter Reloaded, which features players shooting a variety of realistic wild animals. On Android, the full-screen ads are often of the misleading variety, seemingly informing players that they have “1 new virus” and should “click here to scan.” Users allowing their children to play the game will likely want to either keep a close eye on the advertising or pay to remove it altogether.

Word Off is a well-presented game with a pleasant comic book aesthetic. The game works well in its Web and iOS incarnations, but the Android version (tested on a Motorola Xoom running Android 3.2) suffers from input lag and poor performance at times — it’s not unplayable by any means, but it’s a noticeably inferior experience to the other versions, at least on the device tested. The Toy Studio team is seemingly dedicated to ensuring the game experience is good for all users, however, as the Android version in particular has received several updates since its launch a few days ago.

What the game should be commended for, however, is providing a genuinely original take on the often-predictable formulae used to make asynchronous multiplayer titles. It remains to be seen whether or not the community at large will take to it, but the game’s strong social features and cross-platform capabilities will be a big help in attracting and retaining a wide variety of users.

As a new release, the iOS version of Word Off is not yet listed on our traffic tracking service AppData. Check back shortly to follow its progress through the App Store charts, or try out the game for free via the App Store, Google Play or on the Web.

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