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Review: WordPop — Time To Dust Off Your Spelling Hat

Review: WordPop — Time To Dust Off Your Spelling Hat
May 5th, 2007 by dgoldring

Everyone remembers the classic word game, Boggle. Mix up the lettered tiles, and slam the box to lock them in place (everyone’s favorite part of the game was slamming the tiles into place). Flip the timer and you are off. Whoever could make the most words out of the random jumble of letters won. Well, get your spelling hat ready, because Smart Box Design apparently remembers Boggle as well. WordPop is the 21st century rendition of Boggle, with a little bit of Scrabble thrown in to spice things up. It has everything you remember, including the fun of finding words in the jumble of randomly lettered tiles; and a lot of things you may not remember from the original game, such as the rotating board and helper tiles. So, sit back and start warming up your dictionaries for WordPop!

Installation and Registration: WordPop follows the standard installation procedure. Simply download the desktop installer and load the game onto your device via Activesync. Once installed, you can start 25 new games before you will have to register. (As an aside, Smartbox is among the most generous trial periods of any developer). You won’t need to play all 25 games before you find yourself clamoring for your wallet to buy the full version. If you are the type of person, however, who wants to feel like he got his “money’s worth” out of the free trial, then feel free to play all 25 games before registering.

Gameplay: WordPop is a basic word search game. Just select new and set the difficulty level to drop lettered tiles into the board. Each letter is assigned a point value based upon the point values assigned in Scrabble. Now, the hunt is on. Find words by linking adjoining letters. Note that the letters need not be in a straight line, as long as they are all adjacent to each other. Once you form a word, those letters will “pop” off the board. Clear the board to advance to the next level.

Three Levels of Difficulty: WordPop offers three levels of difficulty, which means anyone from the novice word finder to the advanced word sleuth will enjoy playing this game.

– In Easy Mode, you will begin the game with three blank tiles which may be used at any time. Each time you clear a level, you will earn an additional blank tile.
– In Medium Mode, you will begin the game with a single blank tile. Each time you clear a level, you will earn one random bonus tile.
– In Hard Mode, you will start with no tiles, but can earn bonus tiles as the game progresses.

Bonus Tiles: Since we are on the subject of bonus tiles, I’ll give you a little better explanation of how they work. As I mentioned, depending upon which level of difficulty you select, you may start with one or more blank tiles. These tiles are wild cards. They are worth no points, but can really help you out of some difficult situations (such as finding yourself at the end of a level with no vowels; or worse, a “Q” standing alone.)

Additionally, you can earn bonus tiles which already have letters on them. These tiles can be played at any time, and will earn you the same number of points as if that tile had appeared naturally on the board.

In addition to earning bonus tiles at the end of each level, you can also earn bonus tiles for creating words worth a certain number of points.

In Easy Mode, a word worth 40 points will earn an extra bonus tile.

In Medium, it is 50 points, and in Hard Mode, 60 points.

Of course, the obvious question is what if you complete a word worth double those amounts (80 points in Easy for example). Well, in that case, WordPop will award you a double bonus of two new tiles.

You can only hold onto three bonus tiles at a time. Don’t worry, though, if you earn a bonus tile while you are already holding three, WordPop will not forget about you. Instead, when you earn a fourth bonus tile, one of your existing tiles will turn into a blank wild card tile.

Scoring: Scoring in WordPop is similar to the game of Scrabble. Each tile has a number in the corner. When you form a word, the numbers are added up and then multiplied by the number of tiles in the word. In other words, if you spelled the word “eat”, the letters “E”, “A”, and “T” are each worth 1 point. Thus, the word is worth a total of three points. Multiply that by the number of tiles (3) for a total value of nine points. WordPop will even take care of all of this advanced math for you, tallying the score for each word as you go along. All you need to worry about is finding words and “popping” them off the screen.

Rotating the Board: Sometimes, you reach a point in the game where you seem to have no remaining options. Like children at a junior high dance, the vowels are all clustered together on one side, while the consonants are ignoring them from the other. It seems like the game must be over now. There is no way to form a word unless you can think of one that begins, “OIUAAEI”. I sure can’t. But all is not lost. In WordPop, you can rotate the board at any time, without penalty. Just hit the rotate button and the board will shift 90 degrees. What was the top is now the side, and so on. Suddenly, that “N” is next to the “E” and you have the beginning of another word.

Ending the Game: The game ends when you cannot form any words with the remaining letters. One drawback I found in the game is that you will not receive a message telling you whether there are any words to be made. The reason for this makes sense, it is because the rotation of the game board makes it impossible for the computer to anticipate all possible variations of the letters. Nonetheless, I found it slightly frustrating that there was not a message. Regardless, when you cannot locate any additional moves, tap the red “X” button on the right to end your game.

Sounds: I do not typically like to play games with the sound turned on. This probably stems from the fact that I am usually playing in public places, such as the train. Nonetheless, I was extremely disappointed by the sounds in this game. The background music plays only during the introduction, not during actual gameplay. During gameplay, a series of chimes sounds to alert you how you are doing. One chime sounds each time you select a letter. If the last letter selected completes a word, a second chime sounds. A slightly different chime will sound if you complete a high value word.

Additionally, although WordPop has a built in volume control, it can be a little tricky to use. Tap it once and the volume will be muted in the system control. Tapping it a second time should return the volume to its previous position. In order for it to do so, however, you must first set the desired volume in the sound settings menu. One of my main criticisms of other Smart Box Design games has been that the audio controls did not tie into the main system volume. Thus, the sound was difficult to control. WordPop seems to have fixed this problem, as the tie in worked extremely well.

High Scores and Best Words: WordPop does a great job of tracking your progress through the game. First, it tracks up to ten high scores for each difficulty level. In each high score, it will note the score you achieved, as well as the round on which you ended.

Additionally, WordPop will keep track of your best words. This is a list of the 10 highest scoring words you have played. My best word so far was “junta”, which earned me 65 points.

Conclusion: If you are a fan of word games such as Boggle and Scrabble, then WordPop is the ideal game for you. It is a fast paced and addictive game. It takes you from the highs of scoring a 75 point word to the lows of finding yourself stuck with “XVZI” as your final tiles, in a matter of seconds. Give this game a try, and before long words will be popping right out of your dictionary.

Vital Statistics:
Name: WordPop
Version: 1.01
Platform: WM 2003 SE
Also Available: WM5, Palm OS, Treo.
Developer: Smart Box Design
Distributed by: Smart Box Design, Astraware Games
Price: $14.95

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Doug Goldring of “Just Another Mobile” Monday Reviews Word Monaco

Review: Word Monaco. Vacation, With a Twist of Spelling…
February 24th, 2007 by dgoldring

Several months ago, I wrote a review of Paragon’s Can’t Stop Solitaires Collection. Any of you faithful readers who remember that review should find it to be no surprise that my favorite vacation activity is playing solitaire…particularly at the beach. Frankly though after several straight hours, traditional 52 card solitaire can become a bit tiresome, especially when the wind keeps blowing he cards off the blanket and whipping them through the air and into the sand. Before long, I need something more to keep my attention. Enter Word Monaco. Word Monaco is a game designed for tireless solitaire players like me who just need an added twist. And what is that twist, you might ask? Spelling. Our old grade school nemesis.

Installation and Registration: Installation is simple. Just download the desktop installer and load it onto your Pocket PC using ActiveSync. You can play 15 games using the full featured trial version before you will have to register, for unlimited spells of fun.

Gameplay: Word Monaco is similar to a traditional game of solitaire. The cards are dealt out of the deck into seven increasingly sized piles (so that the first has one card and the last has seven). Like solitaire, the top card of each pile is turned face up, while the rest of the cards remain hidden. Now, here comes the twist. Instead of numbers and suits, these cards each have letters. Create words by moving letters from column to column. Use all of the letters to form words and you win.

Variations: There are three variations of Word Monaco. Gameplay is the same in each variation, however, the ultimate goal of each variation is slightly modified, enhancing the excitement of gameplay as you switch from one variation to the next. The three available variations, which are all based on a vacation theme, include:

Larvotto Beach — where you must simply use all of the letters to form words

Royalty Cafe — where, in addition to using all of the letters to form words, you are also given three special cards (pink borders). The special cards must all be used in the same word, or each in different words. Each word must also contain three or more letters.

Train Station — where, in addition to using all of the letters to form words, you are also given four special cards (pink borders). The special cards must all be used in the same word, or each in different words. Each word must also contain four or more letters.

Frankly, once you start looking at how the variations can significantly affect the outcome of the game, it becomes apparent that there are countless variations of the basic game which could be made. This is a game which just screams for expansion packs, with different themes and variations of cards. While the available variations already make Word Monaco an incredibly addictive game, expansion packs would significantly enhance the appeal of this game by providing a wide variety of themes and gameplay variations.

Difficulty Levels: In addition to the three variations, there are also three different skill levels in each. The skill levels determine the universe of letters available in each deck.
Easy includes two jokers in each deck which can be substituted for any letter card.
Medium includes every letter in the alphabet except J, Q, V, X, and Z, and no jokers.
Hard includes every letter in the alphabet,and no jokers.

Cheating: There are two ways in which you can discover what cards are hidden under the dealt piles in each game. First, in the game settings menu, you can select the “Peek At Face-Down Cards.” Once checked, you need only tap any face down card to be shown what letter is hidden there.

Likewise, at any time during the game, you can also select the “Show Deck” option from the Game Menu. This will provide you with a list (in alphabetical order) of all of the cards showing and all of the cards which are still hidden. Unlike “Peek At Face-Down Cards”, this option will not show you the placement of each letter, but it will give you an overview of the letters at your disposal. Both options can be very useful for learning the rules and strategies of the game, as well as planning ahead during any of the variations of the game.

Statistics: One of my favorite features found in games such as Word Monaco are the statistics. Essentially, you are your only opponent, so it is nice to know how you stack up against yourself. Word Monaco does a nice job with this. It keeps track of how many games you have won in each variation versus how many games you have played. It also tells you your winning percentage and the fewest number of moves you have used to win each variation. Additionally, there is also a running list maintained of your best words from all of the games you have won.

Graphics: The graphics in Word Monaco are well drawn in high resolution. Each variation has a different background which evokes the mood of the location on which the variation is based. I found these backgrounds, while not overly complicated, really helped establish the mood of each of the variations, and significantly added to my enjoyment of the game. Again, however, this feature clearly lends itself to unlimited variations, backgrounds, and themes. I would love to see a variety of different themed expansion packs. For example, pictures of different cars, sports, or even mobile devices could be integrated to makeup the background images.

Help: While Word Monaco is an extremely exciting game, it is also a unique concept which combines traditional solitaire and…well, like I said…spelling. New games like this can be tricky to learn, and that is why Help is never more than a click away in Word Monaco. Turn on the in-game tips and text boxes will pop up on the screen to help guide you through the next moves and explain what you are seeing on the board. Once you have mastered the basics, you can still seek help by simply tapping the Help Menu and search the extensive help library, seek strategy tips, or review the goals of each variation of the game. These options certainly went a long way toward helping me familiarize myself with the basic gameplay and strategy.

Conclusion: If you enjoy solitaire, card games, word puzzles, or any combination of these three, then Word Monaco has found a new home on your device. Although gameplay sounds easy, it quickly becomes apparent that creating words out of the available letters can be much more difficult than it looks (just wait until you get a deck with all vowels and a “v”.) The variations and backgrounds make the game extremely enjoyable. Couple that with the three difficulty settings, and this game is ideal for players of any skill level. Those learning to spell will enjoy the freedom this game adds to the educational process, while advanced spellers can try to increase their vocabulary by creating words using as many letters as possible. This is an original and fantastic variation on an old classic card game, which will definitely be joining me for my next vacation.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Word Monaco
Version: 1.01
Platform: WM 2003 SE
Also Available: WM5,
Developer: Smart Box Design (distributed by Astraware)
Available From:
Astraware
Smart Box
JAMM Store
Price: $14.95

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