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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