Here’s a game that I used to play with my Granny. It’s a pen-and-paper game that’s best with 2 players but can stretch to 3. 

How to play

Start by drawing a 9×9 grid. Then choose a 9-letter word to write across the middle of the grid. If you want to randomise setup, then you can generate a random 9-letter word online.

Players take it in turns to write a word on the grid. Your word must follow the rules of normal crossword construction. So you are constructing words vertically and horizontally. If you place a letter in a square adjacent to another, it must make a word. 

Each turn you score points equal to the number of new letters you’ve written in the grid. So in the example shown, the first player writes FLAMMABLE in the 9th column. One of the Ms was already written, so the player has added 8 new letters to the grid and scores 8 points. So each turn, you are trying to write words that add as many new letters to the grid as possible.

You keep playing, alternating turns until both players pass because they can’t see any more legal places to place a letter.  The player with the highest score is the winner. 

Why I like it

This is a lovely game for word lovers. It encourages you to think of words that fit into spaces, fixed by other letters. It’s an interesting mental challenge. 

There are also strategic considerations. Is it best to place a word that keeps as much of the board open as possible? (Often this would mean creating words on alternate rows and columns). Maybe you have an idea about another word that would brilliantly fit in the space you’ve left.  Or is it best to play a word that blocks space your opponent could score highly from. Is your opponent able to fill a space that you can’t? And vice versa.

A game in progress…

My new method of scoring

It’s frustrating for me that in every game the pattern of scoring is the same. Players score loads of points at the start of the game as they easily fill up big bits of space with long words. Then later in the game, you’re always just scoring one or maybe two points on your turn. If you play sub-optimally and fall behind in the early game, you’re unlikely to be able to catch up. 

So I think the game works better when you introduce another scoring mechanism. You score for the number of new letters you write in the grid, but you multiply this by the number of new words you create. This changes how players tackle the game and means that the playing field is open for much longer. The end game is now often critical. You have a choice about whether you make a long word or try to create lots of new ones. By writing just 3 new letters you can get 12 points. 

Have a play and let me know what you think.