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Scrabble and poker may seem like an unlikely pair, but the two have joined forces in Words & Cards, a new free-to-play puzzler from Ayopa Games. The result is unique to be sure—a colorful blend of vocabulary and card-playing that provides a few engaging sessions of casual, online head-to-head play. Over time, unfortunately, it becomes evident that Words & Cards lacks any real sense of depth or replayability. Like a beta still in its testing phase, this game sadly feels incomplete.
The former portion of Words & Cards’ titular blend is loosely based on Scrabble and its ilk, requiring players to build dictionary words from 11 randomly drawn letter tiles. Once words are played and points tallied, the game moves into the latter phase, and each player draws a number of cards determined by the quality of their respective previously played word. Using the standard rules of poker, you’ll finally lay down your best card combination—pairs, straights, and flushes—and points are tallied once again. The player with the highest score after five rounds of this is deemed the victor.
Intriguing as the pairing may be, the connection between words and cards here proves a weak one. Although your hand is roughly determined by the words you play, the poker component of Words & Cards seems tacked-on and unessential. Without bluffing, betting, or any sort of chat feature, it doesn’t really feel like poker at all. There’s a currency system in place, mostly to encourage in-app purchases, but wagering occurs at the start of each game, not between hands or rounds.
The most frustrating aspect of Words & Cards is that there’s no time limit. Not only does this allow for cheating (our opponents commonly played uncommon and clearly searched-for words like “zibeth” and “qophs”), but it also does nothing to prevent players from taking days or even weeks to make a move. This, combined with a limit on your number of active games, opens up the very real possibility of not being able to play at all when your matches aren't moving forward. Other elements, like a repetitive soundtrack and the requirement to sign in through Facebook, provide other irritating quirks. Loading times are painfully slow during peak server hours, as well, and occasionally the app is simply unresponsive. Also, the game curiously does not track your stats in any way.
The bottom line. The founding concept behind Words & Cards is certainly unique, but a novel idea isn’t a substitute for good puzzle design and fun features.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 5.1 or later
Unique concept. Clean, colorful interface. Easy to learn.
Little depth to the core game and very few features outside of it. Lack of time limits means lengthy waits and opportunities to cheat by looking up best available words. Repetitive soundtrack. No sense of player progression or development.