Developer: Lonely Star Software, Inc. and Hasbro, Inc.
Price: $1.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad 2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Board games and the iOS platform tend to blend together with relative ease. The turn based structure of most of these games transition extremely well to the platform, as evidenced by such titles as Words With Friends. It would only make sense that if a modified version of Scrabble could thrive on the platform that other similarly structured releases could prove to be just as successful. With this is mind, Hasbro recently decided to throw another hat in the ring with their new release, Upwords. Can an additional port prove to be just as fruitful for players or could this prove to be the exception to the rule?

Originally conceived as a version of Scrabble with a twist, Upwards follows many of the similar game constructs of the classic word based brain bender, Scrabble. The catch, as the name might imply, is that tiles can also be stacked vertically in order to overwrite and form new words. It is as simple as that. The main difference to most players will be the point scale, which is not based on tile values, but rather the number of rows high a tile stack is on the board. [Ed Note: Upwords’ inventor, Elliot Rudell, sent us the facts on the game itself. It was not originally conceived as an version of Scrabble, but rather “presented to Milton Bradley Company as a competitive alternative to Scrabble, since Milton Bradley did not at that time have their own letter tile board game.”]

The iOS adaptation of the game is just as straightforward as it might seem, featuring both couch play for up to four players and online matchmaking for two. Though logic would predominantly point the developer towards using Game Center to implement matchmaking, it is instead tied into the player’s Facebook friends list. Luckily they still allow for random matches with strangers, because most likely only a handful of friends at best will have the game tied into their Facebook accounts.

Gameplay wise, if you have played any of the asynchronous scrabble clones on iOS the experience will most likely seem similar. The problem is that unless a group of friends agree to start playing together on a consistent basis, it becomes hard to justify a purchase, only to play with complete strangers. Sure, some may appreciate the challenge of going toe-to-toe with a random schmuck, but the social aspects of the experience were what helped drive the success of the Words With Friends juggernaut. Here that seems to be absent.

When it comes to solid ports of a board gaming experience, Upwords is about as faithful as it gets. The problem is that without the wide install base provided by releasing the app for free, the needed audience to push the social mechanics are just not there yet. This is not to say that more spectators won’t come with time, but it might take a while to build up a head of steam. As long as players don’t care who they are competing against, it is well worth the purchase. Social gamers however, may be better served to wait and see what happens in their social circles.

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