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Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves are in front of the cave containing fabulous treasure. But of the magic word needed to open the cave... they remember only the consonants! A 'word' and 'betting' game for clever sultans.
I have a lot of party games, many of them favorites of those I introduce them to. Sadly, however, many of them are restricted by the number of players - most working well with six people or less. I’m always on the lookout for something that I can take with me to parties. Word Jam provides a lot of punch for how small it is. It’s not often that you play a word game that accommodates up to twelve people easily, but Word Jam does so effortlessly.
The problem with many word games is that they do not work well if one of the players is a word genius. However, using alliances, bluffing a bit, and quick responses can help one even the court. I really enjoyed this game, and found that it can be taught and played in a very short time. The setup seems a little odd, but it’s actually a rather simple game to run. If I have very little room when traveling, this is one of the best choices I can make to take with me.
Five cards are set up in the middle of the table, one with one coin on it, another with two coins, two with three coins, and one with a pair of crossed swords. A stack of consonant cards (twenty-one) are shuffled and placed near by. Each player is given an Ali Baba / Thieves card, and another deck of fifteen style cards is shuffled and placed face-down. One Cave card, with eight columns on it - each with two numbers - is placed under a “Sesame” card, which covers all but the first column. A timer is placed on the table, and the first round is ready to begin.
At the beginning of each round, five of the consonant cards are placed face down next to each of the coin and sword cards. The top style card is turned over, and the topic on the card is read. Each “style” card is of a different category. Examples include:
The consonant card next to each card is flipped over. Players then immediately try to think of a word that contains the most of the consonants next to the coin cards, especially the higher valued ones. The word may not have the consonant that appears on the card next to the crossed swords. As soon as one player thinks of a word, they place their Ali Baba card on the table and state the word. They become “Ali Baba” for this round. The points for the word are calculated - with the letters on the table scoring points equal to the number of coins on the matching card for each time they appear in the word. All the other players then immediately and secretly place their card on the table, covering it with their hand - with either the Ali Baba side up or the thief side up.
Players who place their card with the Ali Baba side up are basically trusting the person who stated the word, and sticking with them. The thieves are trying to come up with a better word. The twenty-second timer is flipped, and all the thieves try to think of a word that fits the category and is worth more points than the word that “Ali Baba” said. When the time is up, each thief must state in clockwise order their word. The thief with the highest value word (as long as it is higher than Ali Baba’s) scores points (recorded on scrap paper) equal to the highest visible number on the cave card. All other thieves score points equal to the highest yellow visible number on the cave card. If none of the thieves have a higher valued word (or if there are no thieves), then Ali Baba scores the highest visible number, with all the people supporting him scoring the highest yellow number on the card.
After scoring, the consonant cards are reshuffled, and five new ones are laid out face down. The next style card is flipped over, and the cave card is moved over one column, revealing more scoring numbers. The first seven rounds all occur in this manner. On the eighth round, all players secretly pick the Ali Baba side or the Thief side BEFORE the round begins. The round proceeds as normal, but each player gives a word. The thief with the highest valued word scores four points, and the player with Ali Baba showing with the highest valued word scores six points. Points are then totaled, and the player with the highest score wins the game!
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: As I said earlier, I really like how compact the game is. It’s simply a small box that still provides ample room for all the cards and the timer. The cards themselves are of good quality, and the different decks and types of cards all have different colored backs, making them a cinch to sort out. The artwork is fairly comical and adds a bit of theme (if possible) to the game. The only thing I wasn’t thrilled about were the letters themselves. Some of them could get confusing when viewed upside down. Dots were placed on the “M” and “W” to show which side was up, but in the heat of the moment these things can easily be forgotten. I just usually pause the game long enough to clearly explain to everyone just which letters are which.
2.) Rules: The rules are fairly lengthy (they aren’t that long but compared to the simplicity of the game they are), but a good portion of them is just a detailed setup and explanation of the different styles. I was thankful for the style descriptions; they told EXACTLY what words were allowed. Arguments are settled by votes, but rarely have I run across arguments in the game. The rules did include examples, which helped me easily teach the game in less than a minute.
3.) Players: One of the biggest advantages of the game is the fact that it supports up to twelve players. As long as everyone can see the letters clearly, the added players are no problem. A twelve-player game (and I’ve done it) doesn’t take much longer than a five-player game (which is the game minimum). Having stated that, it does mean that Word Jam does have a minimum restriction; so if you’re looking for a party game that works well for four, then you’re out of luck.
4.) Thinking on Your Feet: Speed is of essence in this game. Players want to be the first to shout out a word; but if you just shout the first word you think of, the thieves will easily bypass you with a better one. Once someone states a good word, the thieves start sweating a bit. That twenty-second timer is pretty stinkin’ fast! You’d be surprised how hard it is to not only think of a word that has a high calculated value, but to think of a word that even is IN the category!
5.) Strategy and Fun Factor: The game plays very quickly, in less than thirty minutes - thanks to the time constraints. That, and the fact that it can handle twelve people, really makes it an excellent choice to bring out at a large gathering. Word Gab isn’t simply about who can think of the best words, however - it’s knowing which side to join. Is the word that Ali Baba said good enough, or will a thief do better? Knowing which side of the card to play, and when, can decide whether you win the game or not. The game flows fast enough, and isn’t brain-burning enough, that it’s quite fun. All the people I’ve introduced it to have enjoyed it.
It’s always good to have a small-sized party game that works in large groups. Word Jam works well, even for those who haven’t memorized the dictionary. Categories such as “Singers”, “Things you See”, and “Cinema” help pop culture people compete with the word brainiacs. Either way, the game is over quickly enough, and people have a good time and are involved the entire time. Considering the inexpensive price amongst all these other positive factors, I would say that Word Jam is a very good idea when searching for a party game.
“Real men play board games.”