So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mass Market Monkey-business: Bananagrams

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about Scrabble and the fact that it really isn’t a vocabulary game.  This time I will cover a game that really is about your ability with words: Bananagrams.  I generally don’t like word games, with Scrabble being a rare exception.  Bananagrams turns out to be another exception.  I like how easy it is to learn, how fast it plays, and the fact that it lends itself to secret handicaps.  All of this makes the game one of those rare finds; it’s a mass-market game that really is fun!

Bananagrams promotional image
The game is incredibly easy to learn.  All of the tiles are placed face down in the middle of the table; this is called the “bunch”.  Each player draws a preset number of tiles from the bunch based on the number of players: usually eleven.  Someone calls “go!”, and everyone flips over their tiles and builds a crossword out of them.  When someone completes their crossword, they call “peel!”, and everyone draws another tile.  If you have a tile that is giving you trouble, you may call “dump!” and exchange it for three other tiles.  As letters are added, a player’s words can be disassembled and reassembled, completely rearranging their crossword.  This continues until the tiles in the bunch number less than the number of players.  The first person then done with their crossword is the winner.  There, I taught you the game!  See how easy that was!

The game plays just that fast, too.  It really falls into that category of games known as “speed games”, which tend to be short and center on getting some task completed first, or beating the clock.  (The classic example from my childhood is Perfection.)  My wife and I were judging Destination Imagination a few weeks ago, and finished two games during the half hour lunch break with other judges who had never played before.  The short playing time of this game means that those who need to be sucked in encouraged can play a game that doesn’t last long enough to be painful if they don’t like it.  You will be amazed at how fast an hour or two can go by in twenty minute increments!

Of course, this is where the language skills come into play, which reveals the biggest fault this game has.  Anyone with good language skills will outshine someone with lesser skills.  An adult will outshine a child; a writer will outclass a mathematician.  Since words only have to be two letters long, someone with good word skills can just capture the initiative and keep “peeling”, completely disrupting other players and maintaining the lead.  However, this is where the secret self-handicapping comes into the game.  An adult playing Bananagrams with a child could decide to make nothing less than three letter words to help level the playing field, without letting the child know.  My wife’s favorite secret handicap is to refuse to dump any letters, and live with what she draws.  However it’s done, it is an easy game from which to eliminate any inherent advantages.

I rate Bananagrams as just as a-peel-ing (sorry, it just had to be done!) as Scrabble.  On top of everything else, it is readily available in stores around town, and prices at roughly $15.00 (USD), and can play a bunch of people (okay, I’ll stop!), which makes it almost must have for your game library.  I will say that it is not good for the under 10 crowd, since their word skills are just not developed enough. 

Here’s the vital statistics:

                Ages:                     7 and up (though I would tend to say 9 at the youngest)
                Time:                     15 minutes
                Players:                  1-8 (but really best with 3-5 players)

And it travels well too!

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure I like speed games, but this seems like a workable mixture of speed and skill at bananagramming. (See, there is a reason for the name of the game.)