Zynga makes hangman a portable, social experience in Hanging With Friends

Allow me to weave you a yarn about a man named Jim. This man is a wonderful person, full of wit, charm and humor. Jim also fails spectacularly at playing Hanging with Friends, a social, online version of the classic childhood game of Hangman with a few extra bells and whistles.

To play with Jim, I had to set up an account within Hanging with Friends. For those who are comfortable, you can use your Facebook or Twitter accounts to log into the game. If you don’t have an account on either of these social networks, you can create one within Hanging with Friends and still be able to search for your friends – a very welcome gesture for those with privacy concerns.

Once started, Hanging with Friends feels a bit like chess by mail. (In fact, this idea has already happened with Chess with Friends on the iPhone.) You set up a puzzle using a random set of Scrabble-like tiles and try to stump your opponent. Each letter has a point value written on it. The harder the letter is to use, the higher the point value. By making more complicated words, you level up your avatar and earn coins for gameplay bonuses (more on this later).

Hanging With Friends Hanging With Friends

Once a game is started, one player sends the other a word to solve. A notification pops up (which you can disable if you wish) letting you know that a puzzle is ready to be solved. When you open the puzzle, the last vowel in the word is given to you, and you begin guessing. You begin with nine strikes (incorrect guesses) gradually get fewer as the games progress. Each character appears to be floating over water holding on to five balloons. With each failure to guess a word, one balloon is popped. Pop all five and you’re sent to the drink.

Jim tried to best me with “ridges,” a decent choice for an opening salvo. I guessed it handily. In return, I was fortunate enough to get a Q in my pool of letters, and sent Jim “quoted.” Needless to say, Jim didn’t guess this one. Back and forth we went, online, with Jim failing to guess a single word I had made. Poor Jim!

While the game was going on, there was a wonderful anxiety waiting for my opponent to make their move. Once they have, another notification arrives and you can skip directly to the result. However there is also a replay option where you can see what letters your opponent guessed, and see how well you did (in my case) or did not (in Jim’s case) stump them.

If your opponent gives you a particularly nasty word, Hanging with Friends offers three lifeline bonuses at a cost of 20 game coins each. The Suspects lifeline will highlight four letters, one of which will be in the word; the Extinguish lifeline will highlight four letters which are not at all in the word; finally, the Revive lifeline will remove one of your strikes, effectively giving you another guess.

Hanging with Friends allows you to track up to 20 simultaneous matches. These matches can be online ones, as well as local two player ones, passing the iPhone back and forth. In between moves you are able to send text chat messages to your online friends, giving them encouragement or a friendly ribbing.

Hanging with Friends is a pretty basic app, but it still manages to be fun and engaging. The free version has some ads that pop up between moves and at the bottom of the home screen, while the paid version eliminates these ads entirely. Either version is full and enjoyable. And as a lovely postscript, while typing this review, Jim finally guessed a word correctly: “write.” I’ll have to do better next time!