Spellwood is a fun, easy-to-play game for budding word wizards of all ages.
Spellwood is set in a magical, wooded realm populated by all sorts of wonderful creatures, many of whom are kindly wizards. It’s no surprise that it’s also the home of the Spellwood Academy of Word Wizards, from which you, at the beginning of the game, are just about to graduate. But before you do, you’ll have to defeat three of your fellow students plus the Headmaster himself, a wise old owl who does his best to teach you all you’ll need to know before you set out on your journey.
In keeping with the family-friendly nature of the game, battles in Spellwood are harmless affairs that are more contests of skill than actual duels. Your quest, in fact, is not to conquer the land or defeat some ancient evil, but to “Develop Your Inner Dictionary,” and your opponents are more likely to offer words of admiration in the heat of battle than curse your family name. When the battle is over, both sides go on their way with no apparent hard feelings, and it’s always possible (and sometimes even necessary) to go back for another round or two in the future.
The Spellwood game board isn’t much to look at and there’s very little in the way of animations, but the hand-drawn characters, precariously-built towers in which you do battle and map of the village are sharp, colorful, and look fantastic. The musical score is also very nice, if a little repetitive, and there’s enough in the way of sound effects to keep the game aurally interesting, even if the music is turned off.
Gameplay is very much like Scrabble, but with a twist. The game board is smaller and rather than being permanent, words on the board disappear a round or two after they’ve been played. Rules determining such things as how long letters stay on the board or awarding bonus points for playing words of certain lengths vary from game to game, leading to slightly different approaches to gameplay for each match. Every letter has a point value and the object is to “cast spells” by forming words from your bank of letter tiles, but instead of building up a score, each word played will reduce your opponent’s hit points, with the obvious object being to reduce his hit points to zero before he does the same to you.
There are other factors that have an impact on gameplay as well. You’ll gain experience as you play, and with higher levels come more hit points that allow you to stay in a fight longer. You’ll also acquire magical hats, wands and sacks that confer offensive and defensive bonuses, plus loot like healing potions or magical scrolls that let you lay down a Double Word tile anywhere on the board or swap a vowel in your letter bank for a consonant (or vice versa). You’ll even learn to slide the board around to accommodate words that would otherwise be too big to fit. But your opponents all have access to the same skills and items, so you’ll still need impressive word wizarding skills, and sometimes a wee dash of luck, if you want to carry the day.
The AI seems a little spotty at times, not really bad so much as just very obvious about when it’s taking it easy on you and when it’s cutting loose, and overall the game is a bit slow-paced, although that’s entirely subjective and could just be my modern-day gamer attention span getting a little antsy. The interface is very well designed and accessible, but a little bit small on conventional mobile devices, so you may occasionally find it tricky to drag and drop letters where you want them. On tablets, this obviously wouldn’t be a problem.
Alongside the 90-plus missions in the single-player mode, Spellwood offers online battles against friends from either Facebook or the Game Center. There are also numerous trophies to be earned, some of them pretty tough, and you can challenge your friends to beat those achievements, too.
Spellwood doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground, but instead refines Scrabble-style gameplay into a fresh and engaging single-player experience. It’s a bit one-dimensional, but if you like word games or just want to tune up your vocabulary a bit without turning your brain numb with boredom, it’s definitely worth a look.