Although we don’t see as many word games as we see hidden object or match-three, they’re still among some of the most popular games with casual gamers. Yet strangely enough, there’s a real gap in new word game concepts, with few daring to venture beyond the framework of Boggle. If you’ve already played most of the best, you might be feeling a bit… bored. Well, PictoWords takes up the challenges and puts forth something different in the word game genre.

Remember the game show Classic Concentration? It aired from 1987-1991, hosted by Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek. The concept is very similar. PictoWord is a word game that uses puzzles made up of a combination of pictures and letters.

At the start of each round, you’ll receive several picture tiles and several letter tiles. The pictures, or “pictos,” represent the actual spelled-out words and not sounds. Using the tiles, you must form words. For example, the letter “B” plus the picto representing “RAIN” makes up the word “BRAIN.”

Once you’ve guessed a picto correctly, the word will be revealed, making further guesses much easier. A few are really tough, like “AID” for a woman helping a man with a head wound. Pictos repeat, so a rain cloud always means “RAIN” and a rodent will always be “RAT.” This means the game gets easier as you play, though there’s enough pictos to keep things from getting prematurely stale.

At the top of the screen you’ll see blank spaces, indicating how many tiles make up each word you need to find. You’ll get points for each tile used. You don’t need to complete all of the words – just score enough to fill up the gauge so you can advance. You’ll be given three hints, which will automatically place one tile for you, and you can shuffle around your tiles at whim. If you’re still stuck, you can choose to give up, but that will mean starting all over again from level one! It’s better to wager a few guesses.

There are also bonus words, often times slang, which are not on your list but will earn you extra points when you discover them. Every few levels you’ll gain access to the bonus round, where you have less than 3 minutes to figure out a common phrase. During the bonus round each tile can only be used once.

PictoWord’s dictionary is fairly good, although it has it’s limitations when it comes to grammatical words or acronyms. You can never use two-letter words like “no” or “at,” though there are plenty of two tile words made using pictos. It’s not always clear what acronyms will be accepted, as “GED” (general equivalence diploma) is not usable, but “EPA” (environmental protection agency) or “EKG” (electrocardiogram) are fine and listed on the word list.

Similarly, the dictionary accepts slang, so words like “cred” (slang for credibility or credit) are also accepted. This certainly makes the game more challenging, but thankfully you are never required to get all of the words on the list, so you should be able to find enough standard words to pass each level. Since you’re generally given just 6-8 tiles per round, it’s also possible to cheat by using the process of elimination, but don’t say you heard that from me.

One great thing about PictoWord is that it’s original. I’ve yet to come across another similar game; it’s a word game that brings something different to the table. Kudos to the developers for trying something different. Once you’ve gotten past the learning curve, it can be challenging, but still fun (provided you don’t get stuck).

There’s no real goal to the gameplay, so you’re ultimately competing against yourself for the highest possible score. In this sense, it’s a bit unstructured, though this gives it flexibility as a casual game which you can play for short spurts. It would be great to see a sequel that offered a bit more variety in the mechanics, perhaps alternating play modes or offering more minigames.

If you’re a word game lover who wants something beyond Boggle and Scrabble, PictoWords is a neat concept that even experienced wordies should find interesting. However, if you’re a perfectionist that needs to get a perfect score on every level, you might get aggravated by the acronyms. Because the method of play never varies, it’s not a good choice for extend play periods, though it works really well as a game to play during coffee breaks.