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Handsome: An Elegant Word Game Kickstarter Preview


Quick Look: Handsome: An Elegant Word Game

Designer: T.C. Petty, III
Artists: Bryan Fischer
Publisher: Button Shy
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 2-6
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 15-30 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com




Handsome Review; Word game by Button Shy Games; Image by Benjamin Kocher

Review:
I’m a writer, an editor, and an avid reader. As such, it’s not surprising that I find myself drawn to word games. I’m also a fan of Button Shy’s wallet games—games that consist of 18 cards and not much else. When I saw they were launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund Handsome, an elegant word game for 2-6 players, I was more than intrigued. I wondered how on earth they were going to make a word game work with only 18 cards. Well, the tl;dr of the situation is this: it works, it’s fun, and it makes you think. And I really like it.

My Experience
After reading the rules a few times and trying to figure out how the game plays out, I eventually decided to start playing—by myself, as two players. From there, following the setup and gameplay rules made a heck of a lot more sense. Some games I can visualize in my head after reading the rules; Handsome, on the other hand, took some physical action to get it to make sense. It's possible that it was because it was at the end of a long day, but I digress.


I really only needed to get it set up, and after that, it made perfect sense. The same thing happened when trying to explain the game. I could use all the words I wanted, but everyone just needed to see a round in action, after which it was crystal clear. And that’s fine. Not every game is going to make perfect sense right out of the gate. 

Playing the game was a lot of fun. It took a lot of thought to use the common letters (in the middle of the table) and the remaining letters in our individual hands, plus any vowels we desired (all the cards are consonants; players can use whatever vowels they wish—just not y) in order to make a word. Our first words were relatively short, like “kite” or “card.” By the end of the game, we were throwing down eight- and nine-letter words. This is important, because the player(s) with the most letters in their word earn an additional point during the round’s scoring. The concept of only playing a limited amount of consonant cards, while still including vowels (from your head; there are no vowel cards, so you can use as many as you want), can take a bit to come to terms with. My wife didn’t have that problem, but I sure did.

But I liked it. I liked trying to string letters together to make awesome words, words that would score me points. One of the fun aspects about Handsome is in playing with other people. Because each letter is assigned to one of three suits, and the player(s) who used the most letters of a suit to make their word are assigned a point, there is a lot of thought and effort that goes into crafting these words. After all, my super-awesome five-letter word “toque” (that nobody else was ever going to come up with because they’re not Canadian) was beat out by a much longer word (which I can’t remember) that beat my word in both length and suits. So that wasn’t very polite, but I’ve already moved on (to plotting my revenge, of course). 

We had fun with Handsome. Some rounds took far too long, but after a few of those, we decided to use a timer. A timer, I believe, is a useful tool and will help keep rounds from taking too long (especially one when person comes up with a word quickly and others are still thinking). I found it fascinating how well the game turn out with only using 18 cards. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical at first, but after my first game, I became a true believer.

Setup:


Everyone has two cards in their hand that only they can use, and there are five cards in the common pool for everyone to use.
Setup varies depending on the player count. However, no matter the number of players, there will always be five cards in the middle of the table, face up, for all to see, and for all to use in their words. The way this comes about changes slightly, depending on who’s playing. For example, in a five-player game, everyone is dealt three cards (which are kept secret from everyone else), and then each player chooses one of their three cards and places it face down in the middle. Once everyone has selected their card, they are all flipped over (face up), and voila! You have five letter cards in the common letter pool. For six players, everyone is dealt two cards, and then five cards are drawn from the remaining cards and placed face-up in the center of the table. Everyone always has two cards in their hand, and there will always be five cards face up in the common pool in the center of the table.

Gameplay:


An example of a word made from the five common cards and a card from the hand is "FOX." The common F is used, a vowel is used (as if out of thin air...), and the X in the Bolo (blue) suit. This player has two cards used in the Bolo suit, and no cards used in the Necklace or Bowtie suits.
The game is broken up into rounds, and each round players use the face-up letters in the middle of the table, along with the letters in their hand, to create the longest, bestest (come on, spell checker, “bestest” is a word!) word you can manage. Do this by writing the word down on a piece of scratch paper, keeping it hidden until everyone is ready. Because all the letter cards in Handsome are consonants, players are allowed to use any vowel they want, including them with their consonants as they see fit. This can lead to some pretty long words, if the consonants available are accommodating. 

Once everyone has revealed their word and told it to the group (so everyone can have their say as to whether it's a real word or not), scoring happens. Note that there are three suits of cards: Bolo, Bow Tie (bow ties are cool), and Necklace. The player with the majority of cards used of the same suit gets a point. This happens for all three suits, so it is possible to get more than one point this way. In case of a tie, all players with the highest count of matching suits gain one point. (Example: If three players each had two Bow Tie suits in their words, and the other three players had one or no Bow Tie suits in their words, then the three players with two Bow Tie suits would each get one point.)


In this example, the player makes a six-letter word, "PRATED." By playing the P from their hand, the player combines it with the R, adds a vowel (A), combines the T, adds another vowel (E), and finally uses the D card. This player has two cards in the Necklace suit (P and R), one card in the Bolo suit (T), and one card in the Bowtie suit (D).
Finally, the player with the longest word gets an additional point. This includes all consonants used from cards, as well as vowels. Like the scoring of suits, if multiple players have the same length of word, which length is higher than the other words on the table, then they all receive an additional point.

The game continues until one person is dressed to the nines, or reaches nine points.

Theme and Mechanics:


Bowties are cool.
The theme isn’t your typical fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk/etc. type of game. Rather, it plays with the term “suit” in playing cards, and turns it into something much fancier. The suits could have been anything, really, but turning Handsome into a game about dressing the part was quite clever. I especially love the nine-point win condition, because it represents being “dressed to the nines.” It’s a small detail, but it makes me smile.

For an 18-card word game, the mechanics are silky smooth. I wasn’t expecting the gameplay to be quite so deep, but I was pleasantly surprised. Using a common pool of letters, some more unique-to-you options (as held in your hand), and any vowel you can think of (in any combination) is a fantastic way of making 18 cards feel like a lot more. Along with that, some cards are doubled up with letters, such as x and q, and y and s, allowing for all the consonants to appear in the deck of cards. By trying to use as many letters of the same suit as possible, the set collection mechanic is subtle, but nicely integrated. I’m really impressed at how this word-crafting game is put together, and with only using 18 cards at that!

Artwork and Components:



The art is basic, but works well. The letters on the cards are over top of what appears to be dapperly dressed individuals, either wearing a necklace, a bolo, or a bow tie. While the art itself is fine, I think it would have been nice to have included the card’s letter as a smaller letter in the corners of the cards. That way, even when the cards are upside down (from a certain point of view), an M still looks like an M, and is not confused with a W. A minor thing, really, and as long as you’re paying attention, it shouldn’t be an issue. This is a prototype, pre-Kickstarter copy as well, so who knows; things might change after the Kickstarter funds (and it will fund*). 

* Editor's note: This review is being published shortly after the game's launch, and it's already exceeding its funding goal.

The components are 18 cards. Again, it’s prototype, but I have other Button Shy games—fully published—and the cards look and feel good. No complaints here. Other components, such as paper and pen/pencil, are supplied by the player(s). I’m fine with this, as the purpose of Button Shy games is to make small, wallet-sized games that fit in your pocket. No need for extraneous components.

The Good:

  • Excellent use of real estate to create a smooth, thinky word game.
  • A game this small and plays up to six players is something special indeed.
  • Great for learning new words (like my word “prating,” which came under scrutiny by those who didn’t believe it was a word).
  • Not a bad idea for homeschooling/gameschooling groups


  • The “Suggestions”:
    The rounds can get long if no timer is used. I suggest using some sort of timer (agree upon a time limit per round with your group).

    There is no tie breaker listed in the rules for when a player reaches nine points. I married into a very competitive family, and there needs to be a tie breaker. Again, this is a prototype with prototype rules, so that may change later on. If not, there’s nothing wrong with making a house rule for an end-game tie breaker.

    Final Thoughts:



    Welp, Button Shy has done it again. Handsome, the elegant word game, is a winner. I love that it plays up to six players, too, as this is something I can bring with me practically anywhere and get a good-sized game going. Using a timer isn’t a bad idea, but don’t expect one to come in any stretch goals. Button Shy focuses on small, wallet-sized games, so adding a sand timer would go against the grain (and wouldn’t fit in the wallet). Fortunately, pretty much everyone has a phone, so timers aren’t difficult to come by (and it's a good way to get that player who's always on their phone to put it to good use).

    With silky smooth mechanics, Handsome has compacted word games into a game accessible to all, be it newcomers to words (like kids) or veteran wordsmiths (such as myself *takes a bow*). Although the game appears small, the gameplay is massive. With just 18 cards, Button Shy has produced a wonderful game of word crafting that works the brain and is downright fun.

    Players Who Like:
    Fans of word games and thinky party games will most likely enjoy Handsome. If you’re looking for a way to help your kids learn new words, learn spelling, etc., then give Handsome a look. Handsome is also a fun take on set collection that will no doubt satisfy fans of that mechanic as well.



    Check out Handsome on:

                   

    On KICKSTARTER now! Campaign ends April 6, 2019.



    Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

    Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

    See Benjamin's reviews HERE.
    Handsome: An Elegant Word Game Kickstarter Preview Handsome: An Elegant Word Game Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on March 27, 2019 Rating: 5

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