Scryptic [$1.99] from LKS GameWorks looks like a traditional Scrabble game. It has a board and letter tiles sitting on a rack, but trust me, the gameplay is VERY different. Two players start in different positions on the board and use words to combat each other. Each player can either build up words defensively around their starting point ("city"), or spread out towards the opposition, in an offensive attack. Sometimes there's additional city squares to be claimed, which can spark a word-race across the board to get there first, as cities offer extra protection.

There's not a 'double word score' or 'triple letter score' in sight. Instead, the squares on the board each represent terrain, like mountains, forests and water. And the rules around each type of terrain make this game really interesting. I'll give you two examples to demonstrate.  If you want to place your word on a blue water square, you must  form a bridge, by ensuring the first and last letter of your word are not in the water.  Whereas ice squares will crack and turn to water if you place any "heavy" letters worth 2+ points on them, drowning your entire word. The game mechanics may seem a little complicated initially, but the game walks you gently through the rules with tutorial levels and help screens, so you learn it pretty quickly. Although I took some notes, which proved helpful.

How does the combat work? Well, you simply deploy a word on top of, or adjacent to, the opponents word(s) to attack them. This isn't like scrabble where your letters need to fit in with the opponents words. You just link your own words together until your word-network reaches the enemy, then drop your word right over theirs to battle. The highest scoring word will be victorious, causing the defeated word to disappear. You can even cut off the opponents supply chain, by destroying connecting words to leave other words isolated and defenseless. It's like playing two different games of scrabble on one board, against each other.

The terrain also has an impact on combat. If your word crosses a mountain square, you have a higher-ground advantage so your word is strengthened. But if your word crosses water, it's weakened. And if you're fortunate enough to find a power token in the game, you can create "elemental forces" such as volcanoes, firestorms, droughts and floods, to strategically modify the terrain. I haven't discovered any of these yet, but I'm itching to flood my opponents words.

Your choice of words makes a difference, as the game is programmed to detect words associated with four topics:  Attacking, defense, sneaking or deforesting. So if you place a word like "kill"  or "sword" it automatically gains extra attacking power, whereas words like "fortify" or "shield" add defensive power. If you discover a word associated with one of these four headings is not rewarded, don't despair - you can add words via the options screen, or advise the developers via their word feedback form and they'll add it in.

The game ends when you capture your opponents city square(s) and you're rewarded by some obnoxiously loud trumpet blasts. Seriously, the occasional sound effects are not great. The game also ends if the letter tiles are all used or when both players pass twice in a row, in which case the player with the most points wins. Phew! That's enough about the rules. Although they are quite fascinating. It's quite unusual for the rules of a game to be a highlight!

Scryptic manages to successfully turn Scrabble into a strategic combat situation. You can play against a friend using pass-and-play or battle the AI opposition on 21 unlockable terrain boards, of different sizes. But be warned, this is a game of skill and strategy, and once you've completed the easy levels, the AI definitely steps up his game. The larger boards can take ages to complete, so there's many hours of game-play, plus 12 achievements and rankings via Game Center.

This game is perfect for Scrabble lovers, who enjoy competition and want to add combat to the mix. While playing the game for a few hours, I did experience one crash and a bug, but fortunately neither caused my game or progress to be lost. The developer advises he's currently working on his first patch upgrade. With Wooords and Scryptic both being released recently, plus a new update for Wurdle, it's a good time for word games!

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Macaroon

    Very cool game concept, and a very informative website they have too. Looking forward to sinking my teeth into this later today.

  • The9quad

    skips through article...no async...pass.

    • http://www.lksgameworks.com LKS Gameworks

      The plan is to include async play once iOS5 is released, by making use of the new turn-based features in Game Centre.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JWMR5DSATTJX7T6WSUPOVDRQ64 TheWatcher

      I wish you and the other "asynch or death" clowns would just go form your own special website somewhere. Your repetition on the subject is incredibly tiresome.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        It's fairly obvious these types of complainers just have no clue what (currently) goes in to asynchronous multiplayer. Scryptic is a game that hasn't really charted anywhere aside from the "Word" sub-category of games, which doesn't exactly have a lot of action since this review hitting caused it to go from number 602 to 154.

        Aside from the complexity of rolling your own net code and everything else, you need to administer and pay for the entire back end that hosts the game. For incredibly niche word games like this, it just isn't feasible until Apple starts providing the back-end in iOS 5... But that isn't something your typical entitled iOS gamer would ever consider. :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_SGBZOZI67JW2CJDAIBZ2PU7WX4 Jason

    Amazing you guys review so many word games, but never mention WAR OF WORDS - by far THE best word game on the app store. You want a Scrabble-war with async multiplayer, bombs, powerups, and real strategy - it gets no better than War of Words!

  • Macaroon

    Well, I gave it a go. Promising stuff, but I'm stuck. I'm in the first level Easy, no more letters in the pool. I have three, but can't see a way to use them. HAL keeps passing on his go, and I've used up all my Spy's....what now! 

    • http://www.lksgameworks.com LKS Gameworks

      If both the player and AI pass twice with the pool empty, then the game ends even if all letters are not used up.

      • Macaroon

        But that still means nobody wins, which is ok every now and again, but I get the feeling that this stalemate is going to happen quite a bit, as the AI basically starting passing after go number three or so, which isn't much fun. Maybe I need to try it on hard...

      • http://www.lksgameworks.com LKS Gameworks

        It's true that the AI occasionally gets stymied (more often on the easy level where it has a limited vocabulary) but passing several times in a row is also a strategic option. You don't want to necessarily completely empty your rack in case you have to counter-attack.

        If the player gets blocked by bad word placement, one option is to use 'redeploy' to lift that word back into your rack.

  • The9quad

    Ok , Eli and the watcher, I buy word games to play with friends. We enjoy playing them via async multiplayer when it fits in our schedule. This game doesn't currently have that, therefore I will pass. If it had async mp, then I would purchase it, simple as that. I am not going to spend 2 dollars on something I will not play. Without the ability to play this game way asynchrously, I simply wouldn't play it. Now why you choose to insult people over this, I do not comprehend.

    All of your moralizing and preaching aside, when I buy a game it is not my responsibility to care what goes into it, or how much work it takes to make, or how much money it takes to provide it's upkeep. As a customer, my concern is whether the end result is something I will play at a price I deem reasonable. Maybe in the future Obama will come up with a program so indie devs can have all the resources they need to support the feature set of the big guys, and tax payers can fund it, but until that law goes into effect I will withhold my funding.

    The dev's obviously see the need for async mp as he posted it will be coming with ios5.  It is just a feature that people want (and come to expect in word games), and the games that provide it people buy. If the feature isn't provided, I see no point in degrading those who express that they would buy said game if it had it.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      If you want intelligent discourse, post things like this, not short one-liners about how you didn't read the review and are passing on the game. That's on par with all the people who post zingers about the price of any game that isn't 99¢.

      • The9quad

        Fair enough, I see your point.

  • Rivalsan

    Eli, I see your point about a small developer not being able to host the back end of asynchronous games, but in the end I agree with The9quad. I love word games on my iPod, but without internet multiplayer they firmly goes into the "wait until updated" category. Even though we are currently in different countries, I play my girlfriend in Words With Friends every day. We love word games, and I was excited about this one, but it will have to be skipped until it gets online play. If I can't play against my favorite opponent, well...then I will just wait until I can.

Scryptic Reviewed by Troy Woodfield on . Rating: 4