When I first heard that Loren Brichter of Atebits – creator of the groundbreaking Twitter client Tweetie (RIP) – was making an iOS game, I was extremely interested. After all, Tweetie demonstrated exceptional UI design and intuitiveness, as well as a clean aesthetic. Put all of those types of qualities towards an iOS game and, yeah, I'm totally on board.

Now the first iOS game from Atebits is finally here, called Letterpress - Word Game [Free], and it does indeed display a remarkable level of design finesse, clean aesthetics, and simple to-the-point gameplay. It's not going to blow you away in the features department, rather it picks one thing to do and it does it extremely well.

In Letterpress's case that one thing is an asynchronous multiplayer word game. Now, I love word games, and I love asynchronous games, and I love the idea of asynchronous word games. But somehow I've never found one that I liked. I've tried to get into Word With Friends [Free / Free], the de facto asynchronous word game, at least ten times by now, and I always end up deleting it pretty quickly.

I think it might be the core design of Words With Friends that rubs me the wrong way. I don't like having point values assigned to each letter. Rather than finding the most interesting word out of your allotment of letters, you're stuck playing a trial-and-error game of what word will land you the most points while trying to take advantage of the bonuses on the board. Somebody described their experience with Words With Friends to me as "tedious", and that totally nails it for me as well.

This is where Letterpress differentiates itself. It gives you a 5x5 grid of letters to choose from. Each letter used is worth just one point, which obviously makes bigger words worth a bigger score. But Letterpress isn't just about who can rack up the highest total score, it's much more about trying to outmaneuver your opponent and playing the board itself so that you wind up having the most points by the game's end.

Each letter you use in a successfully played word gets branded your color on the board. When it's your opponent's turn, they can try and use your colored letters and "steal" them back in their own word, changing them to their own color while also taking away the points you previously earned for using them. This will go back and forth until every letter on the board has been switched to a color, and the player with the most colored tiles (and thus the highest score) is the winner.

Here's where things get tricky. You can also "lock up" a letter tile by changing all tiles surrounding it to your color. So, if one of your colored letters is surrounded on all four sides by more letters of your color (or three sides if it's a tile in the corner of the board) then the surrounded tile becomes a darker version of your color and is "locked." A locked letter can still be used by either yourself or your opponent in subsequent turns, it just won't be worth any points if you do use it.

It's a small aspect, but it toally changes what would normally be a pretty simple back-and-forth word game into something much more strategic. In addition, if you use and reclaim the letters that are surrounding an opponent's locked letter, you'll then "unlock" it and it goes back to merely being a normal tile of your opponent's color, which can then be used to earn a point and reclaim as your own color like normal.

It feels complicated to explain, but trust me when I say after just a few rounds of Letterpress the mechanics become clear. Mastering them, however, is what will keep people coming back over and over again.

Being adept at making fancy words doesn't hurt, but it's also not the most important aspect of Letterpress. Bigger isn't always better, as a shorter word might be able to steal more points from your opponent, or unlock a surrounded tile for use in another turn. It's just as much about planning ahead and looking at the current situation of the board as it is thinking of the biggest, most impressive word, and this is what I love most about the game.

As I mentioned before, Letterpress is an aesthetically pleasing title as well. It uses clean lines and simple colors, with lots of theme choices so you can mix things up a bit if you feel like. The UI is also impressively intuitive, as just about everything you can do in the game is performed just how you think it might be.

For example, if you want to recall a letter from a word you're making, simply tap it to bring it back onto the board. Or if you want to reorder the tiles simply hold down on the one you want to move and drag it to where you want it to be. If it's been a while since you've taken your turn and you want to see what your opponent's last played word is, just tap on their avatar. Practically everything in Letterpress works just how you would expect, and its minimalist style and smooth animation make it feel like a high-end experience, similar to Clear for note-taking.

That's about all there is to Letterpress. It will connect you with random opponents or friends over Game Center for multiplayer, but there is no single-player option or an AI opponent to face if you happen to be offline. Also, Game Center has its own share of quirks with matchmaking, and Atebits has told me he's investigating using his own server infrastructure just to have a bit more control over the experience.

When I said that Letterpress did one thing and did it extremely well, I meant it. It's a fantastic asynchronous online word game and nothing more. It's also a fantastic example of how design can enhance the experience of playing a game, as Letterpress is a joy to look at and to use.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • ibrahim.aventador

    Played ɪτ

  • ddockery

    The app store is horrible. Searching for "Letterpress" will not yield a result for this game.

    • bobcorrigan

      Same problem.  I was forced to "buy" it via the link in the review, then "open" it from my iDevice from the purchased tab.

      And once I got it, I discovered I have to play with other people!  And wait for A Stranger to complete his/her turn before I can play again.  That mechanic is frankly something I'm not in love with, as I hate to wait, and I have no friends :)

      • toxiccheese

        Asynchronous multiplayer can be a real pain if you don't get friends to play with you. But I'm still finding plenty of random games online. This game is totally worth the 99¢ upgrade.

  • Greyskull

    What the hell happened to the comments section? Dis Disqus get hacked? It looks like the comments here are coming from all sorts of random websites. Err, on topic what the catch vis a vis the price (free?)

    • sam the lion

      It was pretty hilarious, yes.

      Apparently, the game lets you play one game at a time in the free version. By paying 0.99 you get multiple asynchronous games and a selection of multiple color schemes.

      • blackharon

        2 games at a time*

  • sam the lion

    The game is pretty great an makes me wonder what might happen if this guy teamed up with Zach Gage.

  • McCREE

    Checked it out and paid the $1 before my second move. Thanks for pointing this out, TA.

    If anyone wants to play, hit me up:

    GameCenter : x McCREE x

    • McCREE

      EDIT: no x's. just 'McCREE'

      • danedeasy

        I added you

  • CrispyBread

    Amazing design for this game. Both visually and in its interface. Even the game is fun. Unfortunately, a simple Google search for a word unscrambler can make any user a wordsmith.

    • sam the lion

      Yep, but as Jared pointed out, unlike other word games being able to generate long word does not guarantee victory if you don't use strategy.

  • ddockery

    So loving the game and the design so far. My only complaint is lack of a chat feature.

  • Pilmo

    So in another words if you got a small vocabulary u are pretty much screwed from this game. Should of payed attention in high school on the vocab books

  • Steven Lewis

    Fantastic word game which is both extremely simple and very strategic. I paid my dollar. I really hope this does well.

  • http://twitter.com/fen0y Nestor Fenoy

    Thank you, Jared... For ruining my productivity for the rest of the day... I love this game. My dollar is yours, Atebits.

  • sortvind

    instant buy, loving the look and smoothness

  • Shady

    It's amazing!!! Simple and genius!!!! Fun With friends...

  • Carlos-Sz

    Great review. I'm enjoying the game a lot!

  • Jcoop9

    Great game, bought the the full version after one game!!

  • putermcgee

    after the first game, my friend and I were like "where's the rematch button?" still, it's kinda fun, but I'll have to give it more time to sink my teeth in.

  • job rooseman

    If you like this game you should definitely check out WordBoxer as well!

  • runliketurtles

    I like clean lines and a minimalist style, but this game goes too far and feels sterile instead. No matter, still a great game!

    Unlike Clear which is useless as an actual note taking application:)

  • https://me.yahoo.com/daffyddaffyd#cf32b Daffyd

    How do you play against a random opponent? It won't let me start a game unless I invite a Game Centre friend (I don't have any :/)

  • KyleMac

    I bought it and will probably be addicted to it for the next week, but I'm not seeing any longevity.

    Much like Scrabble (and WWF) the way to win is to play defensively and playing fancy words is usually self destructive (common newbie mistake in Scrabble). But unlike Scrabble there is no way to predict opponents moves and trick them and so there is no use for any offensive planning or strategy.

    But the biggest problem is that once you have about a third of the board protected you can usually win with one good word. So most opponents just forfeit before the end because there is no chance for a breakout comeback like in Scrabble.

    In other words, this is a game about turtling your side of the board and has no opportunities for risk taking.

    • http://twitter.com/lpcheat LPCheat

      I agree - there's definitely an element of defensiveness. You need to secure territory and expand out.

  • http://twitter.com/chidfree Charley Peng

    Daffyd, I didn't either, this game made me sign into my game center and actually accept that agreement, haha just press play and it'll be work out

  • http://www.igeeksblog.com/ Jignesh Padhiyar

     This is really cool! For once, it's not a rehash of a game that's already up on the App Store. Or at least, I haven't heard of anything like this. But yeah, having a computer opponent would've been a great selling point.

  • Sigil

    Is it easy to cheat in this game? (I'm against cheating.)

    • sanu

      Well, you can cheat on words, but it doesn't guarantee to win the game. The key is to use the word strategically. That's what I like about this game.

  • jijarwm

    How do you get your picture on this game?

  • http://iPhonage.com/ joshua logan

    a bit different than the other wordgames out there

  • http://iPhonage.com/ joshua logan

    its hard to search for letterpress. Maybe with new iOS 7 appstore redesign it gets easier.

  • June Wang

    On Android, get Letterplex. Almost the same game and equally well executed.

Letterpress – Word Game Reviewed by Jared Nelson on . Rating: 4.5