My wife absolutely loves solving the Crossword Puzzle and the Jumble in our daily newspaper. She also loves board games involving letters and words, like: Scrabble and Paperback. So, when we were at GenCon in 2019, she absolutely had to sign up to playtest the new “Letter Jam” game from Czech Games.
My wife fell in love with Letter Jam at GenCon and we were going to buy a copy, but the Czech Games booth was “sold out” by the time we got our playtest in. So, the game fell by the wayside for us.
And then a funny thing happened last month. While we were vacationing in Michigan, I dragged my wife into a local comic book store with me to pick up the newest issue of Absolute Carnage, and lo and behold, she finds a brand new copy of Letter Jam sitting on the shelf of that small comic book shop! Sold!
What is Letter Jam?
From the Czech Games website: “Letter Jam is a cooperative game for 2 to 6 players. In each round, every player has a letter that everyone else can see. But no one can see their own letter!
Players try to find words that can be made with the letters they see. The player with the best clue spells it by marking the letters with numbered tokens. Your letter’s position in the clue helps you guess what it might be. Then you can move on to a new one! Guess them all before clues run out, and unscramble your hidden word.”
What’s in the Box?
The box is on the smaller size: 9 inches x 6 inches x 2 inches. It’s not quite a stocking stuffer, but the box doesn’t take up a huge amount of room on your shelf.
- 64 letter cards
- 1 wildcard
- 8 weighted poker chips
- 6 red tokens
- 9 green tokens
- 6 card stands
- 6 pencils
- 1 pad of Guessing Sheets
- 4 setup cards
- 1 rulebook
What’s How does Letter Jam Play?
Letter Jam is a fairly simple game to learn, teach and play. Set up will be slightly different based on the number of players, but the game basically still plays the same way regardless of the number of players.
All players start the game with a pencil and a Guessing Sheet.
All players are dealt a portion of letter cards and asked to make a secret 5-letter word. If you are having trouble making a 5-letter word with your letters, other players can give you their discarded letters once they have made their words. Eventually all players will have made a secret word. All players shuffle their secret words letter cards, and pass the cards Face Down to the player on their right. So you will receive cards from the player on your left. You are going to try to deduce the letters on those cards during the game. And you will try to figure out what 5 letter word you received. You will never look at your own letter cards (until the game is over).
Each player will lay all 5 cards face down in front of them, and place the leftmost letter face up in the card stand facing towards the other players. You will not be able to see your own letter.
Now everyone looks at the other player’s letter cards, and tries to make a word (silently in their head). Players can also use the “*” as a wildcard to represent one letter. Any word is legal as long as you believe it is a real word. You can also use letters more than once.
Then the players will say something like: “I can make a 4 letter word”; or “I can make a 5 letter word using no asterisk”; or “I can make a 6 letter word with the asterisk”. But no one says their word out loud yet. They group votes on who should give the word clue.
Looking at these letters in the example below, we could spell SHOGUN using the asterisk. But Ms. “O” has a 7 letter word, and she’s not going to use the asterisk! Bigger words can be more helpful. Your teammates vote, and have decided to go with Ms. “O’s” word.
Ms. “O” takes the poker chips and lays them out like in the example above. So 1 is a G, 2 is a U, etc. and so on. You don’t know what our own letter is yet, but maybe you can figure it out?
So, you take your Guessing Sheet and you write:
Ms. “O” used your letter twice in the 3rd and 6th spots in the word. You are pretty sure that your first letter is an “E”, and the word is “GUESSES” and you write that down on your Guessing Sheet.
Now, some players will be able to deduce their letters and other will not. Sometimes you will be able to narrow it down to a few letters like the WATER, WAFER, WAGER example near the top of the article. If you know your letter, you place it face down in the spot in front of you where it was, and you put the next letter up facing the other players. So now, people will be able to make new words to gives clues with.
The game will last about 11-13 rounds. And everyone must give at least one clue.
At the end of the game, players will try to unjumble their letters while still face down and tell everyone what words they “think” they have. Then they reveal their letters, and see how well they deduced their words from the clues.
If you like, you can calculate your Letter Jam Score, but we usually just check to see if the entire group got their words correct. Here is the scoring section from the rules for those that are interested in scoring:
Likes and Dislikes on Letter Jam
Letter Jam is a fantastic co-op game. And everyone gets a chance to participate, since everyone has to take at least one turn giving a word clue. The game can not be dominated by one or two people like a game of Pandemic can. The game works best if everyone gives their fair share of word clues. If one person gives too many clues, they will not learn anything about their own letters.
If you have a reasonably good vocabulary, this can be a super fun table game. Every turn you will be looking at a jumble of letters available to you and trying to come up with a good word clue to give your teammates. Your teammates will be doing the same thing every turn.
The game actually plays well with any number of players, but I think the sweet spot is 4-6 players.
The card stock for the letter cards seems pretty good. And the Poker Chips have a hearty weight to them. The rules are in full color and explain the game very well.
The game has a small footprint, a small box and will travel well for vacations and holidays.
It’s easy to adjust the difficulty. The game can be made easier or harder for everyone by changing the word length. You could start the game with 4 letter words, or 5 letter words, or 6 letter words.
I think Letter Jam needs to be played with the right group of people. Everyone will have to be on board about wanting to play this game. If one of the players is lackadaisical about playing a Word Game, then I don’t think it will be fun for the group. All players need to be participate in solving their own word and giving clues.
If a person has a limited vocabulary, they may not like this game. In fact, this game might be somewhat difficult for them. Let’s face it, some people have a better grasp on the English language than others.
The Scoring Table we showed and mentioned above is totally unnecessary in my opinion. I figure if every person at the table got their words right, your group won the game. And if one person can’t figure out their word, your group lost the game. If one person didn’t solve their word, then your group needs to do better next time giving clues. The scoring summaries of “Edible” “Tasty” “Yummy” “Delicious” are nonsense. “How did you guys do at Letter Jam?” “Oh, we had a Yummy game.” WTF?!
The pencils in the box are totally generic. The pencils are unsharpened, and there is not a pencil sharpener is not even included in the box. The pencils also lack erasers.
If you play this game a lot, you will probably need to print out more Guessing Sheets. But, at least Czech Games has a PDF online for you to print Guessing Sheets out at home.
Final Thoughts on Letter Jam
I really enjoy Letter Jam, and I give the game a huge thumbs up. I think the game play design is brilliant.
For people that like the popular card game Hanabi, this will also be right up your alley, as Letter Jam has a Hanabi feel to it. In Hanabi, you play with your hand of cards the facing other players. That is very similar to Letter Jam. In both games, you need help from your teammates to solve your hand puzzle.
And, if you are into solving Jumbles, and/or playing the Wordscape App on your phone, this game will be perfect for you. Letter Jam is a great game for game nights if everyone is on board with playing a cooperative word/strategy game. And, not a lot of Co-op games play well with 6 players, but Letter Jam plays great with 6 players!
The MSRP of this game is under $20, so this hits the sweet spot for making a great gift at a reasonable price point.