Subwords: Pass Me the Beer and Pretzels, Please

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My husband asks me if “Taft” is actually a legit American president.

I shrug and head for Wikipedia. Several seconds later, we learn that William Howard Taft was the 27th President of the United States. And that his name is linked with “fattest presidents” and “bathtub”. I feel strangely enriched. Thanks Subwords.

A blend between trivia, word games and frantic button pushing, Subwords involves putting together words that have been broken up into parts. Each level offers words pertaining to a topic such as “Animals” or “Egyptian Mythology”. So putting the words back together requires you to have a good general knowledge of these topics. If you’re stuck, a handy hint button gives you a clue as to the next thing you should be searching for.

It would be forgivable to think that Subwords is just too easy. It looks pretty in a preschool pastel-ly sort of way. The popping sounds that accompany each selection are super cute. The buttons are so large that even people with fat-finger syndrome aren’t going to complain. And it’s so easy that it doesn’t even have, or need, a tutorial. You jump in the game and instinctively know what to do. Personally, I think this is just a sign of a well-designed game.

It also starts you off at the super lightweight level: Vegetables. I have to admit that putting together words like “carrot” and “pea” made me wonder if I was the wrong age for this game. Fast forward to a few days later when I’m in “Chemical Elements” and struggling to recall the Periodic Table. Or in “Our Solar System” waiting for that hint button to come off cooldown because I’m finding that, when it comes to stars and planets, I’m an absolute noob.

But I keep going because the pub quiz geek in me really loves putting my general knowledge to the test. My favourite has to be “Classical Composers”, which I’ve played so many times in “Classic” and “Timed” mode that I now know all the composers in the mix. In “Classic”, you’re simply presented with all the word parts and you’re timed on how long it takes you to clear the screen. “Timed” however brings a more challenging flavour. You’re given one minute to see how many words you can put together. Also, you’re not guaranteed to have all the parts you need to form a word. But you just have to keep forming full words to get more parts to fall from the sky. And just to keep you coming back for more, there’s a leaderboard which pits you against the rest of the Subwords geeks. Good scores also earn you more stars which you’ll need to unlock later levels.

If you find that that’s still too easy, how about playing it in German? Yup, Subwords allows you to play it auf Deutsch. As someone who studied German extensively as a youngster, I was pretty excited by this option. I’m really hopeful that Subwords might offer other languages in the future as it’d be a great way to brush up on all those unused language skills.

If I were to change anything, I wish that Subwords didn’t tell you that you’re “awesome” no matter how badly you do at the end of each round. It feels encouraging when you actually have done well, but when all you’ve done is panic button pushing, it doesn’t feel like you’ve earned that praise at all. I also wish that using the hint button in Classic mode had some kind of time penalty to it, especially when there is a leaderboard available. Okay, maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment.

I did manage to find a new level of fun playing cooperatively with a partner so that there were two pairs of eyes and double the amount of high fives when we’d manage to beat a previous record. Some might call this cheating, but I called it “date night” and it was strangely exhilarating. Hey, don’t judge until you try it.

In the end, Subwords falls into what boardgamers like to call a “beer and pretzels” game. It’s not going to be deep enough to occupy all your gaming time, especially when you’ve unlocked all 25 levels, but it is a great one to pull out as a time filler now and then.



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