We were already big fans of developer BJ Malicoat, who does business under the name Bird Cartel, due to the release of Pine Tar Poker late last year. Poker is one of those games that kind of is what it is, so it’s always very hard to come up with some sort of creative twist on a game with mechanics that have been honed for decades upon decades or more. In the case of Pine Tar Poker it was just a few tweaks of those established mechanics, a few liberties with officially recognized hands, a dash or two of otherworldly phenomenon, and a very dedicated Old Western theme to make something that truly stood out from the bajillions of poker games ever released. It earned our Game of the Week when it released.
You know what else is a very established game type that’s hard to mess around with? Word games! Specifically word search games. That fact has not deterred the Bird Cartel from meddling around with the beloved genre to create something that feels genuinely unique with the just released Well Word. The basics here are that you start out with a 5×5 board of letters and from that selection of 25 letters you want to try to make as many 4-letter or more words out of them as you can. The catch is that all letters except the one in the center can only be used 3 times, meaning your stock of usable letters dwindles the more words that you make.
That right there is a compelling twist and Well Word probably could have just stopped there, but there are a few other wrinkles that really take this one to the next level. Unsurprisingly, the longer the word you make the more points it is worth, and multipliers kick in for 7+ letter words. You also get a bonus for incorporating the center letter if you can, and additional points if your word uses letters that are all adjacent to each other. Finally you’ll earn bonus points for clearing entire rows or columns of letters off the board, with a huge bonus for those savvy enough to clear the whole board.
Well Word also takes a page out of the Wordle playbook as it features a unique grid of letters each day, and everyone plays the same grid. So if you get your friends and family into the game you can all brag to each other about how good you did on each day’s level. If you spring for the premium unlock you’ll get a couple more modes. Lightning is the daily puzzle but with a 2 minute time limit, and Challenges are randomly generated games that you can play as many times as you want. Each Challenge game also has its own seed so you can share or replay particular puzzles.
Speaking of replaying, the premium unlock also gives you a detailed History mode where you can look back at each Daily or Lightning puzzle you’ve played, see detailed stats from each game, and even go back to play previously missed games. Well Word just launched but due to it being in testing for some months the daily puzzle is actually on #98 as of today, but through the History mode you can go back and play all those previous games that you missed if you didn’t happen to be beta testing the game since day one. Last but not least the premium version also includes a number of lovely color themes to choose from.
Everything is just so well thought out, and that brings me to my final praise about Well Word and that is the incredible level of polish in its UI and presentation. The way each letter’s background color “empties” a third of the way after using it in a word to indicate how many more times you’re able to use that letter is just so simple and easy to understand at a glance, it’s the kind of detail you can’t really appreciate until you’ve seen other games try do convey that sort of information in overly complex and cluttered ways. This feels like a Zach Gage game, and I don’t think I could come up with any greater praise than that. So enough gushing, Well Word is free so just try it for yourself, and if you’re like me you’ll make a space for it right next to Wordle on your homescreen.