Publisher: Brainbox Games Pty Ltd
Alan Stewart writes:
Thanks for the publishers for forwarding the review copy to Billabong Boardgamers, via David Coutts.
Being asked to review a new word game because I was "Billabong's highest rated Scrabble player" has both pros and cons. I guess the producers of Duoword always knew they were both competing against Scrabble, and that Scrabble players would more likely be interested in a new word game.
Duoword is a game of placing magnetic letter tiles (112 tiles, no blanks) onto a gridded board in the shape of a circle. 7 squares across at top and bottom, and 7 high at left and right edges.
Each player has 14 tiles on their rack initially, and can play 2 words on their turn. If they use all 14 tiles for the 2 words, they earn a 20 point bonus. (Only seen once so far in 8 games). Like Scrabble, the board has a number of strategically placed bonus squares, but also penalty squares. Their distribution is not symmetrical, and includes bonus word squares which let you refill your rack and play a third word on your turn.
The box, board and pieces are all well made. The black background on the box may make it a bit dull when displayed. The curved racks sometimes give the optical illusion of more tiles at the front, when you have 2 rows of 7 tiles each. The magnetic letters held in place well with no movement when we spun the board between turns. Though they do mean that the tiles will placed face down in the lid for drawing, rather than in a bag which most Scrabble players use.
I guess the tile distribution (112 tiles) has been tested as okay. The first few games I played both players ended up with only consonants on their racks at the end. There were also games where I only got 13 or 14 of the possible 40 vowels, but still managed to win or come a close second.
The idea of playing 2 words (or possibly 3 words) each turn has positives in that it allows for interesting strategies. Such as playing a small word to set yourself up for a large play with your second word. This can be particularly effective if the first play covers a penalty square, such as half word score square, and the next play crosses two word multiplying squares.
The negative aspect is that the down time increases between turns, so like Scrabble, Duoword may be better played with a timer. This would be even worse in three or four player games.
There are a couple of major baggage items Scrabble players should leave behind when playing Duowords, hard as it may be to do. All the letters are worth 1 point each here. There's nothing extra to be gained by playing an X, Q or other awkward letters. All bonus squares covered only apply to the LEAD word (the major word played on your move) not the ADD word (another word you may have extended with your lead word), so bonuses are not quite the same.
You also have equal turns. The game is not necessarily over when 1 player gets rid of all their tiles.
The scores in the games I have played so far have been:
Overall Duoword is an interesting word game, very similar to Scrabble, but with enough differences to reward new players, as well as experienced Scrabble players. Spectacular scoring plays are possible, as well as tactical blocking moves.
David Coutts writes:
Alan and I played twice, with honours even (though Alan beat me by almost 200 in the first game, compared to my beating him by only 50 in the second).
I enjoyed both games, which were played in a friendly spirit. Although I doubt Duoword will be able to knock Scrabble off it's perch as the most popular word game in the world (here I am assuming that Scrabble is, in fact, the most popular word game in the world), nevertheless Duoword is different enough to enjoy playing it and owning my copy.