I had to start the list with an honourable mention. It doesn’t technically make the list because the more I think about it, the more I realise there are far more fast-paced and fun word games out there, but this is still unavoidably a classic and a brain booster.
I don’t have to explain how Scrabble works, do I?
This is a great card game with a fast pace that starts simple. The cards are all letters, or simple and common combinations of letters (such as Qu or Th) and the cards are beautifully decorated with Celtic-influenced designs.
Start with three cards in hand, draw a card, and try to make a word or set of words. The sooner you can, the sooner you force the other players to reveal their hands and make words.
This is a purely verbal game from Japan (the English name would be Word Chain) which can chew up spare moments the same way I Spy would.
Say a word, the next person says a word and so on. The next word must begin with the same letter that the first word ended with, eg. cat > tiger > rhino > orangutan. It’s usually fun to stick to a particular theme, and any word which has been used may not be used again.
I have lost easily hundreds if not a thousand hours over my life playing this game, usually with my mother, rushing down a piece of paper writing words as fast as my pen lets me, and sceptically demanding that she define the dodgy-looking words on her list.
A 4×4 grid contains sixteen dice, all with letters on them. The letters which are face up in the grid can be made into a chain, going left, right, up, down, diagonally, to form any words at least three letters long. A round lasts three minutes and the score is the number of words you find by the end. You can’t reuse letters. At the end of the round, shake up the dice for new combinations and start again.
I have only recently discovered this game even though it has been around since 2012. Imagine Boggle, but more versatile and the whole world is playing. These rounds last only two minutes but it’s faster and feels better to select words (especially on a touch screen), it’s painless to score them and easy to see words you missed afterwards.
Rounds can come with themes, where you score extra points for theme-related words, or certain letters or letter combinations scoring you much higher points.
Consider yourself skilled if you can get your score past the fiftieth percentile.
I like to call this game /bənaːnəgræmz/ (ban-ahh-na-grams) just to annoy my American friends, but they don’t get the joke, and then everyone stands around looking confused.
Imagine Scrabble, except everyone gets to play at the same time with their own set of tiles, you can rearrange everything as often as you like, everyone grabs more and more tiles all the time, and you get to shout “peel” a lot.
It’s great fun and quick to play. The tiles feel nice, come in an adorable banana-shaped bag, and can be arranged into long domino tracks while you are waiting for your friends to stop being slow and come play.