We’re making Jam! Letter Jam. Or we are Jamming to some sweet words. Or something. Let’s just say we are going to
collaboratively solve a puzzle together make some jam, and at the end, we will be told how effective we were at solving that puzzle tasty our jam is.
2-6 Players | 30-60 Minutes | Designed by Ondra Skoupý
Letter Jam is brought to us by Czech Games Edition, the same publisher that brought us the 2015 classic party word game Codenames. While Codenames pits two teams of ‘spies’ against each other in a race to correctly find secret code-words, Letter Jam has everyone pitting fruit in order to make jam. But seriously – Letter Jam comes in a Codenames sized box, and is clearly intended to be associated with the now popular Codenames series. It’s also a wordgame, it’s also a light-ish, party-ish game, and it’s also just as difficult to convey why the game is fun until you’ve experienced the game-play for yourself!
How does it work?
Letter Jam is a co-operative word game where players each need to try and figure out what their scrambled 5 letter word is, without being able to look at their own letters. They will rely on clues from other players to deduce each letter in their word, and at the end of the game, each player sees if they can reconstruct the word they were given … or not!
To set up the game everyone grabs a bunch of letter cards and makes a word for the player to their left. The game mercifully excludes hard to use letters like ‘x’ and ‘q’, so this task isn’t too hard. Once done, the words are shuffled and laid out in front of each player face down – they can never look at their own letters during the course of the game. Each player stands up their first letter so that the other players can see it and game-play begins.
Using the letters they can see (i.e. all other player’s standing letters), everyone tries to make a word. No specific discussion (and especially no saying of words) is allowed during this time, but players can mention how long their word is and how many player’s letters it includes. After a bit of deliberation, the players choose a clue giver. The clue giver spells out their word using number tokens by placing them in order in front of each player’s letter that is a part of the clue. For example, you might see the 1 placed in front of a B, the 2 placed in front of yourself, and the 3 placed in front of a T. This gives you a bit of information that you can now note down on your deduction sheet – the word could be ‘but’, ‘bot’ ‘bet’ etc. So your letter might be u, o, e.
Once everyone has noted down the clue and had a think, play continues with other players giving clues. There is a game-limit to how many clues can be given and a limit to how many times each player may give a clue, so clues should be long, unambiguous, and include as many players as possible. When a player is confident they know what their standing letter is, they can flip it down and stand up their next letter – but you can never go back if you flip a letter down!
The game ends either when the players decide they are done or when the clue tokens run out. At this stage, each player should have some idea of what their hidden letters are. They try to guess their scrambled word, unscramble it, and then flip their letter cards over one at a time (naming each one) to reveal if they were correct! There is a scoring element for serious players, a correct word is worth 15pts, otherwise each correctly named letter is 1pt. Based on the score the group achieves, the game rates the ‘Jam’ from merely ‘edible’ to ‘impossibly delicious’!
What do I think?
I’ve played the game now several times with player counts from 2 to 6. Games usually go for a bit under an hour and I think it’s way more enjoyable to play at the full player count (6).
The Good Stuff
- Letter Jam is a great implementation of co-op gameplay. The game’s information asymmetry allows all players to contribute, and no one can effectively trample over the other players and ‘run the game’ themselves. Additionally the clue tokens mean no one can ‘hog’ giving clues, and no one gets out of giving clues either!
- There are several points of strategy to consider. Clue giving strategy (will this clue be effective and understandable), personal strategy (when to advance onto the next letter, you might gamble if you’ve narrowed it down somewhat but aren’t certain), and meta strategy (who gives clues and when, whose clue might be the most useful, etc).
- The fun part of Codenames is coming up with the clues, and in Letter Jam that part of the game is available to everyone, and is even more interesting when having cryptic discussions before deciding whose clue will be best (information sharing on what your clue is is limited).
- The debrief at the end is possibly the best part of the game. Discussing clues that were given, what you were thinking, what WERE they thinking etc. The revelation at the end of the game is a significant part of the enjoyment. Flipping over your letters one by one, seeing one is totally different to what you thought is was and then being like ‘Oh … yeah that does fit with all the clues I had’ is particularly funny.
- The whole game has a very smooth implementation. It works really well and is easy to explain and understand.
- The deduction sheets are really well designed. I like that they are colour coded (the coloured boxes match the number colours), and they have the list of letters in the game on them. Keeping a record of what you’ve seen is made easy if you use the sheets right. You can always access all information that was presented during the game.
- There is scope for some very creative and clever ways of conveying information through the clues and I’ve been very surprised and excited to see these at play.
- The cards are really nice! They are amazing quality card stock and have spot UV on the back.
- I think the system of using the number tokens to spell out the clue word and then everyone writing down what they can see and having a think about what the word could be is a really elegant gameplay mechanic and works superbly.
- English in particular makes the game especially fun. Without careful thought, clues given can be pretty much useless for certain players. We’ve found this to be especially true if you are the first letter. Careful thought of how a clue will be perceived by each recipient is tantamount to success and is a very interesting challenge to solve. As an example, The clue TONE probably looks great to the giver but imagine being the first letter and wondering ‘Is it Bone? Cone? Zone? Done? etc
The Bad Stuff
- The theme is just as thin as Codenames – non existent. Thankfully it doesn’t confuse or interfere with gameplay.
- I really like this game and I’m worried I’ll run out of deduction sheets eventually. I can probably laminate a few but it would have been cool for CGE to upgrade the included pencils to dry-erase and put in 6 erasable sheets instead of paper and pencils.
- While the game works with 2 players, it feels totally different and isn’t as fun as with 6. I think it’s easier in some respects and harder in others, but the parts of the game that are fun are amplified as you add more players.
- The game can be long for what it is. In a few games I’ve played players have gotten really caught up thinking and ‘deducting’, which has drawn out the game quite a bit.
- Since what letters are available to players is somewhat random, there can be situations where it can get really hard to make up good words for clues. This can run on for a few rounds which means that the game becomes very hard to do well at. I’ve found this is exacerbated in games with less players, as the ‘NPC’ player’s cards don’t necessarily form words, there are less likely to make useful vowels and letters available to use.
- I just completely hate the wildcard. I know it’s necessary in some cases but I find it really trips everyone up players every time it’s used. When playing I’ve been stressing to other players to only use it a a last resort.
- It’s very easy for a player to have a ‘bad game’, through no fault of themselves or the other players. While in our experience we’ve found this funny and conversation provoking in the debrief, some players may not enjoy the feeling.
- I always stuff up the bit at the end of the game where you need to re-arrange your letters, and not always because I’ve got the letters wrong but because it’s really hard to re-arrange something you can’t see! I think that the game would have benefited from a small rule change where you can flip your letters first (naming each one beforehand) and then re-arrange into your pre-guessed word. Of course, it’s funnier the way it is.
- People who don’t have great language skills may have a harder time with this game. Both giving clues and deciphering them, along with other aspects of the game. There are options for giving each player different length words, but it may not be possible for everyone to have fun with this game if there are language limitations involved. I suppose this is the case with many word games.
I think the game that Letter Jam reminds me of the most is Hanabi. You can think of it as Hanabi but a bit deeper and heavier, and with words. The feeling of playing the game is very similar, but maybe a bit less distressing as the deduction sheet means you don’t have to remember everything in your head. If you liked Codenames and you like Hanabi, this is a no brainer. If you are comfortable with wordgames and looking for a new co-op, I recommend Letter Jam as a great game!