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2 Chits, 4 Giggles

This is the latest competitive team activity from the connoisseurs of fun with groups of friends, CGE, makers of Codenames and Pictomania. You play the role of monster hunters, split into two opposing teams, trekking through a treacherous dungeon seeking to best the beast that lurks within, with the winners being the group that kills the creature first. In order to do that though, you’ll need to make it all the way through while avoiding the traps set by the opponents, because if triggered they will halt your progress. But what kind of traps?

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Well to explain better, I’ll give you an example. Take the entire opening paragraph of this damn fine review. I was trying to describe to you the game Trapwords but, would you believe it, my enemies forbade me from using the ‘game’ and ‘words’ as part of my description! But what if they forbade me from using words but I didn’t know which ones? Would ‘play’ have been too risky for me to use here? Maybe they put ‘CGE’ in there, because they know I’m a reviewer and would more than likely reference the games publisher, or perhaps they know me too well and set the word trap as the trap word…  These are the kinds of ways in which the game provides opportunities to creatively dodge certain words and think outside the box a little.

Let’s take it back for a moment and talk about the way the game is played. Each team wants to be the first to make it through the dungeon, which consists of five cards laid out in a row on the table, forming a corridor you must progress through. Surely this setup takes its inspiration from a videogame level or a certain scene from Indiana Jones (boulder not included). At the end, waiting in the final room, is one of five monsters, and you must defeat it win the game. At the start of each round, the teams will choose one of their own lot to be their clue giver and their job is to describe their randomly selected word to their team mates before time runs out.

This isn’t Articulate though, so the game isn’t just a matter of blurting out anything that comes into your head, but this is what makes the game incredibly fun. Before each clue giver sees their own word, the other team gets to look at it and now the real work begins. Simultaneously, they have a limited amount of time to try and set traps in the form of words that the other team aren’t allowed to say when they get to describing. They’ll jot these words down on a bit of paper, locking in the trapwords. If you’ve played Taboo, you’d be almost correct in thinking the game is just a groupthink version of the popular party title, but with one final twist: the clue giver in each team never gets to see what words they can’t say!

When it’s your turn as the clue giver, you will only have a limited amount for your team to guess the word, but barely any time to plan, so as you frantically search for the most obscure, vague ways to describe your clue, you’re using up valuable time, and if you run out or you say something you’re not allowed, you end the turn exactly where you started. And thus this beautiful, fun, clever game continues.

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This for me was a surprise hit and not a game I’d actively sought out, mainly because the game has a really simple sounding premise in a fancy outfit (it looks cutesy in a good way, but looks can be deceiving) and I usually prefer to play a strategy game over a party game. The little twist of not knowing what you can’t say though is all that was needed to create the magic that a good party game needs. It immediately clicked for me much in the same way that Decrypto did. I think for me Trapwords is the better game overall, because while still good, Decrypto always ended up being very similar in each game with very few genuine surprises. In Trapwords, you’re getting a fresh mini game in each round and so you’re always trying to out think the other team, learning what tricks and tactics they use each time as well as each word coming with its own set of obvious and not so obvious related words, creating a lot of surprises.

Here’s a quick anecdote to give you a sense of the magic: ‘Cricket’ came up in our first game, and we spent all our precious time thinking about sports and zoology, creating traps like ‘sport’ ‘insect’ and the like. Except that when the clue giver got to see it, they used a single clue that completely blew us away and ended up winning that round in record time. The clue in question? ‘Jiminy’

Replayability also factors in here, with the use of curses and the monster, bolt on gameplay mechanics that go some way to slow better teams down. Curses are cards added to certain rooms that only trigger for the first team to enter the room, giving them a condition that they must adhere to during their next turn only. Sometimes these are annoying (echo every word you say while describing) and sometimes they are odd (close your eyes while giving out clues) but they mix it up a bit and do well to hinder any team that suffers it. Monsters each have their own curse like effects, which limit your ability to give clues or even make guesses, so there is no guarantee that as you reach the ‘boss’ that you’ll win, you might just get slowed right down. Another way the game does this is in the number of trap words you’re allowed to set for the opposing team. The further into the dungeon a team gets, the more traps they are allowed against them. You can alter the difficulty of the game by changing up these numbers during the setup, but I found that given the time pressure when coming up with trapwords, having more than five often led to jotting down anything that comes to mind as opposed to considerate ones with true thought put into them which means the game is more arbitrary as a result. This for me is the game’s only real flaw, but is one easily rectified depending on how you fare by extending the games time limit or just doing away with the timer altogether (Codenames, I’m looking at you!) but the latter really is a nuclear option and changes this from a quick game to a more strategic, thinkers one.

Excitement and tension are omnipresent when playing Trapwords, and the speediness of the game pairs well with the fact that there is hardly any down time, meaning time spent waiting for other players to do something. From creating trapwords for the other team against the clock, to giving clues, deciphering them or listening out for the trap words you set, everything involves all players at all times (aside from the three seconds that the clue giver has to think before they start describing and the occasional curse card restriction). This is a game that moves so smoothly and quickly, and yet I still had a game that seemed to drag on for a bit. I really do blame the players for that though.

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For a party game, this really does its job fantastically, and was a real surprise. You’ll get a real sense of joy here when you snare somebody in a trap you set, just as you do when you avoid them as the clue giver. The game is also incredibly good value too, with some online stores selling it for less than £15! Hats off to Czech Games Edition for proving that just when you think there are no more clever iterations of the word description game, one will always come along to prove you wrong.

Review by Russell Chapman