Come for the fun take on word games, stay for the Daily Challenge.
# of Players
Formal Ferret Games
Avowel is the official digital implementation of Gil Hova’s Wordsy, brought to us by Wheeler Games. In Avowel, players spell words over seven rounds, gaining as many points as possible. At the end of the seven rounds, the five highest point-scoring words are taken for each player and the player with the highest total score wins. A game typically takes about five minutes.
The game is called Avowel rather than Wordsy due to naming conflicts on app stores. Although the name change may sound like it is a clone, rest assured Gil Hova and Formal Ferret games back this digital implementation.
A game of Avowel begins with eight letter cards being flipped in two rows of four. The two cards in the far left column are worth five points, the far right are worth two, fill in the gaps between. Some cards will have plus one or plus two bonus points on them. Once the cards are flipped the round begins and players try to spell a word which gains them the most points possible. Players can use any letters of the alphabet they want, but only those on the board are worth points. For example, if the two cards in the far left column are “c” and “y”, and you spell the word “crazy” you will receive ten points for the use of ‘c’ and ‘y’ and zero points for the rest, assuming those letters don’t show up elsewhere on the board. There are never any vowels on the board.
There is a race aspect to Avowel as once the first player submits their word, a short timer starts. If the first player ends up scoring the best word, they get bonus points. However, any players past the first who end up scoring more than the first receive a bonus. The bonus amount depends on what round the game is in. The game prevents you from being the first player two turns in a row.
After each round the rightmost two columns are removed, the remaining cards slide to the right and two new columns are dealt. At the end of seven rounds, each player’s five highest scores are taken as their final score, and the most total points wins.
I’ve played a lot of word games. Scrabble is likely to forever hold the title of my most played physical game and I thoroughly enjoyed both Paperback and Hardback. With that being said, I really like what Avowel offers. Opening up the letter pool to anything you want really expands the scope of the game beyond the Scrabble-esque confines of the words in your hand. I am less sold on the race aspect of the game here, but I suspect that portion takes on a whole new life on a table surrounded by friends. I can imagine the games of chicken that occur between players on who is going to submit first.
Overall, Avowel is a really fun, simple take on word games. It isn’t groundbreaking but it adds enough to the genre to allow it to stand on its own.
Barrier to Entry
Avowel has a detailed text rulebook along with a tutorial. This is a difficult section to write because both of these have undergone significant changes since I started playing the app in the beta version. The game is simple at its core, the only real confusion comes in with the race aspect. I re-read everything after recent updates and it all makes sense, but I can’t unlearn things, so it’s difficult to say exactly how effective the game teaches itself. However, at its core, the game is about spelling words to gain points. Even if you don’t get the race aspect right away, you can still enjoy the game and that aspect will sink in over time.
Look and Feel
The app has a simple, but effective look across the board. The font used throughout was lifted straight out of a novel and the transitions between menus has a nice page turning animation. In-game, the app smartly hides the bottom portion of the screen with the keyboard when you are playing. It is moved to reveal scores after the round. This is a great use of screen real estate that allows the visuals to be presented at a good size that should make them easy to read for everybody.
When entering words, the app turns off your keyboard’s auto-complete suggestions and also the Android soft buttons which could be used to minimize the keyboard. There is either a red ‘x’ or a green check on the side of the entry box, signifying whether or not your currently entered word is valid according to the Wordsy dictionary. Part of me wants a hard (or maybe “brutal” would be the better term) mode where you don’t know if your word is valid until after submitting. I would be terrible at this, of course, but it might be fun nonetheless.
There is a Daily Challenge mode which allows players to play the same game and compare high scores and best words. This is played as a solo game with no AI, you are simply trying to score the most points. This feature keeps running stats on your average scores, consecutive days plays, best finish, and total days played. They even added a notification to remind you to play your daily challenge.
For me, the Daily Challenge is the best part of this app. The solo mode distills the game down to a simple matter of scoring the most points you can with the letters available. I think this mode allows the clever design behind the game to really shine. It's not that the race aspect of the standard game is bad, just that I enjoy focusing strictly on the word portion. The app has the option to give you a daily notification to remind you to play your daily challenge, and you can set it to send that notification at whatever time you want. A very small, but cool, feature.
Update 4/2/2020: Online multiplayer has been added to Avowel as an in-app purchase. It allows you to challenge players to a standard game of Avowel played asynchronously. That is, both players play a normal game at a specified turn time limit and then you view the reviews which use the timing bonuses as if you were playing live. It's not a perfect representation of playing a live game because knowing an opponent has finished certainly gives you some breathing room in normal play, where as in this mode you will always want to rush. Still, it's a nice addition and makes for a great, quick online duel that begs to be replayed.
The game features a range of AI opponents: easy, medium, hard, and brutal. Each level will typically score points in a similar range, based on the total points possible for the current turn, so you after a few games you will know what kind of score you need to beat a particular level. When starting a game you also choose the countdown timer to play with, the options being 10/30/60 seconds or no timeout.
The game has a slew of achievements to reach ranging from “win against an easy opponent” to “top score in every round against hard.” There are separate achievements related to daily challenges and the game also tracks your highest scoring words (“splotchy” for 28 points is my number one at the time of this writing, because I know you were wondering).
The game is free with ads, and you can optionally pay to remove the ads.
Initially, the app is only available on Android, but it it planned to hit iOS in the second half of 2020.
The Wrap Up
Sometimes it's just better not to overthink things. Avowel is a really fun, simple word game that is going to stay on my phone for a long, long time thanks to the excellent Daily Challenge mode. Local AI and online play are both nice, but Daily Challenge remains the draw for me. Sometimes an app can be really, really great due to one killer feature wrapped around a fun game. That’s Avowel. And it’s free, so go download the thing.