Both touch on what makes the game unique and interesting and why its taken several hours of my life away whilst I’ve got nowhere fast. Yet I’ve oddly enjoyed the brain torture it provides!
Words Can Kill plays out like an RPG where you go into battle with various characters and attack and defend to the death. You have HP and so do your opponents. The way how you attack is by making words from letter tiles pulled from your deck of tiles at random. You’ll have 8 in play at once and you can arrange them in any order or into smaller multiple words. Place the word on your attack area and you’ll launch an attack based on the score of the word. You can also hover over your enemy to see their next move and if you need to, you can place it against your shield for defence. This continues on as you survive battles and move across an overworld map as your story unfolds.
That sounds simple enough to grasp but there are some deep nuances to the gameplay loop. Letters all give different scores like Scrabble and you can upgrade tiles at the smithy. This may mean an A tile increases from 1 point to 2 as a score. It could mean it scores 4 points if its the first letter or if there are three vowels in the word. Other tiles start can have multiple letters in like LL, OP, ER and so you are no longer bound by a maximum of 8 letters. That wasn’t the ceiling really anyway because you can take a risk and move tiles onto the attack and defence areas to clear your initial hand out too. For example you might have an S and a T tile so why not pop them together onto the attack area and commit to making a word with ST in it. You could flip it to TS instead, or you could put one on attack, one on defence and try your luck that way. After each battle you gain a new tile too and with more letters comes more opportunity but also longer wait times to get the exact collection you might want. RNG definitely plays a factor here and runs can go very well, or badly. Get stuck with Q, X, Z, Y, A, E, P, N as your starter collection and you are in for a rough ride.
Part of the tactics is knowing when to fold too. You can move tiles into your discard pile constantly and also take health damage to reroll your tile selection. These are valid, regular tactics as its easier to take the hits early and get a stonking word in. Thankfully, Words Can Kill also provides all the words you can use on the top of the screen too on the normal mode so you don’t have to pour over every tile. If you want to though, harder difficulties remove this option but I warn you in advance. It’ll hand your arse to you over and over again.
That’s exactly what the game did on normal mode too. As you travel you can also use money earned in battle to buy new swords, shields, helmets and armour. These come with lots of effects that can sway battles in your favour. You can also choose to heal yourself or increase your max HP when visiting a healer. All these decisions factor into each run and progress between runs feels quite minimal. It’s more around unlocking more items you can then buy next run around and some powerful ones are part of the grind of unlocking.
I often found myself dying in world 3 or 4 every run. This is because the combination of status effects to appease with word tiles matched with the sheer damage levels enemies give you meant I couldn’t find time to ever actually attack. I’m not the best a word games so this could be me just being poor at the game but there was definitely a glass ceiling I struggled to break. As a result, unlocking your offspring for future runs and different styles of running was something I’ve still yet to experience. I’m still trying to survive the first generation of my rogues!
If this all sounds exciting though, I’d recommend it. Despite failing miserably I really enjoyed all the game mechanics. Each run felt a bit different and I was kept on my toes constantly. I’ve seen a few games attempt something similar to what Words Can Kill does but few have the variety that this game does. If you are a wordsmith RPG fan – this could be a hidden gem for you.
Game provided for review by developer.
Words Can Kill
A solid but difficult roguelike deckbuilder that brings Scrabble to the battle masses.
Varied runs full of challenge.
Lots of ways to stack the odds in (or against) your favour.
Quality of life features make picking words from your selection really easy if you like the idea of word games but struggle to make the words yourself.
...with some definite difficulty leaps that will gatekeep later game content.
Controls take a while to get used to (but eventually click).
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