ONE UP! Review (ENG)

20180324_102156One Up! is a word game without the need for a board which will stretch your brain awakening at the same time your malicious side.


FULL ENGLISH REVIEW

Publisher: ONEUPMANSHIP, OLD’S COOL CO.

Designer: JOHNNY MUSTARD

Type of Game: WORD GAME (Real-Time; Party Game; Family Game)

Year of Release: 2017

*****

Theme & General Info

ONE UP! is a word game without the need for a board which will stretch your brain awakening at the same time your malicious side. An enjoyable alternative to Scrabble and Bananagrams, One Up! is easy to learn and even easier to play, but it will surprise you with an unexpected feature that we don’t usually associate with word games: just a hint of wickedness.

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Players will form words using lettered tiles taking them from a common supply. The secret here is being very quick in claiming new words as soon as the right letters come out… and equally fast in stealing the words of your opponents. The goal of the game is to make the most words, bearing in mind that longer words provide in proportion more points.

As its very name suggests, ONE UP! is all about exercising your brain to get an advantage over your opponents by all means. This is not a game for tender-hearted people!

Hey, Scrabble’s fans out there, are you ready to speed up your favorite game and turn it into a stealing competition? The only word game where not only the smartest, but also the fastest and most wicked player will win!

Mechanics & Gameplay

ONE UP! adds a new mechanic to this type of games. Unlike other popular word games, players don’t take turn and play all simultaneously. Previously placed all face down, tiles are flipped over one at a time until someone can form a word of three or more letters. The first player who shouts the word out loud can take it. Slang words, proper names, contractions and abbreviations are not permitted.

However, when you acquire a word, it might not be yours till the end of the game. Here is where the mischievous aspect of the game kicks in. Players can steal their opponents’ words adding at least one letter from the common supply and changing the core meaning of the stolen word. For example, if I own “sir”, nobody can take it from me to form “sirs” because the root of the word doesn’t change. However, if an “e” is flipped over, an opponent can steal my “sir” and form “rise”. Then someone (it might be me or not, it doesn’t matter) flips over an “n”: I can steal “rise” back, scramble it and form “rinse”, but not “risen”. Another “s” is flipped over: I’m going to scramble my own “rinse” and turn it into “sirens”, because longer words are more difficult to steal; this means I will be able to keep it and score it in the end.

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There is only one wild tile, called quite appropriately “Uppity”. It can become any letter. When the word with the wild tile is stolen and scrambled, the Uppity can be used as the same letter or as a different one (for example, “red” becomes “dear” using the wild tile as “a”; then, an “a” is flipped over, and “dear” is stolen and scrambled, and it becomes “ready”, with the Uppity used as a “y”).

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Players keep flipping tiles, forming new words, stealing them from their opponents and scrambling their own words until all tiles are face up. Then the players will try to use all words and the remaining tiles to make last-second snatches. When no new words can be formed and it appears impossible to steal other players’ words, the game is over. Players remove one letter from each word and score one point for each remaining letter. Uppity tile is worth four points. The player with the most points is the winner.

Initial Impressions

My initial impressions were of skepticism. I thought, “Oh, the umpteenth version of Scrabble”. But then I realized ONE UP! is a very different game. Playing all together instead of taking turns adds a bit of flavor to the classic word game, because rapidity is necessary to acquire and steal the words. However, haste makes waste. Will you be able to think quickly enough to beat your opponents, but also to form long, complex and unstealable words?

Moreover, the possibility to steal your opponents’ words is there specifically to add more variety to the game by giving a new level of difficulty to players who might think they are just playing Scrabble. Also, the opportunity to defend your own words by scrambling them and forming new words that are more difficult to steal gives me the feeling of protecting my own yard from the attacks of my opponents, as in more complex games.

So, don’t be fooled by the similarity between ONE UP! and other word games: there’s more than meets the eye here.

Materials & Quality

The quality of the game is okay. Tiles are made of thin wood, but they do serve their purpose. The designer of the game even suggests to make your own ONE UP! with tiles cut out of cardboard.

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The rulebook is actually only a double-sided sheet of paper, but it says everything it needs to say: the rules are complete and easy to understand and the examples provided are clear and useful.

The most beautiful thing is the tin round box. It reminds me so much of the Cambpell’s Soup Cans by pop art exponent Andy Warhol or the Artist’s Shit cans by avant-garde artist Piero Manzoni: both works depict seemingly insignificant and common objects, but they are worth thousands of dollars. Likewise, the apparently common ONE UP! box might hide an unexpectedly fun game!

Artwork & Graphics

There is no artistic direction to One Up!, but that’s okay for the type of game it is.

The graphics on the box is essential but in line with all other components.

Fun Factor

The fun factor of ONE UP! resides in the two aspects differentiating the game from its “cousins”: the speed of shouting the words out loud and the possibility to steal the words from your opponents. A complete mess at the table is guaranteed! A sort of auction feel will keep you both concentrated and in trepidation.

However, halfway in the game, I fear that the fun aspect is almost replaced by analysis paralysis. When a lot of words are already formed, the players tend to overthink and get stuck on the desire to steal their opponents’ words at all costs instead of focusing also on new words. Downtime can be a problem here.

Weight, Age and Time

ONE UP! has no age range. According to the age of the players, it can be played at various levels of difficulty. I played with adults who were looking for the most difficult combinations to defend their own words and I played with elementary school kids who aimed at forming as many words as possible, no matter their length or simpleness. Adults love to scramble existing words and steal; children find it easier to form new words and have more fun shouting the words out loud. Different approaches to the game for different age ranges.

ONE UP! plays quite fast. A full game is no longer than 15 minutes and can be played several times in a row.

An easygoing and light word game, it can be played anywhere, on the beach or on the train to work. I find it perfect for a quick challenge with my colleagues on lunch break.

Conclusions

Although I’m not very much into crosswords, anagrams or word games in general, I liked ONE UP!; I believe it’s a faster alternative to classic games such as Scrabble. Moreover, it can be played potentially by any number of players, even if the game changes slightly as the number increases: in two players it’s more of a brain burner where you try to form the longest words and scramble and steal as much as you can; in five players it’s definitely more entertaining and fast-paced, but you tend to form more new and short words. Then it all depends on those sitting at the table, of course.

Since the designer says explicitly that house rules are welcome, for the experience I had with my family and friends I would suggest the use of a stopwatch or an hourglass both when flipping the tiles and at the end of the game before scoring. Sometimes the player who is flipping might think for too long, some others tiles are flipped so quickly there’s no time to think at all. When the last tile is flipped over, I believe players need to set a specific time frame within which it is possible to steal the opponents’ words; it happened to me more than once that a player stole a word when we all thought the game was over.

ONE UP! can be theoretically played in any language. I say in theorybecause not every language in the world based on the Latin alphabet uses all 26 letters with the same frequency. I had no problem playing One Up! forming English words, but I had to adjust the alphabet to play it in Italian: we don’t have many words containing j, k, w, x and y, so I had to remove those letters; at the same time, we wished there were more tiles with a “c” or an “l” because they are much more frequent in the Italian language. I think the game is enjoyable nevertheless.

In a world where we are more and more required to enhance our thinking and word skills, I believe ONE UP! is the perfect game to exercise our brain, while being at the same time just “wicked/smart”.

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