Monday, July 23, 2012

Bananagrams Reviewed: Forget Boring Word Games

My wife brought home the word game Bananagrams after playing it at a friend's house. Bananagrams takes its name from the cute zippered banana-shaped sack that holds the 144 letter tiles and the directions. (It also has a looped webbing "stem" for hanging it until it's ripe.) The sack measures about 10" long and is totally packable in your travel bag or a purse.

Number of Players: 2 to about 12
Age Range: Recommended for ages 7+

Bananagrams Gameplay Rules
Bananagrams is kind of like everyone playing Scrabble all at once, without taking turns. After placing the 144 tiles face down, players draw out a number of tiles to start with (the number depends on how many players are playing.)

The game begins at some arbitrary point when one of the players says "split." All players then try to connect all their letters to form words just like in Scrabble, crossword-style. Also like Scrabble, you have to do the policing on which words are and are not acceptable. There is no turn taking, making it a game that can go as fast as you want. Players are free to arrange and re-arrange their tiles whenever and however they want as long as they form words that are interconnected.

When one player has successfully connected all of his or her letter tiles crossword-style, they say "peel," and all players take another tile from the pool that remains. Then, that player must add that tile to their words somehow, and then they can say "peel" again and take another tile, unless another player beats them to it. Remember that all players can re-arrange their whole bunch of tiles however they want at any time, so there are pretty much unlimited options for getting all your letters to form words. There is also the option to trade a tile that simply doesn't work for three letters from the pool of remaining letters, called a "dump."

The game stops when there aren't enough tiles left in the pool for all the players to take one. The first player who uses all their letters says "bananas" and is the winner, unless one of the other players finds a misspelled or unacceptable word in their plays. If a misspelled word is found, the player who went out is a "rotten banana" and their tiles are turned face down and added back to the pool, and play continues as above.

My Banagrams Review
I find bananagrams to be a pretty fun game. Players aren't waiting for their turn like they might be in Scrabble, and the game goes fast. You can keep it as clean or dirty as you like, depending on who you're playing with, so this game is suitable for kids. Bananagrams is also a great way to teach grade school kids spelling and get them to think about making big words out of little ones. Of course, if a 7 year old and a college grad are facing off, it's not going to be much fun for the 7 year old, but it will be a learning experience. And get a group of college kids together and get ready to discover some new words!

One downside is depending on how many players are playing you need a pretty big flat spot. Your dining room table will work fine, but this isn't something you can play in the back of the car. Scrabble, on the other hand, always fits nicely in the space of the board. But I've seen Banagrams advertised as a camping game... you're going to need a big tent to play it in there!

At the end of the day, bananagrams is a good time. It's more lighthearted and fast-paced than Scrabble, but you still get the satisfaction of coming up with words and connecting them all together.

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