Master Word is a cooperative party word game that just got released here in the USA about Mid-November 2020 (I know this because this game was holding up my order).
This is guessing game in the vein of Master Mind (an abstract deduction game) but using words instead. I described it to my friends as Master Mind meets Just One meets Codenames. It has the cooperative nature of Just One, with deduction elements of Master Mind, and word connotations like Codenames. To be clear, this is a cooperative party game: you need 3-6 people to play.
Master Word doesn’t have too many components. It has a rulebook, a bunch of “thumbs up” token, some cards YOU CAN WRITE ON, some dry-erase pens and 300 Play cards.
This is a word game: during a turn, each player (except the Guide) will write a word/idea on one of the cards. Master Word even includes a weird felt eraser so can erase your cards without needing Kleenex! But seriously, you need Kleenex to clean the cards. The felt works fine, but I worry about it getting “full”.
You can see most of the components above. But the main action happens on the little clue cards (far right box).
The rulebook is more like a three-folded pamphlet. To be fair, there aren’t a lot of rules to the game.
Not much to say: the rulebook is readable, has some good examples, and presents the game pretty well. It’s pretty good if not great.
This game is all about getting everybody to work together to guess a word: it’s a fully cooperative game!!! One player is trying to help everybody else guess the word. The game starts with the group choosing one player to be the “Guide” (or Clue-giver): The Guide takes a word card (from the box of 300) and shows everyone THE CLUE only: In the example above, the CLUE is Animal, and the Word is COW: he keeps COW hidden.
The rest of the players (called Seekers) talk and cooperate trying to come up with words to help “narrow” the clue. Each Seeker then each write a word (or an idea, like “greater than 100”) on a card across a row. In the first round above, you see a 4-Player game (1 Guide, 3 seekers), so you see three guesses.
Once the Seekers have written their words, the Guide is allowed to give a thumbs-up for every seeker. If the written word “implies” or “narrows” to the final word, they get a thumbs-up! In the example, the players get one thumb-up, because a Cow is “obviously” found on a Farm! Note some of the imprecision here: A lot of Zoos have cows, but some people think of cows only being on a Farm. It’s up to the Guide to make the call to help his fellow players: The Guide’s job is to do the best he can to help his fellow players! Even if Zoo might get a thumb-up, the Guide thinks this will confuse his group in this instance! (Note that The Guide can hear all the deliberations of the group, so he has a sense of what they are thinking)
Note that the players DO NOT KNOW which card the thumbs-up applies to!!! (I made this mistake the first time I played). That’s why the thumbs are placed to the right of the row instead of on any of the cards. You just know one card got a thumbs-up, not which card.
In the second round, players get two thumbs-Up, because a Cow is in a Barn and is typically outside. Again, the players still don’t know exactly which cards the thumbs-up refer to.
Above is a final game. The Seekers have successfully guessed COW and gotten the BIG THUMBS-UP!!! There’s two other things to note here:
(1) First, you’ll notice that a thumbs-up in ON the MOOS card. The Guide has a special power: exactly one time during the game, the Guide can move one of the thumbs-up to a specific card to emphasize a clue. In this case, the Seeker emphasizes MOOS to try to give the Seekers a big hint.
(2) Secondly, once Seekers are ready to guess the final word, the guess HAS to go on a RED CARD. If the Seekers had written COW on a white card THEY IMMEDIATELY LOSE!!!! This forces the be orderly in their search.
Um, there are no solo rules. Even trying to apply the Changing Perspectives idea, you can’t really play this game alone. For 4-6 players, the game is simple: one player is the Guide and the rest are Seekers (each Seeker getting one card per round). Officially, for a 3-Player game, the Seekers get two cards per round (so 4 guesses per round). There’s no official 2-Player rules, but this same idea could work: One player plays the Guide and the other player plays a Seeker with three guesses per round.
The official player count is 3-6. I think this is accurate. We played a 7-Player game and it almost worked. The problem with too many Seekers is that there are too many people talking at the same time trying to discuss words, and they start stepping on each other. You could get away with a 2-Player or a 7-Player game, but the game works best with 3 to 6 players.
So, this game works great. I have probably played 10 games of this over the last week since I got it! There’s only one thing we “changed” to make the game more fun. By default, the Seekers only have 90 seconds to make theirs guesses!!! We hated this, so we just got rid of this rule. We just took all the time we wanted. Getting rid of the time limit made the game longer (it’s supposed to be 15 minutes, but our games tended to be 25 minutes), but who cares? It made the game more fun!
And here’s the thing: Master Word works great in person (see above for a 4-Player game) or online over the Internet!!! In fact, 8 of the 10 games I played were over the Internet over Discord. This game would easily make our Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online! How do you play online?
- Get Online using something with Audio, a Camera and a Chat l(ike Discord or Zoom)
- The owner of the game takes a CLUE/FINAL WORD out of the box and (without looking) shows it on the screen. While everyone else closes their eyes, the Guide looks at the CLUE and FINAL WORD. The Guide then says the CLUE out loud.
- Players discuss online over Audio. They come up with their guesses (like normal)
- In the chat, one Seeker writes all the guesses: (Farm, Jungle, Zoo)
- In the chat, the Guide puts out the thumbs-up (either the Icon or a number indicating how many thumbs-up): (1)
- Play continues for 7 rounds! If the Seeker players need to emphasize a word is a guess, they can put a * next to it: *COW
- At any point, the Guide can write in the chat to use his one time power to emphasize a guess. (“Hey Guys, MOO”)
Online, this has been a hit! It’s become our go-to online game after Just One!
Although we really like this game, you sometimes have to go through contortions to make sure the thumbs-up clues make sense. For example, we ended up in 3-Seeker game always giving exactly three words with one always repeated! For example, if we give (FARM, FARM, JUNGLE) then the number of thumbs-up is telling.
- 0 Thumbs-up: it’s not FARM or JUNGLE
- 1 Thumbs-up: It has to be JUNGLE
- 2 Thumbs-up: It has to be FARM
- 3 Thumbs-up: It’s both FARM and JUNGLE
So, we had to “be clever” when we came up with our guesses, sometimes giving mutually exclusive guesses on different axes (MALE, MALE, FARM):
- 0 Thumbs-up: Female, not a farm
- 1 Thumbs-up: Female, a farm
- 2 Thumbs-up: Male, not a farm
- 3 Thumbs-up: Male, a farm
So, we end up with some interesting conversations trying to come up with the right way to form our clues to get the most information. This was clever, but sometimes excluded other people from the conversation.
The game sometimes feels a little convoluted, when maybe something simpler could have worked:
- Like a FAMILY MODE: Perhaps you always get 3 guesses (regardless of player count) and you put thumbs-up ON the proper card instead of not knowing which card. This method would eliminate the need to worry about set-theory and mutual exclusion.
Normal mode allows you opportunities to be clever, which we loved. Something like FAMILY MODE would make this game more accessible to everyone.
Overall, this is a good cooperative party game: gameplay fosters interactive discussions and working together. The Seekers do most of the work, and sometimes you feel like you don’t get to do much as the Guide. But, sometimes it’s nice to be in the mellow position of being the Guide (compared to Codenames where the Clue-Giver position can be very frustrating).
The fact that this game works so well online is a major point in its favor!! Although my online groups prefer the simplicity of Just One online, Master Word has become a new online favorite to play on Discord.
This is a good cooperative party word game in person, but exceptional in that you can play online very easily.