Word Nerd: UpWords and SkyWords

I thought I’d try to do something different (again) with my Word Nerd article, as it’s both easier and harder to write than my Late to the Party reviews. This time, instead of complaining about people who can’t write properly or for praising particular words for their brilliance, I’m going to drag a game into the spotlight.

(Also, unlike my other articles, this one will be relatively brief, as I don’t have much to say this week. Go ahead and take that sigh of relief. You know you want to.)

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The game I have in mind goes by at least two names. I first played it in the fifth grade (I think) as a Scrabble-esque game called UpWords. It was originally produced by Milton Bradley and has recently been rebranded by Hasbro as Scrabble Upwords. Now I play it on my iPhone as SkyWords, developed by Lonely Star Software. It’s a worthy adaptation, and it’s pretty fun to be able to play with random people wherever you are and whenever the mood strikes. It also has a chat function so that you can still trash-talk your opponent. That is a necessary part of game-play, and I don’t care what anyone says!

Scrabble UpWords playing board

Not the prettiest board game, especially as colours go, but it's still a good deal of fun.

Anyway. Players place tiles onto a board that is somewhat similar to the grid-board used in Scrabble; you have a marked out section in the middle of the board in which the first word must be placed, but none of the tiles feature double- and triple-letter and -word score bonuses. The only bonuses you get are earned by building up the existing words on the board.

Words are scored by the number of tiles that make them up, including the tiles that are covered. If the word is made up of tiles that are only one tile high (no stacking has occurred), the score is doubled. The higher you stack the letter tiles, the higher the score you get. You can stack five tiles high.

At the end of the game — when someone forfeits or when someone has placed all of their tiles — each tile remaining in other players’ possession is worth -5 points from their score. Whoever has the highest final score is the winner.

SkyWords game

A screenshot of a SkyWords game in progress

I love several things about this game. For one, the digital version is kind enough to have a ‘Qu’ tile so that you aren’t scrambling to figure out where to put a Q all on is own. For another, it doesn’t place a higher value based on your ability to find a place to put that dratted Z, but on your ability to see which words could evolve into others. For yet another, it forces your mind to think of words in three dimensions rather than as a flat set of static letters.

UpWords/SkyWords, in my mind, is a combination of Scrabble and those word games in which you take ‘miser’ and have to turn it into ‘bored’ by only changing one letter at a time. The difference here between the board game and the latter example is that you can stack as many tiles as you like, so long as they form a recognized word, don’t break the five-tile-high limit, and aren’t covering tiles of the same letter, e.g. you cannot place a T over a T, or an A over an A. It is also worth noting this particular set of rules mentioned on Wikipedia which I believe applies to UpWords, but not SkyWords:

Since Upwords lacks bonus squares found in Scrabble, players are not allowed to pluralize existing words by simply adding an “s” on the end of a word and ending their turn. If a word is pluralized by the addition of an “s”, the “s” must be part of another complete word that was placed on the board. This rule prevents players from capitalizing too much on other players’ words.

In my estimation, all other rules follow that of Scrabble and other similar letter-tile games. If you’re the wordy type and are always up for increasing your vocabulary (or showing it off, which is usually fun too), I’d recommend that you try out both of these games.  I myself am not very good at playing this game, but I continue to play simply because I enjoy the challenge and hope I will slowly improve. (It also doesn’t help that the only person I play against is a friggin’ word-ninja.) Go to it, people, and enjoy it!

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3 Comments

  1. Posted July 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Upwords and Skywords play identically. The Q and the U have always been on the same Upwords tile. There are no rules differences. Both play strategically, both limit you to 5 high, both do not score points based upon a letter’s difficulty, but instead on the letter’s stacked height. A word w all letters sitting on the gameboard level score double. Nothing has changed. They are identical.

    • Toria Spencer
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for all of that! I haven’t actually played UpWords since the fifth grade and haven’t seen the game since, so I was going from memory. Apparently it was a tad faulty, so I appreciate you pointing this out to me.

  2. Posted February 1, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    UPWORDS is now an app available at the App Store. Like SKYWORDS, it is also developed by Lonely Star Software and it will be replacing SKYWORDS.
    It’s first week of release it was rated a top-downloaded new app.

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