Scrabbling in the Dark

A near-ending game board, tiles and racks of t...

I have been looking for a simple D&D-style game to use for a dungeon bash, and had Microlite in mind for a while. Then I stumbled across TileHack. Boy, people will wish I hadn’t. Essentially, TileHack takes the meagre scraping left of D&D that you’ll find if you really break it down to ultra-basics, then uses Scrabble tiles and the words you create with them as an alternative to a twenty-sided dice.

Bam! I’m sold.

Players have an Action Pool, a Dodge Pool and a communal Party Pool. To complete tasks they create words from the appropriate pool or combo of pools. If you make a word and it’s relevant to the activity, you get a bonus. So, if you want to go somewhere in a stealthy fashion, spelling out CREEP, SNEAK or SHADOW will be more beneficial than COW or ERA. When you fight someone, the value of your word forms a substantial part of your combat damage, while the words for spells determine their damage potential or difficulty number to resist. The Dodge pool only refreshes at the end of combat and provides extra letters to improve your chance to avoid damage.

I haven’t even run (or played) the game, and I have an inkling to allow players to support each other by letting someone get a single tile from another player’s pool – providing they can role play how they offer the support. Heck, maybe a wizard casting a ritual could get a tile from more than one player. Of course, I wouldn’t make an adjustment like this until I’d played the game as written a couple of times to see if it warranted making the change.

Conversely, the game allows a crafty GM to throw in traps and adversaries that complicate the wordcraft and either remove, restrict or temporarily render inaccessible certain tiles or letters. Maybe a DARK room temporarily removes the letters D, A, R and K from the player’s available pools, or players might only overcome a puzzling SPHINX if they can come up with words that begin with one of those letters? A common Kobold has a Letter Thief special ability that allows him to steal a tile from a player’s action pool.

In a nostalgic corner of my brain, I think about the classic UK children’s TV series ‘Knightmare‘, where spelling cast literally meant spelling out the name of the spell, one letter at a time.

TileHack seems to have the simplicity of the Microlite20 format with the added edutainment value of a word game. My family, at least, would benefit from playing something easy to pick up and taxing on their vocabulary. Creativity in wordplay makes for an interesting balance between quick win short words or head-scratching to come up with something a little more impressive. You can opt to ‘fumble’ and refresh your whole Action Pool, but is it worth the risk? There’s only one way to find out…

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