Wednesday, January 14, 2015

An $80 game for $3.86

I mentioned in my last post that while we were in Indiana, Brian stopped into a Michael's to pick up some supplies he needed for a gift. For those who were curious about what he wanted to make that required craft supplies, the answer is: a copy of an out-of-print board game that costs around $90 to buy secondhand. His version used $3.86 worth of card stock, plus a few items we already owned. How's that for tightwaddery being the mother of invention?

The game in question is called Unspeakable Words. We saw it on an episode of Tabletop, where Wil Wheaton introduces it as a word game for people who hate word games. The (admittedly shaky) premise behind the game is that the players are all a bunch of cultists trying to find words of power to summon an ancient, evil god. This sounds like a bad idea to start with, and what makes it worse is that, every time they find such a word, there's a risk it will drive them insane. (Apparently game designer Mike Selinker dreamed up this concept after a night spent playing multiple games of Scrabble and Arkham Horror.)

Anyway, this game starts out like most other word games; you combine letter cards from your hand to make a word and score points for it. The twist is that after scoring your points, you must roll a 20-sided die, and if your roll is less than the number of points in your word, you lose a sanity token. You start the game with five of these, and if you lose them all, you're out. Wheaton's gang played the game with an amusing optional rule that when you get down to your last sanity token, you are officially insane, which means you are no longer limited to legal English words. Any combination of letters at all looks like a perfectly cromulent word to you.

So apparently, after watching this episode, Brian thought Unspeakable Words would make an amusing change of pace for our biweekly game nights. However, when he went searching for a copy online, he found that the game was out of print, and copies were going for $80 or more (plus shipping) at Board Game Geek. However, while looking for a cheaper copy, he happened upon this PDF of the game rules, which contained a complete list of all the cards in the deck with their point values. He realized that all he'd need to do to make his own copy of the game would be to transfer those letters and point values to some blank cards. Throw in a 20-sided die from our collection, some sort of tokens to keep track of sanity, and a copy of the rules PDF, and you have everything you need to play.

Here's what Brian's makeshift version of the game looks like. It has plain, hand-lettered squares of card stock in place of the beautifully illustrated cards in the original, and the sanity tokens are just white and red poker chips (the red one is your "insanity chip," a little flourish he added) instead of disturbing little plastic Cthulhu figurines. (Though frankly, it seems to me that having more of those should make you less sane, not more.) The chips and the 20-sided die are stored in a repurposed spice bottle, the cards in a zip-top bag. It's not fancy, but the game plays exactly like the original, for about $86 less.

I'm considering a few modifications to Brian's design; for instance, I think that while the poker chips make perfectly good sanity tokens, it would be more appropriate to use (and lose) marbles. The trouble with marbles game pieces, of course, is that they roll around, but you could simply substitute the flat-bottomed kind used in decorating. In fact, we already have a collection of those in our Mancala game; we could simply borrow them when we want to play this one.

But overall, I think Brian did a very clever job of recreating an $80 game on a $4 budget. It just goes to show how a little creativity often makes an excellent substitute for cash.
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