At the core of any good party game is one thing: laughter.
Even though I wish the theme made any sense, I had a great time with last year’s Mystic Paths from R&R Games. There were always laughs as people tried to figure out the word play.
I love lots of other great word association games, and the list is long: Just One, Decrypto, Letter Jam, Werewords (extra points for being a word game driven by an app AND featuring hidden roles!), When I Dream, Bananagrams, and the daddy of them all, Codenames.
But all these games feature bunches, boatloads, crazy amounts of laughter. Just thinking about some of those gaming experiences makes me laugh at the memory of it all; another sign things went well.
13 Words (2022, Captain Games) was a pleasant discovery at SPIEL ‘22. I was walking the halls on a quiet Friday morning when I saw the large Captain Games booth and struck up a conversation with two men wearing boat captain uniforms. (Obviously.)
15 minutes later, we had finished my first game of 13 Words. It’s that fast, especially with a smaller player count. If you can wrangle a bigger group to get this one to the table, 13 Words will get you what you want out of a silly game: lots of smiles.
13 Words is so easy to teach that the rules are included on the back of the box.
A 12” cardboard wheel with 12 open spots for cards around its exterior is placed in the middle of the table. 12 cards, with simple words like “theater”, “family”, and “France” are placed around the wheel, with a 13th card placed in the wheel’s center space. Each player is given a voting wheel that doubles as a personal score tracker.
On a turn, one player is deemed the Captain, and has to pick a word in secret around the wheel that most closely aligns with the word in the center. Using their voting wheel, all other players have to guess the Captain’s word. When these answers are revealed, each player that guessed the Captain’s clue gets a point, and the Captain gets a single point if any of the other players guessed the word too.
Play then moves to the next player and the word in the center is tossed out of the game. The word that the Captain chose is flipped (all cards are double-sided with different words) and placed in the center of the board. Lather, rinse, repeat until there are only two cards left on the outside of the wheel, triggering the final round.
13 Words is a high-score affair. Based on the cooperative team’s final point total, you’ll find out if you did just enough to “win” or if your team is truly adept at reading minds.
The Second Tier
13 Words is fun. I tried this at lower player counts and found it to only be OK, but at higher player counts (I would recommend 7-8 players) the game shines for the reasons mentioned earlier.
I’m also impressed at the weight of this one, because it could definitely be played with your grandparents, complete strangers, even young children. That’s because the words are so vanilla—there’s nothing risque about this production. I’m not saying this would have legs, but I personally would enjoy 13 Words for Adults as an alternative to the base game as a way to add a little flavor to the clues.
13 Words is not on that first-tier line of word games like Just One or Codenames, games that I would play anytime, anywhere without reservation. That’s because there are a surprising number of turns in 13 Words that feature something like this:
The clue word in the center of the board is “bird.” Your remaining clues: “recipe”, “wheel”, and “fair.”
None of these words make any sense as a clue for “bird.” Your Captain looks at the words left, shrugs their shoulders, then says “I’m ready.” The other players at the table also shrug their shoulders because none of the three clue words come close to aligning with a passing reference to “bird”, so they just guess something. Also—no one sees any room to make a joke or some kind of a crack to keep things going. It’s just a turn.
In my experience, that happens at least a couple of times,in every game of 13 Words, and sometimes more. That doesn’t mean that it is not interesting to see what everyone will guess, it just means the game isn’t maximum fun. In each game I played with others who know both games, players asked to play my copy of Just One afterwards because that’s just a better and more interesting word association game.
13 Words is a generally good time that never achieves greatness. It does have a ton of variety in the box. With over 200 double-sided cards, and only about 20 words that ever become a part of a single game, you will get a lot of life out of this if you make the investment.