My friend Brent Simmons shared his personal rules for the popular competitive word-forming game, Letterpress.
In a nutshell Brent’s rules are to always pass the first turn after a victory, and to avoid playing suffix or prefix variations of an opponent’s last word.
I strongly agree with passing the first turn after victory. The first play offers a strong advantage in the game and if you rematch in victory and play the first word then you give yourself an unsportsmanlike advantage.
The second rule however is too fiddly for my taste. I feel that there would be too little overlap in agreement on rules for this to be reasonably expected to be adhered to. It was actually my initial objection to the game when I first played it over a year ago. I agreed with Brent’s sentiment but thought the game itself should somehow enforce it. Since then I have learned to be at peace with the fact that if I play “BEMUSED,” I had better be prepared for my opponent to play “MUSED” if it suits her.
I have found however that there can be an impedance mismatch when an opponent has dramatically different “rules” of his own. For example I once played an excruciatingly long game with somebody. I was having a good time, and struggling to win. After 30 or 40 turns of what I saw as “end game,” he sent me a message on Twitter along the lines “Do you think I should end this thing?” What?! Of course you should end this thing. It’s a competitive game! But it turned out that one of his objectives was to string games along whenever possible.
Not surprisingly, because I’m kind of a stickler for rules, I have a few to add to Brent’s. I don’t expect my opponents to necessarily adhere to them, but I find them to be the most sportsmanlike way of playing the game:
- First, to repeat Brent’s advice: Always pass the first turn when rematching after a victory.
- No word reference or other “cheats.” I don’t view trying every damned word combination to see if it flies to be cheating, but using an automated tool is not cool. The germ of forming the words you play should come from within your own head.
- Bogus words are fine, as long as Letterpress accepts them. I’ve played bad enough words that I’ve apologized to my opponent, but the game is the game. It is assumed that all players will play “bogus” words when advantageous, so roll with it.
- Always win with the smallest advantage possible. A perfect game of Letterpress for me is a 13-12 victory. Because there are no advantages to a huge victory, apart from gloating or possibly making an opponent feel inferior, the goal of the game for me is to win, but to win graciously. Sometimes I go to a little extra work to find a low-enough scoring word that still puts me over the top. (When I’m lucky enough to win, that is!)