Letterpress: Perfecting the Perfect Word Game

It’s only been out since 24th October 2012, but Letterpress (the new iOS app from Loren Brichter of Tweetie fame) has taken iOS gaming by storm. The crashing of Game Centre — the weekend following the launch of Letterpress app — has been attributed to its huge success. So what is the appeal of Letterpress, is it really the perfect word game? Following it’s update to version 1.1, on 17th November, is there really any room for improvement?

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What is Letterpress?

Letterpress is a turn-based, two-player word game where you may play matches against your Game Centre friends or a random Letterpress player from Game Centre. Your opponent could be anywhere in the world. Letterpress is available for the iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch as a universal app.

How to Play Letterpress

Each player views the same five-by-five letter grid and each take turns selecting letters to make words. The 25 letter tiles start off as white and turn blue if used in your word. Tiles used in your opponent’s words turn red. Your aim is to turn them blue.

Each player can “protect” tiles by surrounding them with their tiles so your protected tiles will appear to be a darker blue and your opponent’s darker red. The match ends when all 25 tiles have been used and the winner is the player with the greatest number of tiles.

Like all great games, it’s easy to play but difficult to master. It’s addictive. It’s absolutely the best — the perfect iOS word game. Almost.

How to Improve the Best iOS Word Game

If you spend any significant length of time with an app, you begin to identify areas in which you think that app can be improved. Letterpress is no exception.

Whilst reluctant to suggest wholesale changes — since Letterpress is an exercise in beauty, in making something complex appear simple — there is just a little room for improvement on this near-perfect app.

Rematch – Done!

Every once in a while you will play an opponent who puts up a real challenge, perhaps struggling to beat them 13–12. It would be great to have the opportunity to go straight back and play them again.

Trying to remember their Game Centre ID, or trying to find them in the list of recent players in Game Centre does not seem to be reliable and it certainly is not frictionless.

Fortunately, version 1.1 has introduced the rematch option at the end of the game.

Letterpress now includes a rematch option to replay your opponent easily.

Letterpress now includes a rematch option to replay your opponent easily.

Maximum Number of Matches

The maximum number of matches that may be played simultaneously is two. Payment of a £0.69/$0.99 in-app purchase unlocks different themes and increases the number of simultaneous matches to 30.

Unable to create any new Letterpress matches beyond 30 simultaneous matches.

Unable to create any new Letterpress matches beyond 30 simultaneous matches.

To increase the number of simultaneous matches beyond 30 could make for an unwieldy app with lots of scrolling up and down, which is undesirable.

The reason for 30 simultaneous matches being a drawback is that matches are turn-based and rely on each player taking their turn to provide continuity. Consequently, matches can easily span a number of days meaning that it is possible to be playing 30 slow-players but longing for a quick Letterpress hit.

There is a balance between the actual number of matches that can be played and how long they are taking to play. The solution would be to apply a turn time-limit, say five days, which would allow matches to continue over a period of days with each player having to play their turn within five days to avoid defaulting on the match.

Uncompleted, Forgotten, Dormant Matches

This is probably the biggest issue in having a number of Letterpress matches running. Since it is turn-based, you often find yourself waiting for your opponent to take their turn.

I’ve been waiting weeks for ‘hejjja’ to take their turn. Perhaps they are waiting for me to forfeit the match?

It is noticable that some opponents, usually those who are close to a defeat, will tactically not play any more turns and not resign from the match. This leaves an effectively dormant match that clogs up your 30 available Letterpress matches and puts the onus on you to resign just so you can play an opponent who wants to play.

The solution to this problem is once again solved by allowing turns to be played within a fixed time limit. Whilst recognising that Letterpress is a great app into which to dip when you have a few spare minutes, it would not be sensible to make this time limit too draconian. Many matches are played over days, so to allow a person five days to play their turn must be sufficient before they default on their match.

Quick Match Letterpress Option

Alternatively, Letterpress might want to present two variations of Letterpress matches. Keep the existing matches to be unlimited-time and introduce a time-limited quick-match option for players who wish to play faster matches against each other, perhaps by limiting the time available for each turn.

Ending Matches Without Resigning

Resigning a match is a tacit admission of defeat, one would think. Tactical non-playing opponents force you to resign your matches so that you can continue playing even though you were winning against them. It’s frustrating.

If your opponent won't take their turn, resigning ends the match buts gives them a win.

If your opponent won’t take their turn, resigning ends the match buts gives them a win.

It may be to do with the term “resign” that makes people, myself included, unwilling to end matches? Introducing the five-day time-limit solution, mentioned above, will limit the effectiveness of such a tactic. If an opponent tactically avoids taking a turn (perhaps they are losing) they will default on the match after five days.

Ending a Match. Who Won?

At present, when any match is completed it sinks to the bottom of your list. If you have 30 matches on the go, this is a lot of scrolling to find out the result. More often than not, you may just be wondering what happened to a match that you were playing not realising the match has ended.

The simple solution is to present the completed match at the top of your list, after your opponent has taken their turn, just as it would during the normal course of the match. You will then see that the match has been completed, will be able to see the score and can then remove the match from your list.

Report Missing Words

Very occasionally it is possible to discover a word that is a legitimate word but is not in the Letterpress dictionary. In fact, it is so occasional, I have discovered only one missing word in the (many) dozens of matches that I have so far played.

A disallowed word in Letterpress.

A disallowed word in Letterpress.

But it can, and did, happen and it is frustrating to know than an 11-letter word is being disallowed even though it should have been accepted. That’s why rather than “Drats!” we could do with a way to report missing words so that they can be included in future revisions of the app.

From what I have read, I understand that Loren did an awful lot of work getting the dictionary together for Letterpress, so I’m hoping there’s only a handful of missing words and such a function would not be too big an overhead. It is not my desire to create more work for the bloke.

Statistics

It would be interesting to know how many Letterpress matches you have won. How many were clean sweeps of 25 to nil. How many times you resigned. How many times opponents forfeited matches to you. How many times you defaulted on a match, assuming time-limits are introduced to keep matches moving.

Clean Sweeps: Statistics would help track the number of opponents you defeat 25-nil.

Clean Sweeps: Statistics would help track the number of opponents you defeat 25-nil.

It appears that Game Centre is the place where such leaderboards can be recorded. This seems like an obvious inclusion to incremental updates of Letterpress as it’s so surprising it has nothing of this to date.

Game Centre Achievements

On the one hand, countless different achievements to gain various “badges” within Game Centre seems to be en vogue with many gaming apps and would seem a logical step for Letterpress to adopt.

There are no achievements or leaderboards for Letterpress in Game Centre. An interesting addition, perhaps?

There are no achievements or leaderboards for Letterpress in Game Centre. An interesting addition, perhaps?

On the other hand, perhaps this is a step too far. Letterpress’ beauty is in it’s clean, modern look and function. Game Centre achievement badges are trivial and how many players know they exist, anyway?

Conclusion

With just a couple of tweaks, the gameplay on Letterpress app could be improved to aid those who wish to play and not those who interminably sit on matches waiting for opponents to resign.

Letterpress is already an incredibly successful app; it’s the first iOS app that has brought Game Centre to it’s knees. In it’s current form, Letterpress is near perfect and to want to do too much to “improve” it may end up gilding the lily. I’m confident Loren Brichter will make only the tweaks necessary to perfect his already wildly successful iOS game.


  • vlad

    No need to hire expensive programmers to create iOS, Android and HTML5 apps. I am using Snappii mobile app development enterprise which doesn’t require programming skills and have already made several feature-rich apps. You can check it yourself.

  • http://omarabid.com Abid Omar

    I have been playing the game since the very few minutes of its launching.

    The execution is really incredible. I liked the game because it was slick. It is a piece of art. But after a few minutes of playing, I got addicted, and I had to purchase it (I can’t wait too much for players’ turn).

    I usually play 20-25 (I’m not sure of the 30 limit, but I think I got over that). I play over several days, and I keep the turns open for a maximum. Someday, I clean up the whole mess and start clean.

  • Aaron

    Good suggestions! I think a basic messaging function would be cool too. Like, “Ooh, nice word,” or “Um, anyone out there?” Although I can see that implementing this cleanly could be tricky. It could be a user preference whether to allow incoming messages or not, and the other player clued into that…

    • Johnny Winter

      Aaron, good points. I agree a simple messaging feature would be useful and I agree, too, that implementing it nicely would be very tricky.

      That said, for people I’m playing – whom I know – we use iMessage to communicate. Not possible with people whom I don’t know.

      • estrellitazul

        I was thinking of this same thing. I wonder how well a strictly emoji message would work?

  • Ian

    For some reason this game doesn’t load when I’m on 3G… I’d get the spinning icon for hours but when I’m back to wifi it works.

    I’ve restarted the app, rebooted my iPhone 5, uninstalled and reinstalled it but I still can’t play it when I’m on the go, which is usually the only time I have to play.

    • Johnny Winter

      Ian, funnily enough I am experiencing the same issue as you, here. I have checked that I have data enabled on 3G but still it doesn’t load.

  • SharLorraine

    The most frustrating thing I find is that I don’t know how to get a photo on the system. Can anyone let me know? I’m want to slap that smug blue face!

    • Johnny Winter

      Letterpress uses Apple’s Game Centre – and it is in Game Centre that you add your profile photo. This will then appear in place of the blue circle with the grey smiley face. HTH

  • Tamra Litz

    My friends can play only when I request a game but when they do they get a message that I am not accepting requests. Has anyone had this problem and what can be done about it?
    Thanks!

    • buck

      I think you need to open your settings in gamecenter (not letterpress) account-view account- game invites = ON

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