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Tessel is a new word-building board game that simultaneously challenges your vocabulary, pattern recognition and optimization skills.

Update : Some clarifications : If you are pledging $20 or more, a copy of the game will be donated to any school in USA of your choice. If you are ordering only one copy of the game (by pledging $30 or more), there is no extra charge for international shipping.

About this project

Almost all of us played some kind of word-building game (Eg: crossword or scrabble) at some point. While these games are exciting during our childhood, they quickly become monotonous. The main drawback of the existing word-building games is that they essentially test only one skill i.e., your vocabulary. The more valid english words you know, the better you are at playing these games. If you are playing scrabble, you can memorize all the valid two-letter english words and beat your opponents consistently !!

A good puzzle should test multiple skills and pose a new challenge every time you play. There are some boardgames that fall into this category. Often these games are very long and consume 3 hours (on an average). By the end of second hour, many players are tired and they give up. So a player with more patience can win the game even with sub-optimal strategies. These games are, however, fun to play. We play board games for fun, not just for winning.

Two years back, during my PhD days, I started designing boardgames with a goal of making elegant puzzles that test multiple skills within a short period of time (say 30-40 minutes) without losing the fun factor. One of my first game is a word-building game which I called Tessel.

Tessel is a word-building board game played on a tesselated board and a set of tiles having two letters each. The objective is to place the tiles along the "edges" of the tesselation and build valid english words, following special rules based on graph theory. It simultaneously challenges your vocabulary, pattern recognition and optimization skills.

After an year of running various simulations, play-testing and revisions, I am happy to announce that the final version of Tessel is ready for production. My first goal is to produce 500 copies of this game this summer and send them to the most enthusiastic board gamers. Here are the details of my game :

Details of the game

Figure 1: Game setup    

Ages8+

Number of players2 to 4

Time30 to 40 minutes

Setup : Place the tesselated board in front of the players. Place all the tiles face down (in random order) next to the board, as shown in the Figure 1. Each tile has two letters. There are four blank tiles. Use k blank tiles in a k-player game. Each player chooses five random tiles from the pile of tiles. These are his private tiles.

Actions : The game happens in turns. On his turn a player chooses exactly one of the following three actions :

  1. Place one or more of his private tiles on the board. Tiles are placed along "vacant" orange lines between two red dots. After he places these tiles, he must "build" at least one valid english word (with at least three letters). The rules of building words is explained below. Take new random tiles from the pile of tiles. The player always holds exactly five private tiles.

  2. Replace one or more of his private tiles from the pile of tiles. His old tiles go back into the pile.

  3. Pass

Rules for building words

Watch this video for a quick introduction of the rules.

A walk on the board starts at a red dot, goes along orange lines and red dots and ends at a red dot. The starting red dot and the ending red dot of a walk are not necessarily different. Consecutive red dots in the walk must have a tile placed along the orange line connecting them. Choose exactly one letter from each tile encountered along the walk. If a tile is used multiple times in a walk, then a different letter may be chosen each time. If these chosen letters form a valid english word, then we say that the corresponding walk built this word. Figures 2, 3 and 4 show the words BRIGHT, FIGHTER and MISSISSIPPI (and the corresponding scores) respectively.

After action 1, the newly placed tiles must be part of at least one walk that built a valid word. The score of a word is the sum of individual letter scores (located on the tiles) of the word. If the word has letters and is built using t tiles, then the player gets 2·( t) bonus points.

It is possible that the newly placed tiles are part of multiple walks building several words. We say that two words w1 and w2 are mutually exclusive if there is at least one tile in w1 that is not part of w2 and vice versa. At the end of action 1, the player identifies all possible words built by mutually exclusive walks. Each of these walks must use at least one of the newly placed tile. His score is the sum of scores of all such words (and the corresponding bonuses).  See the examples below. It is possible that two mutually exclusive words are the same english word.

Watch this video for examples of mutually exclusive words.

End of Game : The game ends when all the tiles are used (or) there are no empty orange lines on the board (or) when both players choose to pass and agree to end the game. At the end of the game, each player adds all his scores. The player with highest score wins the game. If there is a tie, then all the tied players (with highest scores) are winners.

Examples 

Watch this video to understand how these words are built.

Figure 2: Player builds ’BRIGHT’. Word score is 3+1+1+2+3+1 = 11. Number of letters is 6. Number of unique tiles used is 5. Bonus points = 2*(6-5) = 2. Total score is 11+2 = 13.

Figure 3: Player builds ’FIGHTER’. Word score is 5+1+2+3+1+1+1 = 14. Number of letters is 7. Number of unique tiles used is 5. Bonus points = 2*(7-5) = 4. Total score is 14+4 = 18.

Figure 4: Player builds ’MISSISSIPPI’. Word score is 3+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+3+3+1 = 17. Num- ber of letters is 11. Number of unique tiles used is 5. Bonus points = 2*(11-5) = 12. Total score is 17+12 = 29.  

Mutually exclusive words

Watch this video for examples of mutually exclusive words

Figure 5: Two mutually exclusive words

  • First player places the tiles [ZT] and [JO] and builds the word ZOO
  • Second player places the tile [LH] and builds the word TOOL
  • Third player places the tile [UP] and builds two words PUT and POOL. The word PUT uses the tiles [UP] and [ZT]. The word POOL uses the tiles [UP], [JO] and [LH]. These two words are mutually exclusive because the tile [ZT] is not used by POOL and the tile [JO] (or [LH]) is not used by PUT.

Figure 6 : Three mutually exclusive words

  • Fourth player places the tile [LC] and builds three words COOL, LOOP and LOOT. These three words are mutually exclusive because : (1) the tile [LH] is not used by LOOP and LOOT. (2) the tile [UP] is not used by COOL and LOOT. (3) the tile [ZT] is not used by COOL and LOOP.

Components of the game :

  • Tesselated board and letter tiles as shown in Figure 1.
  • Manual explaining the rules.
  • Four racks to hold the private tiles as shown in Figure 7.
  • Box to store all the above components as shown in Figure 8.

Figure 7 : Racks

Figure 8 : Tessel box

I hope everybody enjoys playing this game. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me.

Related Links :

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