Letter Chess: The next viral word game.
Do you want to improve your spelling,vocabulary and concentration while having too much fun? Letter Chess will do all that and more!
Letter Chess: The next viral word game.
Do you want to improve your spelling,vocabulary and concentration while having too much fun? Letter Chess will do all that and more!
Training our brain is becoming a trend in the pursuit of brain fitness. One way to improve how fast and efficiently your brain works is to indulge in activities that involve visualization, reasoning, concentration and memory. Letter Chess is a new, original word-game that will improve your brain fitness, vocabulary, spelling and general knowledge while providing you, your friends and loved ones with hours of fun.
History of Letter Chess.
Way back, in the mid 80's, lost in the night of time, in the days of the Commodore 64 and Amiga 2000 computers, while pursuing my doctorate, I started to work on a programming project to solve a difficult problem. I was trying to win some of the puzzle games put out by a gaming company. Their puzzles were word puzzles akin to crossword puzzles where letters were assigned point values. The winner was the one who could fill in a crossword-like grid with words and achieve the highest score based on the values assigned to the letters. I came up with an algorithm that did quite a good job, but others must have had more powerful computers because I was always at about 99% of the winning scores. In fact, at the time, I was also working at IBM's TJ Watson's research laboratories in Yorktown Heights, NY, and one of my colleagues had actually won one of the puzzle contests by programming one of the lab's computers to solve the puzzle in a language called PL/1. I then understood why my poor Amiga computer could not compete.
After a few attempts I abandoned the pursuit, but I had an algorithm that could fill a crossword grid quite efficiently. The algorithm had first been written in Hes Forth for the Commodore 64 (for the nostalgic, go to C64 Forth) and then I ported it to the Amiga in JForth . As a further project, I translated the whole thing to C++ on an IBM PC. But I had a thesis and papers to write, so I put the algorithm aside indefinitely. Little did I know then that I had the seed of a great new game. That seed lay dormant for 25 years, waiting for the more fertile land of smart phones and mobile devices to reach its full potential.
Fast forward to 2012.
This past summer I found myself with a little bit of free time and caught a glimpse of my old Amiga and Commodore 64 computers in our storage room at home (yes, I still have them, and they still work!). Feeling nostalgic and a little wistful about those bygone days when everything seemed possible and the world of personal computers was just dawning (remember the PET, APPLE II, TRS 80, ATARI 400/800, VIC 20, Commodore 64 and AMIGA 1000/2000 ?). I decided to delve back into my algorithm and practice my C# programing skills by converting everything over to C#. And that is when the seed germinated! I realized that I had, sitting there for 25 years, the seed of a fun game. I quickly set up a prototype and I knew I had something really interesting when my 9 year old daughter decided to play with "The game", as she calls it, with me on a regular basis. Every person who has seen the prototype has loved it and encouraged me to bring it to the masses. And that is the story, so far, of Letter Chess.
So, what is Letter Chess?
Letter Chess is a word game that one can play alone (like Solitaire) or against an opponent, either on the same machine or on another device. Letter Chess is a bit like playing Crosswords, Hangman, concentration and chess at the same time. It is a memory game, a concentration game and a strategy game all rolled into one fun, addictive game. Though the rules are rather simple, Letter Chess offers quite a challenge. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to simulate a game played by 2 players, you and "Them".
Shall we play a game of Letter Chess?
The first thing you'll see when you launch the game is a board like the following one (you can load some preset patterns or create your own)
The basic idea.
The purpose of the game is to score the most points by filling the white squares or tiles with letters in order to form words. However, unlike some other board games where you place a whole word at a time in the grid, in Letter Chess you play by placing one letter at a time in an unoccupied square when it is your turn. How does the system know if a letter will fit or not in the chosen square? The algorithm computes whether or not the letter fits. If the letter you chose to place does fit in the square, you get 1 point otherwise you lose 1 point. Your score never goes below 0. So if losing a point would bring your score to -1 your score simply stays at 0. If you choose a letter that was previously tried, but did not fit, you loose a point and must go again, unless your score is 0. This is to prevent users from stalling when unwilling to put a letter in the grid.
Letter Chess will use some official dictionary and the words you form will have to come from the official dictionary. For now it uses the Official North American Tournament Scrabble Word List .You will have the option of adding specialized word lists later so that you can play games with themes (science, technology, geography, history, medicine, current events, etc...) or in other languages such as French, Spanish and others, even Latin! If you want to practice learning new words in a new language, you can use Letter Chess.
Basic strategy hints.
Each of two players (when playing against an opponent) takes turn placing one letter in an empty square/tile in order to form words from the official dictionary. Each letter successfully placed in a square by a player scores 1 point otherwise loses 1 point for that player. At this point you might think that there is nothing special about the game. However, the interesting rule of the game is that if a player places a letter in a square and that letter "Forces" a word because that word is the only one that can fit, the entire word is put in the grid and the player gets all the points associated with that word. The other player does not lose any of the points he or she may already have in that word.
Strategy therefore comes into play when you must decide which square to fill with what letter. Every letter put in the grid helps your opponent and you therefore must strive to force as many words as you can before your opponent does it first!
You also have the possibility of placing a letter and seeing other letters be forced into the grid. This happens if placing a letter forces certain other letters in one or more words. For instance, very often, in English, the letter Q is followed by the letter U. Therefore, often, when placing a Q you see a U be inserted right after it. This will give you 2 points instead of just 1. But be careful, unless you force an entire word, simply forcing extra letters does give your opponent more information about the word you are contemplating. They could then go on and "steal" a word right from under your nose by completing it first. So forcing letters is a double-edged sword. Use it carefully!
But enough about the strategy. Let's just dive in and simulate a game based on the board shown earlier above. Here is the scenario:
Make the first move.
Assume you get to go first. You scrutinize the grid and decide that you will attempt to place the word "TUNA" in the first 4 squares at the top of the grid. So, you move the mouse over the square in which you wish to place a letter. In the case of using a smart phone or tablet you would simply tap the selected square. The board will look something like this:
The yellow square indicates the selected square where the character you type will be inserted (or not if it does not fit). The cyan squares simply display the other squares of the word (or words) which contain the selected square. Had you selected the square in the middle of the grid, you would have seen the following:
But, let us get back to trying to put the word "TUNA" in the first 4 squares of the grid. It is your turn and you get to try to place one letter. You decide to put a 'T' in the top left square. You type "T" and the grid now looks like:
The software has instantly figured out that 'T' can indeed be placed in that square and accepts it. You also get credited 1 point as shown in the caption of the window.
Now it is your opponent's turn. She can decide to fill any unoccupied square. She could decide to attack the bottom part of the grid or she could use a strategy of interference by placing a letter in the word you are working on. She sees the 'T' you have placed and she decides that by placing a 'B' in the 3rd square of your word she can disrupt your plans while setting up the ground work to create the word "TUBA". So she attempts to place the letter 'B' in the 3rd square of 'your' word. The grid now looks like this:
Note how your letters turn their squares green while your opponent's letters turn their squares magenta. My algorithm has figured that there are words in the official word list that are of the form "T_B_". Therefore the letter B is accepted and your opponent gets 1 point. The score is now 1/1.
Your (naive) second move.
It is now your turn again and things become a bit more interesting. First, your plans for putting the word "TUNA" in the first four squares have been disrupted. By placing a "B" in the 3rd square, your opponent has taken away the possibility of placing "TUNA". You could decide to try another part of the grid, such as the word with 4 letters on the bottom row. But looking at the grid you realize that you could still form a number of words such as TABS, TABU, TOBY, TUBA, TUBES, TUBS. You know that your opponent is probably considering one of those words and you too decide (coincidentally) to try to insert the word "TUBA". So you place the letter "U" in the second square. The grid is now:
As expected, your "U" was accepted by the program and you now have 2 points. But you then realize that you just handed a gift to your opponent because she can now complete the word by placing the letter "A" to the right of the "B" and get credit for the 4 points of the word "TUBA". She could also have placed an "E" or an "S" in the 4th tile and formed "TUBE" or "TUBS".
Your opponent's second move.
Your opponent has the same thought and decides to place the "A". Here is what the grid looks like after her move:
The letter "A" was accepted and because she completed a word (TUBA) she gets 4 points (as shown in the caption) since there are 4 letters in the word. You do not lose the 2 points you already have. The colors are now Magenta for her filled squares, Green for your filled squares and Orange for shared squares. Shared squares here are "TU" because you placed the letters "T" and "U" but she completed the word and she therefore also gets the points associated with the "T" and "U". With this color scheme it is easy to have an idea of how many points each player has. Count all the squares in your color and add all the orange squares and you get your current maximum score. I say maximum because you could have a lower score if you lost points by trying to place letters that were rejected.
Learn the meaning of words
In the above image you can see that when a word is formed, a definition of the word is displayed. Simply move over a filled-in word and one definition is displayed. If you reuse the word in another game, a different definition is shown. This is a great way to improve your vocabulary. In future versions we could even display, not only definitions, but images, short videos or audio files (to teach pronunciation for example).
You now have a bit of an idea of how Letter Chess works. But frankly, the best thing to do is to play the game alone or, better yet, with a friend, spouse or your children. But be careful, you will get addicted!
To illustrate more strategic aspects of the game, let us reset the game and assume that we have the following grid configuration after each of you has made 2 moves: You are in green, your opponent is in magenta.
You placed the “T” and the “O” while your opponent placed the “B” and the “W”. You both have 2 points. It is your turn to place a letter. What do you do? You might be afraid to add another letter to any of the partially formed words lest your opponent comes along and completes the word and steals those points from you. But you have been playing Letter Chess for a while now and you have improved your vocabulary and your spelling. You now know a few more things about words. You know that you can complete the word “T_B_” with the letter “A” to form “TUBA”. You also realize that now, because there is also the partial word “_ _ OW _ “. The letter “A” will only be accepted by the grid if there is a word of the form “A_OW_”. So you take your chances and you try to place “A” in the 4th square of the top row. The grid now looks like:
What just happened?
When you placed the letter “A” you forced the completion of “T_B_” with the word “TUBA” because that is the only word in the list of the form "T_BA". Another consequence of placing the letter "A" is that it also forced the completion of the down word “_ _OW_” with “AVOWS”. So, a single letter has forced the completion of 2 words. The score is now 8 to 2 in your favor since you get the points of all the squares associated with the 2 forced words. There are 8 squares between the 2 words, thus you get 8 points. Your opponent still has the 2 points she scored with the letters “B” and “W”.
Your opponent now takes her turn and places a “K” in the top row in the square that is 2nd from the right. Here is what the grid now looks like:
Your opponent now has 3 points. You analyze the grid for your next move and you decide that you can make the word “KEG” by placing a “G” and you can also think of words of the form “_ _O_G” such as “WRONG”. So you place your “G” and you get:
Again, what happened?
By placing the “G” you forced the formation of “KEG” (the only word of the form "K_G") and you got all 3 points associated with it. But the system also realized that all the words of the form “_ _ O _ G” that fit in the 3rd row of this grid have an “N“ before the “G” (think of ALONG, AMONG, PRONG, THONG and WRONG). The “N” is thus forced into the square and you get credit for that square also. You now have 12 points. Go ahead; add up all your points by counting all the green squares (yours) and the orange ones (shared). Your opponent’s score is based on all the Magenta (her color) and orange (shared) squares.
Getting the idea?
I believe that you are getting the idea behind the game. To do well, one needs to have good spelling, an extensive vocabulary, a good memory, concentration and an eye for visualizing patterns. And if you feel that you are weak in any of these areas, don’t worry; playing Letter Chess will help you make great improvements in all those areas. Letter Chess is a perfect game for those who wish to sharpen their mental skills. In the same way that you exercise your body with walking, weights, yoga, etc... exercise your mind daily with Letter Chess.
So, go ahead, have fun. As you become better at this game of skill you will want more challenging grids. How about playing this grid?
Or what about
Or for the hardcore players, what about this?
One can even imagine variants of the game. Take the following grid.
You could play that simple 1x6 grid and see how quickly you can force a word. Your opponent could play the same grid and the winner would be the player who creates a word in the shortest number of moves. Even such a simple Letter Chess grid can be lots of fun and challenging. You could play it by yourself and explore and improve your vocabulary and spelling. Or, you could play this grid against an opponent and see who can force a word the fastest. As each one of you places a letter, the potential words will change. You might be surprised to learn that using the official dictionary you have 15,788 words that can go in this puzzle. In other words there are 15,788 6-letter words in that list of words.
But putting a “Y” in the second square reduces the number of candidates to 252. Examples of candidates are BYPASS, CYCLIC, DYNAMO, GYRATE, SYSOPS, ZYGOTE.
But the moment you add a “C” right after the “Y” you only have 16 words left. Words like CYCADS, CYCLIC, CYCLOS, LYCEES, MYCELE, TYCOON and a few others. The grid would look this:
Given the 16 word candidates, you might think that placing a “C” in the first square on the left would give you “CYCLES”, but you would find that placing the “C” would not force the word CYCLES. That is because the grid:
Still allows for CYCADS, CYCLED, CYCLER, CYCLES, CYCLIC, CYCLIN and CYCLOS. That is why no word is forced.
Putting an “L” after the 2nd “C” still doesn’t force the issue. It only removes the word CYCADS. Even putting an “S” in the last square results in CYCLES and CYCLOS. Only once you put the “E” would you see the whole word as in:
By playing the game you learn that there are other words. You can discover them by trying different letters and improve your vocabulary and spelling.
You will also be able to play Letter Chess in one of many other languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, or even Latin!. You can even make puzzles associated with specific topics or themes. Perhaps for a school project you want to use a list of names of all mammals or fish or plants. The words going into the grid could be names of flowers or words from your favorite religious text. They could be chosen from the list of the names of all 50 states, or the names of the major rivers of the world. With the proper word list and associated definitions you can make puzzles that will teach while providing hours of entertainment.
Teach your children well.
I knew there was something to Letter Chess when I showed it to my 9-year old daughter. She seemed to enjoy it. However, I knew she really liked it when she asked me later that night if we could play “The game” as she calls it. It is a bit of a ritual now at night. We spend some quality time playing Letter Chess. It is nice to be able to form a word and when seeing that she doesn’t know it to be able to teach her that “ABACI” is the plural of “ABACUS” which then leads to an explanation of what an ABACUS is. Or to teach her that “VAPID” is something with nothing stimulating or challenging. In that sense Letter Chess is just the opposite of “VAPID”! Letter Chess is a great way to improve your memory, concentration, vocabulary and spelling while having fun and spending quality time with those you love.
So, the next time you ask your computer: “Shall we play a game?” and it replies "Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War?" You can now simply answer: "Wouldn't you prefer a nice game of Letter Chess?"
So, where will the money go?
Though I am still working on a prototype for Windows 7 and 8, it is for desktops, laptops and Windows tablets. I want to bring this game to mobile platforms and I would like to bring it to the Windows 8, Windows Phone, Android and IOS ecosystems. And that takes money. I need to hire one or more students from my university (USF) and professional mobile developers to implement the algorithm and GUI on other platforms. Should this project be funded (as I hope you will make that happen) I will then be able to purchase the equipment (Macs, laptops, tablets, phones and development tools) and hire the people able to convert my algorithm to other platforms. Though one may have a prototype, a professional product must also have proper marketing strategy (of which this Kickstarter campaign is but one part). The consultants and programmers needed to bring this project to fruition do not come cheap. For instance, one firm gave this quote for developing this on Windows 8: (not including Android or IOS)
Windows 8 phone: $20-25K. -- Windows 8 tablets: Another $5k -- Windows 8 PCs: another $5k -- Create a back-end for multi-player games with notifications: additional $10k. Add this functionality into the Windows 8 app: $5k
We are already looking at $40-$45K even though I have already designed most of the back-end and have a fairly complete prototype. And this is just to cover the Windows 8 ecosystem (the easiest platform to port my prototype to) and doesn't include the cost of hardware I will need to update and test the software as I will be putting in some of my own time for design, implementation and testing, etc... in order to lower costs as much as possible.
Porting to Android and IOS (after porting to Windows 8) has been estimated at about $15K each by the same company. I've suggested that the probable best approach is to use my C# code base (all of the back-end or business logic) and use the Mono framework to target the Android and IOS platforms. Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone can directly use C#. The major task is now to create the User Interfaces (UI) for each target platform and add the multi-player (on different machines) capability.
So, in order to target Windows 8, Window 8 Phone, Android and IOS we are talking about $80K, at the very least. I can help reduce the cost by putting in my own time as a software architect.
I am therefore setting a goal of $50K to target the Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone platforms. If the pledge drive raises money beyond $80K I will then bring this game to the Android and IOS platforms.
The funds raised will insure that the game gets the best of:
WEB presence: A great web presence. The game will need a Website to promote and link it directly to the AppStore. Add to that screenshots, demos, a blog and an FAQ to generate interest. The more traffic is driven to the site and the more information is provided to the user, the more the game will be driven into "checkout".
PR: A PR specialist for specialized press release to generate a buzz about the new game.
AppStore Presence: Eye-catching screen shots on the AppStore and standout marketing or AppStore pages.
Analytics: A variety of reporting features and analytics. They also need to monitor reviews and ratings and optimize the game's store presence to make adjustments based on user feedback and reviews.
Be Noticed: Submit the game to app review and directory websites so that the game is noticed.
Search Engines: Make sure that the game is visible in search engines. If it is not there, where is it? They need to optimize the new website, blog and social medial profiles for optimal ranking on the major search engines.
Social Media: They are everywhere. The game needs to be too. A good firm will integrate the App into the lives of the users and their networks.
YouTube: Have a video of the game on YouTube or a mini commercial on YouTube or Vimeo or many other such sites. This creates an exciting and engaging message to attract a diverse and loyal user base for the game.
In-App advertising: Should I or not? They can determine the best approach. With so many options available, I need professionals to evaluate the different monetization options. One needs to decide what kind of ad (if any), revenue model, targeting, and delivery options will be optimal.
You can learn about this yourself by visiting "How much does it cost to develop and App?" Perhaps this can help you figure out what kind of fundraising goal you will need to achieve with your next Kickstarter game project. This can also help you understand why Kickstarter game campaigns often need to raise the kind of moneys they set as goals. It is not cheap to create the next "Angry Birds" or "Words With Friends". But thanks to Kickstarter, you can be part of it all and perhaps, even be part of history by helping this be a record breaking fund raiser.
Oh, and let's not forget Uncle Sam. He also takes his cut. Take a look at this article to see what to expect.
Just as a little teaser, one of the other games I have in mind is, according to those who have seen a preview, even more fun and exciting than Letter Chess. However, it requires more technical resources. I first want to see how this approach to funding Letter Chess works as it is my first time using Kickstarter. Hopefully this funding campaign will meet or even exceed my expectations and I can then go ahead with the other exciting games waiting in the wings.
Also, Letter Chess, is designed in such a way that when you play it (alone or against another), the completed grid can then be sent to a friend so that they can play a different set of games (I already have 3 in the wings, including the one mentioned above) which will use the completed Letter Chess grids as data. So, here is a new concept. Play a game and have the results be useable for one or more other, totally different, yet as exciting, games. Letter Chess players will be able to send their completed puzzles to one another and will be able to play other word games based on those grids. Stay tuned!
Finally, remember that everyone who pledges as little as $10 or more will get a beta Windows 7 and 8 version of the game for their desktop, laptop or tabley. Their version of the game will have different capabilities based on their pledge level. Wouldn't it be cool to have your name in the list of backers or founders when this game goes viral and becomes the next record breaking game?
Help bring a game that had its inception on a Commodore 64 and Amiga computers to today's modern mobile platforms.
So, go ahead, won't you please back this project and be amongst the first to play this new, exciting, fun, educational game?
Thank you for your support,
Henrick Jeanty, Ph.D.
Creator of Letter Chess
Risks and challenges
Risks: This project has no real risks. I have a very nice prototype that needs to be completed for Windows 7, 8 and their Tablets. With funding at the $50K level (our goal) I am certain that we can achieve those goals. With funding above $80K we can port the game to the Android and IOS platforms. So, our stated target platforms of Windows 7, 8 and their Tablets will see the game. Extra funding beyond $80K will ensure that the game is ported to the IOS and Android ecosystems though those are not stated goals of the project.
Challenges: The biggest challenges are in designing the User Interfaces and ensuring that the algorithm works correctly. I teach Software System Development in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at a major university (University Of South Florida) and have designed large software for many research laboratories. I also have a brilliant student working with me on the project. Funding for this project will allow us to hire, potentially more students and, most importantly, hire the professionals that can handle the other issues of Web site, Web presence, search engines, integration with social media, etc... (all described in the story). I believe that I and my student can handle most of what needs to be done. Funding will take care of the other issues mentioned above.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (33 days)