Games make wonderful gifts. They are, in essence, the gift of quality time. A new game can foster togetherness and engage minds. Games become the source of family lore, or, let’s be real, enmity. From one bookish person to another, I doubt I need to convince you that word games are the best. For this gift guide, I’ve divided my suggestions for games for word nerds to gift into categories to help you find the perfect game for the other word nerds in your life.
For Budding Word Nerds
Start them young! However schooling has been going for the kids in your life, word games can build vocabulary and augment spelling and word recognition skills. These games don’t have to be thinly veiled language arts lessons kids can smell from a mile away. There are kids’ games that can lead to a lifelong love of word nerdery.
My First Bananagrams
Bananagrams is a very popular tile-based word game; did you know it has a kids’ variation? It uses lower case letters, provides some letter combos (like TH and QU) to help kids learn about word formation, and scaffolds young players until they are ready to play a full version of the game.
Speak & Spell
For the babies of the ‘80s babies, Speak & Spell is back! Who needs an iPad when you’ve got a retro gizmo with its own carry handle? It’s got five modes of play, including the classic spelling bee–style game where the device says the word and the player spells it. I hope it also has that low battery haunted mode, when it says a word out loud in the middle of the night out of nowhere. Just me?
Here’s a word game for kids (or adults!) who love that tactile satisfaction of snapping together magnets. This set comes with a booklet that includes ten different game variations, including solitaire games. This compact game would work well in the car or other situations where a little wordy fidgeting might help pass time or soothe frayed nerves.
For the Solo Word Nerd
For people who are living alone or looking for stimulating activities away from screens, there are games that have good single player modes. The upside to these games is their additional multiplayer options, for when the solo word nerds in your life gather with others.
Hardback is a game that combines word making with deck building. If you’ve ever played a game like Dominion, in which you strategically choose cards whose actions amplify each other, you can imagine doing the same with letters that will likely play together well to form words. There are several modes of play in this game, including solitaire rules.
If you want an element of Dungeons & Dragons in your word games, Spell Smashers is the game you seek. In Spell Smashers, defeating monsters gives you new letters to use to form the words that make up your spells to defeat more monsters. While this game can be played by up to five adventurers, it too has a solo mode for those who are not afraid to go alone.
Quiddler is a card game from the makers of the classic pattern recognition game Set. In Quiddler, players are dealt hands full of letters and need to form words. There are points for the most words made from a hand, as well as the longest words. The game works with a variety of numbers of players, and with kids and adults alike. The instructions include a variation on the game for solo play.
For the Serious Word Nerds
Games mean different things to different people, and there are different games for different moods. Some people just want to have some lighthearted fun. Others who want an opportunity to master a game, preferring to develop skills. They prefer games that require quiet and concentration instead of boisterous energy. These games for word nerds to gift are for the more serious players.
If your theory of gift giving is buying something your loved one won’t buy for themselves, a luxury Scrabble board may be the perfect option. Give this indulgent gift to someone with a Scrabble habit but only a serviceable copy of the game. A wooden board that rotates between players is a true upgrade for someone who wants to clock real hours with their Scrabble set.
Super Big Boggle
Original Boggle is a truly great game, but the bigger the board, the better it gets. Super Big Boggle takes the grid to 6×6, has a double letter cube, and has some “word stopper” blocks to add challenges to the game. It’s an ideal gift for anyone who’s been bragging to you about their New York Times Spelling Bee scores. (Hi, that person is me. What other game bestows “genius” status daily?)
In the pantheon of games for the most serious of word nerds, Upwords holds its own with Scrabble and Boggle. Similar to Scrabble in its tile-based play, Upwords lets you build words on the grid or by stacking. Forget that four dimensional chess people are always talking about, three dimensional Upwords is where it’s at.
For the Whole Word Nerd Party
Here’s where I admit I’m a bit of a party pooper. If I’m playing a party game, I want it to be a good game that allows people’s wit, cleverness, and creativity to shine. I want it to provide an outlet for genial competitiveness. There are some party games out there, whose names I will not name, that make all the jokes for you and where winning is essentially random. These games are better than those games.
There are plenty of party games based on the mechanism of one player cluing words for their team to guess. Decrypto is one such game, themed on sending coded messages for your team to interpret rather than falling into enemy hands. What makes this game different from many others of its kind is that both teams are simultaneously trying to crack the coded messages, so no one’s drifting off during downtime.
If some people in your family have gotten really into the game Among Us, here’s a variation for the word nerds! It’s got a 20 Questions vibe, in which players are trying to guess a special word. The twist is the secret werewolf player who knows the word and is surreptitiously trying to thwart everyone’s efforts.
Trapwords is a variation on the classic party game Taboo, in which players clue words without using certain other forbidden words. In Trapwords, you don’t even know what the forbidden words are! It also involves a fun fantasy theme. It’s the perfect game for the sesquipedalian specimen predisposed to employing unorthodox verbiage.
Bonus Round: For the Zoomers
I know many of us are zoomed out. I find the antidote to that fatigue is structured hangouts, like game nights. When we have little excitement to report to our faraway loved ones, new ways to connect can be very fulfilling. I’m including a few games for word nerds to gift that also work well with remote play. If your distant loved ones are savvy with screen sharing, send over the game along with your promise to play.
If you can’t play games in person right now, Scattergories is great to play over a video call. It’s a classic party game of creative constrained list making that rewards alliteration and out-of-the-box thinking. With a shared image of the list of categories, it’s an easy choice for virtual game night.
Another word game that works well with a shared view of the game setup is Codenames. If your loved ones already have it, consider one of its many variants (like Disney and Marvel). I can tell you from experience that the downtime in this game while someone thinks up their clue, or one entire team is waiting for their turn, can lead to crosstalk or pulled attention. It’s not a bad thing if you want a rather casual game experience, but beware if you are among people who get frustrated with slow play. There are detailed instructions for how to set up a game over Zoom.
Crossword Puzzle Subscriptions
Crossword puzzles rule the solo word game experience. If you gift yourself and lucky loved one a subscription to a service like the New York Times crossword puzzle, or better yet an indie puzzle like the American Values Club crossword, or Inkubator crosswords, you will quickly see how two heads are better than one. A lazy weekend morning with a hot drink and a crossword puzzle is the perfect antidote to what this year’s been throwing at us.
Looking for more great gift ideas? We’ve got you covered.