Publisher CGE is known for making interesting party games — notably their most popular, Codenames, and its many iterations.
How does a cooperative word game fare in this publishing house’s game catalog? Read our Letter Jam review to find out.
Letter Jam Overview
Letter Jam is a cooperative game for 2 to 6 players that has nothing to do with jam (apart from some fruit illustrations) and everything to do with letters and words.
Every player has Letter cards that are visible to everyone but them. In each round, players give clues to help the others deduce what their Letter card could be.
Once the end of the game rolls around, players attempt to spell a word with their Letter cards — that they have yet to see but should hopefully know thanks to the other players’ clues. Everyone wins If all players have correctly spelled an English word with their Letter cards.
How To Play Letter Jam
First, divide the deck of Letter cards up evenly amongst players. Then, each player makes a secret 5-letter word from their cards. Afterward, they scramble their 5 Letter cards and pass them face down to the player to their right.
Each player’s goal at the end of the game is to unscramble the secret word’s Letter cards and correctly spell a word with them.
Any unused Letter cards are collected and shuffled together to form a draw deck.
Letter Jam’s golden rule is that you may never look at your own Letter cards.
Arrange the 5 cards you received from your neighbor in a facedown row in front of you. Then, take the leftmost Letter card and place it in the Card Stand without looking at it.
Each player also needs a Pencil and a Guessing sheet that they fold to prevent other players from seeing their notes.
If you’re playing Letter Jam with fewer than 6 players, there will also be some nonplayer stands with Letter cards so that 5 letters are always visible to each player.
Finally, the Wildcard, Numbered tokens, and Setup card with its Clue tokens are placed in the center of the play area.
Acceptable Table Talk
In Letter Jam, there are no player turns; instead, players look at the Letters around the table and vaguely discuss potential clues to see who has the best one.
There are many rules to follow when discussing potential clues, but they all come back to this: you must never give any information about a player’s Letters, no matter how subtle.
Examples of acceptable things you can discuss about your clue include:
- how many letters are in it
- how many nonplayer letters it uses
- how many players it helps (but not which ones)
- if it uses the Wildcard
So, you might say something like, “I have a 6-letter word that helps 3 of the 6 players and doesn’t use the Wildcard.”
There’s no penalty for not following the rules but ignoring them ruins the spirit of the game.
Round of Play
Each round goes through the same 5 steps.
1. Discuss as a Group.
You’ll look around the table at the visible letters and try to come up with a word that uses them. Your word could include player and nonplayer Letter cards, and the Wildcard.
You may freely use cards more than once if you need them. However, if you use the Wildcard more than once, then it must be to represent the same letter twice and not 2 different letters.
During this step, you should discuss your potential clue with the group, ensuring you follow the game’s table talk rules.
Remember, to win the game, it’s best if every player knows what all 5 of their Letters are.
A clue that uses only 1 player’s Letter card is less helpful and efficient than a clue that affects 3 players.
Be mindful of using the Wildcard too often; unless it’s a strong clue, players are already working with limited information, and the Wildcard only amplifies this.
2. Choose a Cluegiver.
The group decides together the person who will give their clue; they become the cluegiver.
As the cluegiver, you take 1 of the Clue tokens from the Setup card. If it’s your first clue, take a red token. This helps ensure that each player has had the chance to give at least 1 clue.
(In games with 2 or 3 people, players take a red token for their first 3 and 2 clues, respectively.)
3. Spell the Clue Using Numbered Tokens
Now, the clue giver uses the Numbered tokens to spell their word out using the visible letters from player and nonplayer cards, including the Wildcard if needed.
The “1” token represents the word’s first letter, the “2” the second, etc.
4. Write the Clue Down, Deduce Your Letter
Every player whose Letter card was used in the clue writes it down on their Guessing sheet, using “?” marks to represent their unknown letter. (Use an * for the Wildcard.)
After you’ve written it down, go through the possible letters that could replace the ? marks.
While it may seem silly to have the alphabet written at the top of the sheet, it becomes incredibly helpful once you get into the game — and, even with it, you’ll probably miss a letter possibility at least once.
5. Do You Know Your Letter?
If you know your Letter card, write it at the bottom of your sheet. Carefully remove your card from its stand without looking at it and place it face down back in its place in your row.
Then, put the next Letter card in your row (moving from left to right) in the stand — again, without looking at it.
While the goal is to get as much information about your Letters as possible before the game ends, be careful not to move on too quickly since you’ll never be able to go back to any cards that you’ve moved past.
If you don’t know what your Letter card is, you’ll keep the same Letter. After players have decided to move on or keep their current Letter cards, prepare for the next round.
Collect the Numbered tokens and discard any used nonplayer Letters, replacing them with a card from their stack.
Using nonplayer cards not only helps you create clever clues, but you’ll earn more green Clue tokens if you use enough of them.
Rounds continue, following the steps above, until either:
- there are no Clue tokens left, or
- everyone decides they don’t need any more clues for their Letters.
Regardless of how the game ends, players now use the letters they wrote at the bottom of their Guessing sheet to try to spell a word.
When you’ve got one, rearrange your Letter cards to spell that word; you are still not allowed to look at your cards.
Then, take turns revealing your words to the group.
All players “more or less” win if everyone has “more or less” spelled an English word correctly. If players succeed, there is a way to score, but I’ve never done this in any of my games. The enjoyment comes from the experience itself — and not how many points we earn.
Letter Jam Review
Letter Jam is a fun game that makes me laugh more than any word game should.
While it’s not inherently funny, what makes Letter Jam so is the players’ reactions around the table. The blank stares after a clue is given.
Or the ridiculous words you invent as you try to figure out someone’s seemingly obvious clue. And that moment when you’re so sure of yourself, only to find you messed up during the final reveal.
(Don’t believe me? The following are words uttered aloud by real, highly intelligent people during games of Letter Jam: pbook, piggo, heme.)
Thanks to its limitations on table talk, Letter Jam also does a great job minimizing quarterbacking or preventing an alpha gamer from dictating the group’s moves.
The way the Clue tokens work also gives everyone around the table a fair chance to share their clues.
Everyone Loves a Word Game, Right?
Letter Jam isn’t a game for everyone.
The rulebook offers different variants to increase or decrease the number of letters in the starting words to accommodate players who aren’t great spellers or want more of a challenge.
Nonetheless, it is a spelling and word game through and through, so if you dislike games like Scrabble, Bananagrams, or Paperback, this game won’t change your mind.
That said, even if you do like word games, you still might not enjoy Letter Jam because of the game’s hidden information and the deductive brainpower it requires to figure out your Letter cards.
Letter Jam is an excellent cooperative game. The hidden information and deductive elements might not seem like they would work in a word game, but they do — and thanks to them, a lot of interesting, clever, and funny moments happen around the table.