For those wishing to test the versatility of their vocabulary, word games are the perfect choice. Of course, there are plenty of word games on the market, ranging from pen and paper books to board games. Lexicon has an important place amongst them. Designed in the 1930s, it actually predates the far more famous game Scrabble. More, modern card games like Paperback are indebted to Lexicon in a variety of ways, not least in the iconic design of its cards.
With such a long history it is no surprise that Lexicon has undergone a number of transformations. It has also been marketed in a variety of ways during its life. At one point it was sold as ‘The Wonder Game’ and was envisaged as a rival for more establish social games like Bridge, Whist and Canasta. Rulebooks even came with instructions on how to arrange a Lexicon drive. By contrast, it’s now presented as a light travel or filler game aimed at a more causal gaming market, although the amount of table space it takes up may preclude its actual use as a travel game.
At its core Lexicon is a solid word game that has remained in print for a reason. It's a simple game that rewards verbal inventiveness. Players are dealt a hand of 10 cards, each of which has a large letter on the front and a number in the corner. The remaining cards form the deck with the top card face-up to one side.
A player has several options on their turn. They can choose to play a word onto the table created from the letters in their own hand. Alternatively, they can alter one of the words already on the table. They do this by either by adding letters to it or by swapping letters from it with those from their own hand. Finally, they have the option to swap one of their cards with either the face-up card on the table or the card from the top of the blind deck.
The object of Lexicon is simply to have played all of your cards, so that you have none left in your hand. At the end of a round, players add up the score of the cards remaining in their hand. When someone reaches a total of 100, they are eliminated from the game.
The possible actions may seem limited. However, they allow for a sophisticated and surprisingly tactical game that rewards inventiveness, lateral thinking and critical reasoning. When a player chooses to add letters to an existing word, they aren’t restricted to placing them at the beginning or end. Instead, unlike Scrabble, they can insert letters anywhere in the word. Swapping letters out from an existing word for those in your hand allows you to gain the cards you need for a word you intend to play on a subsequent turn. However, by not getting rid of any cards you run the risk of running out of time to play that word.
The simple, elegant design of the Lexicon cards allows for several other gaming possibilities. The modern edition of the game comes with rules for two variant games – Lexicon Riddance and Lexicon Criss Cross. The former involves players taking it in turns to form a word using the cards in their hand and one single exposed card on the table. The aim is to get rid of all their cards before their rivals. Criss Cross requires players to draw cards in turn and then write the revealed letters in a 25 square grid hoping to form complete words that will score points.
Whilst these different games are all fundamentally similar to each other, they nevertheless offer a great amount of replay-ability. The game possibilities don't end there either. Previous editions have included rules for as many as 20 additional variant rule sets, ranging from games of patience to Lexicon Bridge and more, so for the inquisitive there’s more to discover.
Final Thoughts on Lexicon
For all its seeming simplicity, this classic card game offers a surprisingly sophisticated and tactical word game experience. The ability to ‘attack’ existing words on the table in a variety of ways ensures that the base game is not just multiplayer solitaire.
It is possible to disrupt your opponent’s moves and take key letter cards for yourself whilst all the while being conscious that you need to empty your hand as fast as possible. It can be frustrating when a round ends quickly. The variants of Lexicon add good levels of replay-ability too.