Try describing a Lute. Now try it without using the words ‘string’, ‘guitar’ or ‘music’. Now try it without using the words I’ve written down but, crucially, not shared with you. It’s the linguistic equivalent of Catherine Zeta Jones wriggling through the laser beams in Entrapment (the one good scene in an otherwise shoddy movie). Czech Games Edition (CGE) have wrapped this mechanic up in a cute dungeon crawl theme and called it ‘Trapwords’.
CGE have some form publishing word games with incongruous themes: Codenames has you giving clues to guess words which are really secret agents; That’s A Question calls itself ‘A party game! With Squirrels! Why squirrels? They’ve done it again for Trapwords.
A Trapped Treasure Chest?
Trapwords (featuring artwork Régis Torres) from comes in a small sturdy box with a lovely glossy cover. The artwork shows four typical fantasy adventure characters navigating a trapped passageway, only with books and brains instead of swords and spells. Inside we find a full rule book and a quick overview leaflet. For some players, a swift read of the overview should be enough to get them up and running. A neat touch is the QR code that takes you to a rules video as well.
The rules are very clear and include any amount of caveats and options such as, “Every group is different and your group might need some adjustments,” which encourages you to use simpler or more complex rules; tougher monsters; stricter clue-giving rules. The emphasis is on fun and ease of play rather than a lawyerish adherence to the letter of the law.
There are seven tiles which make the dungeon, with each one being double-sided. Each one features a top-down illustration of a fiendishly trapped dungeon room. These are wonderfully done: subtle lighting effects, creepy details and (can you spot them?) traps. Each one is numbered, showing how many trap words the players can use when they’re in that room, apart from that the tiles are merely decorative and don’t impact on gameplay at all.
Next we find a stack of curse cards and monster cards which provide extra variations to mess up you or your opponent's turns. The second deck is a huge double-sided series of word lists with eight words on each side. These slip into neat little folding cardboard books which have a slot at the front. The slot reveals one of the list of words. Depending on which orientation you choose to put the card in, it can reveal any of the words. There are lists of normal words and ‘fantasy’ words (arena, drawbridge, goblin) depending on which set of books you pick.
You also get a smart printed notebook page to write your trapwords on, which folds so the other team can’t see them. And what’s this? Two pencils and a sharpener? You don’t see them provided very often.
Finally, we get a series of sturdy flat cardboard miniatures which show the player's teams, monsters and torches, which indicate who is the clue-giver this round in your team. The artwork on the miniatures is great with characterful cartoon monsters growling and leering out at us.
Exploring the Dungeon
The players set up the room tiles in chronological order and choose a monster to start in the farthest room. That’ll be the one with the largest number on it. The team starts in the nearest room – smallest number. They place some curse cards on a few of the rooms and they’re off!
The two teams select a word from the word-card-and-book and write down trapwords which their opponents must not mention when giving clues. They then swap the word books. This means that the trapwords that my team have written down have to be avoided by your team when describing the word that I’ve given to you. If your team guess the word you’re describing, great! Your team moves on to the next room. If you say a trapword though, you lose amid much hilarity. If both teams lose, then the monster moves one step closer to you.
You might need a moment to read that again. The gameplay is much more easy to grasp than it is to write about. I take my hat off to the rule book, though – it does a super job. Clear, easy to read and full of examples – perfect for the children it is aimed at.
And so, the game continues. As each team moves to a new room, marked with a higher number, they are subject to a greater number of trapwords. They might encounter a ‘Curse’ card to mix things up a little. Their aim is to add entertainment rather than change the gameplay. I randomly picked up the ‘Echo’ curse: “Your clue-giver must repeat the ending of each word he or she says. ‘That-at sounds-ounds weird-eird’” See what I mean?
Eventually, the players will have to face the monster in order to end the game, either because they have advanced towards him or he’s been drawn towards them by wrong answers. Each monster makes the clue-giving and guessing a harder challenge in their own unique way. For example, The Troll card says, “Your clue-giver can say no more than 10 words.” Tricky!
Final Thoughts on Trapwords
The box clearly states that Trapwords is a game for four to eight players (or more!) aged eight or over, and that it takes 30 minutes to play. There we have it. It sets out to be a quick party game for younger gamers. It does that really well. From the rule book, to the artwork and the entertaining curse cards, everything is geared to children. It's easy to learn, engagingly illustrated and fun. The dungeon crawl theme is only vaguely relevant to the game but it does mean that we get to enjoy the super artwork.
I played this with a mixed age group. We quickly grasped the gameplay and really enjoyed twisting our descriptions into knots to avoid the obvious trapwords.
The only wrinkle in the game’s child-friendliness was that our youngest members found some of the words tricky and needed a few hints from the opposite team (thermostat, democracy, incense). This was solved in subsequent rounds by judicious choice of keywords – but it does need a helpful opposition who’re more interested in fair play than in winning.