Letterpress and chess
I love Letterpress. It is my favorite word game on the iPhone, for a variety of reasons. It is intellectually stimulating, in a way that reminds me of my chess-playing days. It is slow enough to get to know an opponent through the words they play, but quick enough to stay interesting. However, I really wish games would expire after a few days of inactivity.
If you have played a fair number of Letterpress games, you have probably found yourself playing a long series of slight variations on a word, with the same tiles switching sides repeatedly. Some people get bored of the game when this happens, but I find those long battles for a few key squares stimulating. When I played chess I used to like closed positions – positions in which most of the pieces stay on the board for a long time. Closed positions are more complicated, with pieces moving back and forth over many moves, without anyone capturing any pieces. At some point your pieces will be in just the right position to attack and gain a small advantage. I wasn’t always good at these positions, but I enjoyed the art of patiently maneuvering until just the right moment. Letterpress, with its focus on slowly gaining control of board space, has that feel.
If you’ve been playing Letterpress for a while, you have probably also developed a long list of unfinished games. I finally resigned a bunch of these games because I realized these people were not going to come back. This makes some sense, because when an app goes viral many people install it just long enough to check it out. I’m sure some of my unfinished games were against people who just stopped using the app altogether. But I also saw some games where there was a steady give-and-take lasting several hours, but as soon as the main struggle was over and the game was coming to a rapid conclusion, the person just stopped making moves. I don’t care about my win-loss record, and the absence of stats reinforces that detachment from scoring. But it is frustrating to play a bunch of long games that you never get to finish.
Regardless of the reason for unfinished games piling up, a simple fix is to let abandoned games expire after several days of no moves being made. It would clean out our games list, and provide a little more satisfaction than having to resign to people who have abandoned their games.
A 10×10 grid?
As I was thinking about the back-and-forth exchanges over a few key squares that make Letterpress compelling, I started to wonder how challenging a larger grid might be. At first I thought it would be too much – with 25 squares and 26 letters, games can already last a fair amount of time. With 100 squares and 26 letters, games could last for years! This was unappealing, until I remembered the postcard chess I used to play in college. I would love to play a 10×10 game of Letterpress with one of my lifelong friends. Knowing the game wouldn’t be abandoned after three years of moves, I’d play a 10×10 game to its conclusion. It would be epic!
So if you are making the next great iPhone game, please consider a mechanism for weeding out your non-committed viral users from your loyal users’ game base. We will all appreciate it. And if you can make a lifelong version of your game, please do so!