Two new board games combine language skills with playing strategy. For immersion in the complexity and uniqueness of the English language, Bethump’d with Words (Discovery Edition) by Vermont Word Nerds is an excellent choice. For spelling and vocabulary enhancement, try Oxford Dilemma, by Smartegg Games.
Bethump’d with Words is a vocabulary, etymology, linguistics, and history game about English words and usage dating from the Anglo-Saxon conquest to the present. More than any other language in the world, English has borrowed freely from other languages, and its speakers have shortened and blended words and created new ones to reflect the richness of their experiences. Bethump’d with Words traces the evolutionary nature of the English language as well as the historical, cultural, and intellectual evolution of its speakers.
The game consists of a game board, tokens, a die, a score pad, question cards, and a pamphlet explaining the rules and defining the question categories. Players roll the die and travel around the board, answering game questions and earning the letters needed to spell a game word preselected from the list in the pamphlet. The first player to collect all the letters in the word and return to the starting square wins the game. A variety of play options require increasingly challenging strategies.
The story of the English language is woven into the questions according to twenty-five categories, including calques (words or phrases translated from another language verbatim), loanwords, word origins, evolutions, and histories; language characteristics peculiar to American, British, Canadian, or Australian speakers; accents, slang, idioms, and euphemisms; words created from proper names, nicknames, acronyms, blends, and speech errors such as spoonerisms (a transposition of letters or words in a sentence, usually resulting in an absurd statement) and holorimic phrases (a phrase misheard as something else); and homographs, homonyms, and homophones.
Each game card lists six questions (and answers) from six of the categories. Some of the answers are evident from the way the question is posed; for example, one question in the word origins category asks, “Since ski , skin , skirt and sky come from Norse, what combination of letters often identifies a word with Norse ancestry?” The answer, of course, is “ s-k- .” Others require prerequisite knowledge or deductive reasoning, such as this word evolutions question: “What word meant stupid or foolish in 1290 but now means pleasant or agreeable ?” (The answer is nice .)
The value of the game, however, lies not in answering the questions correctly but in discovering the nuances of the English language through interesting historical and linguistic facts. The game is appropriate for ages nine and older and has received the recommendation of the National Association for Gifted Children. More advanced versions of the game for teenagers and adults are available, as is a book version with increasingly difficult levels of play.
While Bethump’d with Words deals with the evolution of language, Oxford Dilemma is primarily a spelling and definitions game. It consists of a board game, 3 dice, tokens, 400 spelling cards, 26 alphabet cards, play money, and 4 sets of cards that instruct players to take specific actions when they land on a certain board space. In standard play, players earn money by correctly spelling a word from the spelling card; in trivia play, players first try to identify the term when the definition is read to them and then to spell the word correctly. The first player to accumulate $10,000 or to bankrupt the other players wins.
Players roll all three dice at once; the two white dice determine the number of spaces a player moves on the playing board, and the black die determines the level of difficulty of the word the player must spell. Spelling cards are grouped into four categories: science; geography; famous people, places or things; and general. Each card lists three words rated easy, moderate, and difficult. The square that the player lands on determines the category from which the player must draw.
Although some strategy is involved in using the alphabet cards collected during play, Oxford Dilemma is predominantly a rote spelling and definitions game. Strong spellers with advanced vocabulary skills will most likely win. The game certainly allows all players to learn difficult spelling and vocabulary as they play, but the game cards do not provide any context for a term by using it correctly in a sentence, and they do not provide secondary meanings for words. Also, the overwhelming majority of the terms in all four categories are nouns, and all of the terms in the geography category are proper names for cities, countries, bodies of water, or land formations.
Oxford Dilemma is appropriate for gifted middle school students and for high school students and has received the recommendation of the Parents’ Choice Foundation. However, it may prove frustrating for those who struggle with spelling.
Sarah Boone holds a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education. She teaches at Meredith College.
- Bethump’d with Words
- Oxford Dilemma
Bethump’d with Words and Oxford Dilemma are available in most specialty game stores and online.