The Daily Worker Placement

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Trapwords: Like Taboo But Better

by | published Friday, January 11, 2019

Like Taboo, but better.

After my first game of Trapwords, I joked that this was all my review would need to say. Several plays later, I still agree to an extent. However, even if that were strictly true, I still need to explain why CGE’s latest party game is better. And in doing so, reveal how different they are.

Trapwords asks the players to sort themselves into two teams and step into its foreboding dungeon. Make your way through the dungeon’s treacherous chambers, and overcome its curses, without setting off the traps that lie within, and you’ll come face to face with the evil beast that calls this dank hole home. Defeat this wretched monster and claim victory. Claim the other team is a butt while you’re at it. You earned it!

But to traverse through each room, your team will have to guess a secret word. One of your teammates will give clues to that end, but with one caveat: there are words, written by the opposing team, that the clue giver is not allowed to say. And this is where the first BIG difference is hiding. Where Taboo gives the player a list of five words to avoid, there is no such list for the clue giver to peruse in Trapwords. There is only fear. One wrong move, one wrong word, and it’s all over… until next round.

Before clue giving can start, the players must ‘trap’ the rooms. More specifically, they must ‘trap’ words. Simultaneously, the two teams are each given the word that their opponents will be guessing this round. You must now write down words that you think the opponents’ clue giver might say while describing that word. Once both teams are done trapping words, the teams take turns. Eachclue giver carefully describes their team’s word, trying their best not to set off any traps, while their teammates spend their precious few (five) guesses to find the secret word, so that they can advance to the next room. All the while, their opponents hang on every word, hoping that the clue giver will dare utter one of the trapped words on the piece of paper they’re anxiously clutching in their evil little fists.

And that’s where the genius lies – where the fear hides. As the clue giver, you have no idea which words have been trapped. Every word could be your last. How on earth are you going to explain the word ‘dog’ without saying tail, wag, bark, or pet. They probably didn’t write all of them (maybe not even any of them), but you can’t be sure. Best to steer clear of the obvious stuff. You can’t say “man’s”, “best”, or “friend”, because your friends know how often you refer to your own dog that way. Curse them! And you can’t just start listing breeds or say your dog’s name, because examples of the secret word are against the rules. Curse the rules!! Ooh, maybe you could say “not a cat”. No, they’ve definitely trapped ‘cat’. You’re not falling for that!

And just like that, by simply hiding the list of forbidden words, clue giving becomes dangerous. It honestly feels like entering a booby-trapped room, it’s floor covered with hundreds of innocuous looking interlocking stones. The vast majority of them are harmless, but 5 of them will trigger a mechanism that causes the walls to fire arrows in every direction. How safe do you feel walking through that room?

Each room is numbered (we used rooms 3 through 7 in our game, but 1 through 10 are included in the box). And the number on the room your team occupies indicates how many words your opponents get to trap. If your clue giver can describe the secret word without saying any of the trapped words, and the rest of the team can guess it before the time or guesses run out, your team’s pawn moves forward to the next room.

However, there are two ways that Trapwords spices things up. The first is curses, which are dealt to the second and fourth rooms of the dungeon during setup. A curse becomes active when at least one team enters that room, and lasts for exactly one round, regardless of any team’s success or failure dealing with the curse. This means that if you jump ahead of your opponents, you’ll endure a curse that they’ll never have to, which also serves as an interesting catch-up mechanic. The curses each make your team’s life more difficult, whether it’s forcing the clue giver to-oo echo-o their-eir words-ords, or making the guesser(s) say “I’ll eat my hat if it isn’t” before each guess. Silly, for sure, but more troublesome than you might think.

The second twist is the final boss. The vile creature you must vanquish to win. Each monster, in addition to having their own cardboard standee, have two cards associated with them: one easier and one more difficult. Some monsters might reduce the number of words the clue giver can say, reduce the number of guesses allowed, or increase the number of words that can be trapped. Regardless of who is waiting for you deeper in the dungeon, they’re not there to do you any favours.

As usual, CGE is kind enough to have included two rulebooks. One to get you playing as quickly as possible with simplified no nonsense rules. And another that goes through the nitty gritty of setup, gameplay, exceptions, etc. It also explains permissible trapwords and clues at length. How slavishly you adhere to these regulations are up to you and your group, but I advise trying to stick by them, as they help to maintain the spirit of the game. As you read through the list of forbidden clues, you realize how easy it would be to break the game without these regulations.

And I suppose if I had one complaint about Trapwords, it would be that these regulations are necessary. It adds a lot of overhead to the explanation of what is otherwise a simple word game that has one foot firmly planted in party game territory. Personally, I like to shorten the list of forbidden clues to get the game started quicker, while mentioning that their are other more precise rules that we’ll go over later, if anyone breaks them (and that no one will be penalized for breaking these yet to be mentioned bylaws).

Otherwise, Trapwords is an absolute joy to play. Giving clues and guessing answers is a game formula as old as time. And trying to outsmart your friends, whether by trapping them, or by dancing around their traps is satisfying and often hilarious. I referred to a pelican as an ‘avian creature with massive gullet’, and yelling as ‘whispering, but opposite’.

What surprised me was how satisfying it was to lose at Trapwords. If my opponents can reach into my brain and guess that I’m going to use the word filament to describe a lightbulb and they trap me? I’m ecstatic! Well done! Or if the opposing clue giver manages to bust out their top thesaurus game to waltz around our team’s traps and defeat the boss? That was amazing!! How can you not love a game where losing is just as much fun as winning?

The components are simple enough to keep the price under $20, while being well illustrated and of high enough quality that you feel like you ripped someone off when you walk out of the shop with it in your bag. I received a review copy from CGE, and honesty expected it to cost $8-10 more than it does.

Since I’ve used Taboo as a point of reference several times, I should draw attention to one last difference. In Taboo, your team is trying to guess as many words as you can within the time limit, where in Trapwords, you’re trying to guess only one word, albeit under the pressure of a hidden word list. This means that Trapwords has less of a party game feel to it, as it isn’t as fast paced and frantic as the old classic. That’s not a knock against it at all. It’s still heckin’ fun, and more than capable of generating laughter, as clue givers contort their brains to deliver some truly strange descriptions of everyday items.

I would highly recommend this to any group of 4-10 people who enjoy word or guessing games, and think themselves a little clever. It would make a worthy addition to most collections.  


  • Adam M.

    Ever since Adam bought his first settlement, he has had an insatiable hunger for victory points. All points, in fact: prestige, fame, success, agenda — it doesn't matter. This ravenous appetite led Adam to rapidly devour the greatest games of the preceding decades as though he were preparing for hibernation. Adam's collection now clocks in at about 350 titles, a number he believes is too high to properly appreciate the complexity that many of those games offer. He enjoys all sorts of games, but leans more easily towards euro and card-based designs. Adam prefers games that feature some random elements with mechanics that allow that randomness to be mitigated. His favourites include Through the Ages, Attika, Hansa Teutonica, Tichu, Netrunner and Time's Up.

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