This article first appeared on iPad.Appstorm, a popular Envato website reviewing iPad apps. The site was subsequently sold to a new owner and, a number of years later, the article was lost. I have republished it here for reference.
It’s only been out since 24th October 2012, but Letterpress (the new iOS app from Loren Brichter of Tweetie fame) has taken iOS gaming by storm. The crashing of Game Centre — the weekend following the launch of Letterpress app — has been attributed to its huge success. So what is the appeal of Letterpress, is it really the perfect word game? Following it’s update to version 1.1, on 17th November, is there really any room for improvement?
What is Letterpress?
Letterpress is a turn-based, two-player word game where you may play matches against your Game Centre friends or a random Letterpress player from Game Centre. Your opponent could be anywhere in the world. Letterpress is available for the iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch as a universal app.
How to Play Letterpress
Each player views the same five-by-five letter grid and each take turns selecting letters to make words. The 25 letter tiles start off as white and turn blue if used in your word. Tiles used in your opponent’s words turn red. Your aim is to turn them blue.
Each player can “protect” tiles by surrounding them with their tiles so your protected tiles will appear to be a darker blue and your opponent’s darker red. The match ends when all 25 tiles have been used and the winner is the player with the greatest number of tiles.
Like all great games, it’s easy to play but difficult to master. It’s addictive. It’s absolutely the best — the perfect iOS word game. Almost.
How to Improve the Best iOS Word Game
If you spend any significant length of time with an app, you begin to identify areas in which you think that app can be improved. Letterpress is no exception.
Whilst reluctant to suggest wholesale changes — since Letterpress is an exercise in beauty, in making something complex appear simple — there is just a little room for improvement on this near-perfect app.
Rematch – Done!
Every once in a while you will play an opponent who puts up a real challenge, perhaps struggling to beat them 13–12. It would be great to have the opportunity to go straight back and play them again.
Trying to remember their Game Centre ID, or trying to find them in the list of recent players in Game Centre does not seem to be reliable and it certainly is not frictionless.
Fortunately, version 1.1 has introduced the rematch option at the end of the game.
Maximum Number of Matches
The maximum number of matches that may be played simultaneously is two. Payment of a £0.69/$0.99 in-app purchase unlocks different themes and increases the number of simultaneous matches to 30.
To increase the number of simultaneous matches beyond 30 could make for an unwieldy app with lots of scrolling up and down, which is undesirable.
The reason for 30 simultaneous matches being a drawback is that matches are turn-based and rely on each player taking their turn to provide continuity. Consequently, matches can easily span a number of days meaning that it is possible to be playing 30 slow-players but longing for a quick Letterpress hit.
There is a balance between the actual number of matches that can be played and how long they are taking to play. The solution would be to apply a turn time-limit, say five days, which would allow matches to continue over a period of days with each player having to play their turn within five days to avoid defaulting on the match.
Uncompleted, Forgotten, Dormant Matches
This is probably the biggest issue in having a number of Letterpress matches running. Since it is turn-based, you often find yourself waiting for your opponent to take their turn.
It is noticable that some opponents, usually those who are close to a defeat, will tactically not play any more turns and not resign from the match. This leaves an effectively dormant match that clogs up your 30 available Letterpress matches and puts the onus on you to resign just so you can play an opponent who wants to play.
The solution to this problem is once again solved by allowing turns to be played within a fixed time limit. Whilst recognising that Letterpress is a great app into which to dip when you have a few spare minutes, it would not be sensible to make this time limit too draconian. Many matches are played over days, so to allow a person five days to play their turn must be sufficient before they default on their match.
Quick Match Letterpress Option
Alternatively, Letterpress might want to present two variations of Letterpress matches. Keep the existing matches to be unlimited-time and introduce a time-limited quick-match option for players who wish to play faster matches against each other, perhaps by limiting the time available for each turn.
Ending Matches Without Resigning
Resigning a match is a tacit admission of defeat, one would think. Tactical non-playing opponents force you to resign your matches so that you can continue playing even though you were winning against them. It’s frustrating.
It may be to do with the term “resign” that makes people, myself included, unwilling to end matches? Introducing the five-day time-limit solution, mentioned above, will limit the effectiveness of such a tactic. If an opponent tactically avoids taking a turn (perhaps they are losing) they will default on the match after five days.
Ending a Match. Who Won?
At present, when any match is completed it sinks to the bottom of your list. If you have 30 matches on the go, this is a lot of scrolling to find out the result. More often than not, you may just be wondering what happened to a match that you were playing not realising the match has ended.
The simple solution is to present the completed match at the top of your list, after your opponent has taken their turn, just as it would during the normal course of the match. You will then see that the match has been completed, will be able to see the score and can then remove the match from your list.
Report Missing Words
Very occasionally it is possible to discover a word that is a legitimate word but is not in the Letterpress dictionary. In fact, it is so occasional, I have discovered only one missing word in the (many) dozens of matches that I have so far played.
But it can, and did, happen and it is frustrating to know than an 11-letter word is being disallowed even though it should have been accepted. That’s why rather than “Drats!” we could do with a way to report missing words so that they can be included in future revisions of the app.
From what I have read, I understand that Loren did an awful lot of work getting the dictionary together for Letterpress, so I’m hoping there’s only a handful of missing words and such a function would not be too big an overhead. It is not my desire to create more work for the bloke.
It would be interesting to know how many Letterpress matches you have won. How many were clean sweeps of 25 to nil. How many times you resigned. How many times opponents forfeited matches to you. How many times you defaulted on a match, assuming time-limits are introduced to keep matches moving.
It appears that Game Centre is the place where such leaderboards can be recorded. This seems like an obvious inclusion to incremental updates of Letterpress as it’s so surprising it has nothing of this to date.
Game Centre Achievements
On the one hand, countless different achievements to gain various “badges” within Game Centre seems to be en vogue with many gaming apps and would seem a logical step for Letterpress to adopt.
On the other hand, perhaps this is a step too far. Letterpress’ beauty is in it’s clean, modern look and function. Game Centre achievement badges are trivial and how many players know they exist, anyway?
With just a couple of tweaks, the gameplay on Letterpress app could be improved to aid those who wish to play and not those who interminably sit on matches waiting for opponents to resign.
Letterpress is already an incredibly successful app; it’s the first iOS app that has brought Game Centre to it’s knees. In it’s current form, Letterpress is near perfect and to want to do too much to “improve” it may end up gilding the lily. I’m confident Loren Brichter will make only the tweaks necessary to perfect his already wildly successful iOS game.