When you think of multiplayer word games for your mobile device, you probably get the mental image of struggling over a rack of seven letters (usually too many vowels), trying to look for a place for ALOHA to fit on the board. With Letterpress by atebits, you've got a whole board of letters to work with, but you've got to protect them from your opponent! The extra twist of territory defense-esque strategy makes Letterpress an addicting and challenging game, like marrying Othello and Boggle in the chapel of chess.
In each match, you're given 25 letters in a 5x5 grid. Your goal is to capture the majority of the letters by the time all of the letters have been used. When it's your turn, tap the letters to spell out a word. (Rather conveniently, you can also drag-and-drop letters into place, even into the middle of a word.) Letters that you use are changed to your color (blue by default), even if they were previously your opponent's color. The obvious strategy would be to use the Clockwords tactic of "play the longest words you can," but there's a bit of a twist that should factor into your strategy; if a letter you own is surrounded on all sides by letters you also own, that letter is marked with a darker color, and it can't be stolen by your opponent until after the defense is broken. The game ends once the last letter in the grid have been claimed.
This combination of words and tactics can lead to matches of chess-like play and counter-play where both you and your opponent could end the game at any moment, but in order to secure a victory, you dance around a bit, claiming your opponent's letters, losing some, claiming some more, losing some again, until you're in the right position to deliver a punishing final blow. Vowels are generally provided sparingly, so they switch sides often. Common consonants like R, S, and N also get volleyed back and forth a lot. However, unlike many word games out there, Vs and Zs seem to get introduced to the mix more frequently, and because of their rarity in language, they're usually claimed last, making the final attack feel like even more of an accomplishment.
On the other hand, if you're lucky, a game could pass by pretty quickly. Sometimes the combination of who your opponent is and what letters are on the board means a takedown is possible with just a few turns. It's that sort of unpredictability that makes Letterpress a habit-forming game. The free version limits you to only a couple of games running at the same time, but the full version allows more simultaneous games as well as the ability to select from a handful of color schemes (unfortunately, this effectively means you have to pay for colorblind support). It would also be nice if the game weren't restricted to matchmaking using Apple's Game Center service (say, include Facebook or Twitter match-ups), but hopefully that's an issue that could be addressed in future updates. In the meantime, prepare to have your mental dictionary wrenched open by the compelling blend of strategy and wordplay that Letterpress provides.
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on an iPhone 4. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.