Game Time: 2-45 minutes
I'm sure I'll not be the only one that upon seeing the name of this game imagines Rowan Atkinson sticking pencils up his nose with underpants on his head, repeating 'wibble'... (A Bout of Insanity | Blackadder | BBC Studios - YouTube) Anyways, let's get on with the review.
Wibbell++, a game by Behrooz 'Bez' Shahriari, consists of a deck of cards. Instead of suits and numbers, the playing cards feature 48 pairs of letters. For compactness, the rules themselves are also written on cards offering five different games for a variety of player counts (from two to fifteen). If you visit the website stuffbybez.com you will also find a multitude of further rulesets to try out. Bez has also promised that she will release at least one new game system each year until she 'retires' from boardgame design, which should keep it fresh. You can check out the latest versions by clicking on Wibbell from the website which takes you to a Google Drive featuring pdfs of other rulesets.
To explain the gameplay, let's first take a look at the anatomy of a Wibbell++ card. Each card features two letters and there are six different borders, each appearing on eight cards. There are eight possible top letters: A,E,I,O,N,R,S, AND T; lower letters are more difficult to use and appear on one to five cards (with the border number telling you how many cards the bottom letter features on in the overall deck).
For the original game Wibbell, for four to seven players, you place the deck face down and flip two cards face up. Everyone races to shout out a single word containing at least one letter from each card. The first player to do so takes either card, places it face up in front of themselves, and flips another card to start the next turn. For every subsequent turn, players shout out words containing at least one letter from each of the two central cards AND every face-up card in front of themselves. If it's too hard to determine who shouted first, it's the player who came up with the shortest word and if words are of the same length each player takes one card and two new cards are flipped.
When someone takes their fourth card, they also take the other card from the centre, then everyone flips their cards face down (you no longer have to use those cards) and start another round with two new central cards. Whoever takes the penultimate card of the game also takes the last card and the person with the most cards wins. There is also the option to play with round handicaps whereby when someone ends a round, they place one of their face-up cards into a 'handicap row' which must be used in future rounds. It can also be played with two or three players, forming the deck by dealing out 12 cards per player.
As a keen word enthusiast, I really love the core game Wibbel as it really gets you thinking... even if you might get really frustrated at times because you have a complete and utter mind block and words elude you. It certainly gets harder the more you are 'handicapped'. It plays at pace and you can easily get multiple rounds in, and therefore is great to keep in your pocket/bag for a quick game at lunchtime or for warming up a night of gaming.
Don't let the simplicity of the card design fool you into thinking it's a boring game with limited replayability because what's really great about Wibbell++ is that it is multiple games in one compact box. Much like a standard deck of cards, the simple letter cards in WIbbell++ offer so many possibilities for so many different games in a beautifully portable box.
You could even invent your own variants if you get your creative juices flowing. I will not go into detail about other variants outlined on the rule cards in the gamebox, I'll let you explore them fully for yourselves. However, here's a brief summary of each so that you get a flavour of how they play:
Grabbell - a dexterity based game involving grabbing and stacking cards on your palm
Alphabetickell - involves forming a line of cards in alphabetical order
Phrasell - inventing amusing little phrases using letters on the cards
Faybell - a co-operative storytelling activity.
The game is highly portable and features good quality standard playing card-sized cards. Like a lot of playing card boxes, the box is a little fiddly to open. and you could damage it if you are not careful. You would need to find a different storage solution if you wanted to sleeve the cards because they would no longer fit in the box. Sleeving certainly feels like a must if you were to play Grabbell a lot as it involves slamming your stack of cards on the table but they will definitely last well playing less 'violent' variants. Both the colour scheme and card design are very simplistic, but I don't think this detracts from its charm.
Overall I rate Wibbell++ a four on the D6 scale. I enjoyed playing it and love that there is potential to invent other games to play with the card set and that there are multiple standard game options included in the little box. It's family-friendly too and it is great that you can cater to a wide variety of player counts. Of course, I love playing games that involve words as a key element of the gameplay. However, I just don't think it is ground-breaking enough to rate it more highly or rush to play it on a games day. For example, the core game Wibbell feels slightly reminiscent of Unspeakable Words, and Grabbell feels like a fancy game of snap to play at a party. Admittedly, I haven't tried out all of the possibilities from the Google Drive, so I may have missed out on something amazing.
Your Resident Word-nerd
NB: Note that the version we reviewed here (after getting a copy at the 2021 UK Games Expo) is Wibbell++ but Bez did rebrand to The ELL Deck in recognition of it being a whole game system