You Should Play: Meet Capitals, your new favorite word game

Capitals mixes vocab and strategy in a way that will appeal to everyone – not just word-nerds.

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These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.

I adore word games, but I could never really get into the Words With Friends craze. The turn-based Scrabble-inspired game moves too slowly for me, and there’s no real hook (aside from it being Scrabble, that is). But NimbleBit’s new word game Capitals is different: It’s the perfect mash-up of Scrabble, Boggle, and Risk.

That’s right…Risk. So it’s not just about who can come up with the best/longest word (or rather, who can use an online cheating site to come up with the best/longest word), it’s also about strategy. And that’s where it gets really interesting.

Capitals is free, so word game connoisseurs have no reason not to give it a whirl. But if you’re in the same “Words With Friends is too slow” boat as I am, I understand why you might be wary—so here are three reasons you should check it out.

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When you’re about to turn opponents’ tiles into letter tiles, the tiles fade slightly.

Strategy is key: In Capitals, each player starts with a base tile, their “Capital,” which is colored in their color (default colors are red and blue), and has a rook-like symbol on it. Tiles are hexagon-shaped, and each capital tile has six random letter tiles surrounding it. Your first move is to make a word using any combination of your capital’s letter tiles and your opponent’s letter tiles. There are no restrictions, which is what makes Capitals more fun than Words With Friends—you can use any tiles on the board, make words as long as you like, and the letter tiles do not need to be adjacent (as they do in Scramble With Friends or Wordament) to count.

But there’s a catch. This game is not just about impressing people with your vocabulary, it’s also about strategy. The whole point of making words using the letter tiles is to take over the board in your side’s color. When you use letter tiles that touch your territory (tiles of your color), those tiles are converted into tiles of your color. When you use letter tiles that touch both your territory and your opponent’s territory, the tiles in your opponent’s territory are converted into neutral-zone letter tiles. And when you use letter tiles that only touch your opponent’s territory, nothing happens – those tiles stay neutral and get new letters. So, in order to expand your territory, you need to strategically link up letter tiles so you’re touching both your territory and your opponent’s territory.

I know this sounds a bit complicated, but it’s really not. You’ll get the hang of it!

You don’t have to be a nerd: Scrabble-inspired games are often drawn out as players try to best (and impress) their buddies with the perfect 56-point (and totally obtuse) vocabulary word. But Capitals doesn’t cater to the intellectual show-offs—to win this game, you’ll need to have a decent vocab as well as a keen eye for strategy.

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I could have easily made lots of words here, but “SLOT” lets me capture his capital tile…why waste my brainpower?

Capitals works on a turn-by-turn basis, but if you capture (or convert) your opponent’s capital tile, you get an extra turn. And if you capture all of their remaining territory in that extra turn, you win the game. What this means is that the longest, most complicated word is not always the best word—in fact, it’s often not.

There have been several turns in Capitals where I had plenty of letter tiles with which to make epic Scrabble words, but where my opponent’s territory was only surrounded by three tiles. Sure, I could go the extra mile to impress…myself, I guess…and make some super-long word that included those three tiles. Or…I could just use those three tiles and wipe them off the face of the board, and win the game (this is what I chose to do). Likewise, I’ve played a few opponents who were clearly vocab-whizzes but had no sense for strategy – and when faced with the opportunity to kill off my territory, they chose instead to make some no-doubt high-points Scrabble word (and they didn’t win).

So Capitals evens the playing field a bit, and forces you to think outside the “I am very smart” box. It’s not about showing off your large vocabulary is (although it is partly about this), it’s about showing off how well you can think on your feet when you’re battling for territory in a word game.

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You can try out your custom color/icon before buying the Customization pack.

The perfect freemium balance: Capitals is free with in-app purchases. I know, I know—often this means that gameplay is extremely stilted unless you buy the extra options. But Capitals’ free play is actually very reasonable: You get one life (which means you can start one new game) every hour, with a cap of three lives. You can have as many games going at a time as you like, but you can only start three new games every three hours (and trust me—this game is a time-suck, so NimbleBit is actually doing you a favor). You can increase that cap to five lives for $5, or you can go for unlimited lives for $10.

The game also gives you the option to customize your “Capital,” that is, choose your color and your symbol. For $1, you can change your color to one other than the default red or blue, and you can switch your symbol from a rook to an alien, a football, or a bulldog (among many, many other icons). You can check out the customization options before you purchase by tapping Customize from the main screen.

You’ll have plenty of fun with Capitals without spending a cent, but the premium add-ons are priced well and worth it if you want to take the next step.

Developer: NimbleBit
Platform: iOS (Universal)
Price: Free

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