Hangman is one of the first word games many children learn: the rules are few and simple, and the game—which, in its original pen-and-paper version, is usually a two-player affair—grows along with your (and your opponents’) vocabulary. Another attraction may be that it’s usually not too difficult to win, and when you win, your opponent doesn’t really lose. They just haven’t chosen a challenging enough word for you to solve.
A quick refresher course, if you’ve forgotten: one player picks a word (either at random, or a word in a category), and puts short dashes on a piece of paper where the letters should be. Five blanks, it’s a five-letter word. Eight blanks, it’s an eight-letter word. The other player then guesses individual letters to spell the word, Each correct guess goes in the appropriate space; each incorrect guess earns you a body part of the person—usually a stick figure. In a typical game, the doomed figure might have six parts—a head, spine, two legs, and two arms. If the stick figure is drawn before you figure out the word, you’re “hung.”
Another variation of the game is to allow the players to “build” part or all of the gallows, which provides more chances. The three hangman games reviewed here provide six chances (just the doomed), seven (the doomed and a noose), and 11 (a four-part platform, the noose, and the doomed) guesses.
Of the three games we reviewed, both my seven-year-old daughter and I enjoyed Hangman 1.7 the most. MobilityWare’s version stands out because it enables you to select from four nifty graphical themes (stick man, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas), and separately select from 16 word lists. (List topics include: standard, easy, sports, celebrities, movies, ESL, and Spanish.)
Like other hangman applications, Hangman 1.7 enables you to choose to play in either single- or two-player mode. Two-player mode is much like the traditional game, with each player typing in a word for her opponent to solve and the first player first solving (or failing to solve) her puzzle before the next player gets a turn. Both players “win” or “lose” independently of how the other player does; taking fewer turns than your opponent to solve a puzzle doesn’t give you the win in the eyes of MobilityWare. But of course it’s easy enough to keep track on your own.
A standout feature of Hangman 1.7 is that when you solve the puzzle, or when you lose and the word is revealed, you have the option to touch a question-mark icon. That flips the screen over to the word’s definition on the dictionary.com Web site. When you’re finished reading the definition, you tap a Done button to return—without a hitch—to the game. This is a nice trick, as many iPod touch and iPhone applications take you to the Web via the device’s built-in Safari browser, forcing you to quit Safari and relaunching the original program if you want to go back to that app.
In Hangman 1.7, you get seven wrong guesses—six to build the figure, and one for the hanging (or, in the case of the Christmas theme, the melting of the snowman). This proves just challenging enough; I found myself having to use most of the chances in the “Celebrities” category, because the frequency of letters in names is different than the frequency of letters in English words. The standard practice of first guessing frequent letters such as e, t, a, o, i, and n isn’t an effective method in this category. This is a solid challenge that makes the game more interesting.
Unlike the other two games reviewed here, Hangman 1.7 provides its keyboard in “A-B-C” alphabetical style. Neither my daughter nor I found much to quibble about with this decision, as it’s easy enough to find letters both in this layout and in the QWERTY-style layout used by the games reviewed below.
MobilityWare charges $1 for Hangman, though the company also offers a free version. The only difference between the two apps is that MobilityWare’s Free Hangman features ads.
Hangman Sim 1.2 is, I think, slightly better than JamSoft’s Hangman 1.3, but my daughter disagrees. (More on this in a moment.) Hangman Sim from Kidnea Beans boasts a 5,000-word dictionary, and provides pop-up definitions after each game is either won or lost. It is unique among these three games in using the built-in accelerometer, which it does in two ways. The first, and most practical, enables you to choose to play in either vertical or horizontal orientation mode, or to switch over automatically, depending on which way you’re holding your iPod. The second, and somewhat gruesome, way is that when you lose and are “hung,” you can tilt the iPod to make the deceased swing back and forth faster, or even spin around the top of the gallows. If you’re feeling really cruel, you can also poke him with your finger to make him move. This proves amusing, in a kind of sick way, for a few seconds.
It’s unclear how many word categories Hangman Sim works from; you can choose, in the settings, to have the category revealed (or not), but you’re unable to choose the category yourself. The game also enables you to choose from among four levels—easy, medium, hard, and harder. I did find the program to be a bit buggy, in that it hung and quit sometimes while I chose my options. Of the three games, Hangman Sim gives you the fewest wrong guesses (six) before you lose, which, combined with the options to play at the hard and harder levels make this a bit more challenging than Mobilityware’s game.
JamSoft’s Hangman 1.3 is not a bad game, if you like winning, which is the crux of the disagreement between my daughter and I. Hangman 1.3 allows you 11 guesses before you go to your doom, because you build the gallows and then your stick figure before you meet your maker. In many cases, this means you have to try pretty hard to lose: I won several of my games easily just by pressing the keys in order, starting with the letter Q. (Note that, in the App Store, JamSoft spells the name of the game “Hangman.” with a period stuck at the end of the title; this seemingly superfluous punctuation is either done with an eye toward pushing JamSoft’s game to the top of the list when you search for hangman games or to distinguish it from the many similarly named apps.)
JamSoft’s offering also suffers in comparison to the other two games I reviewed in that it doesn’t offer word definitions, nor does it offer choices in difficulty. You can select from an eclectic selection of 10-word lists (among them “Disney Movie Titles” and “Chemical Elements” in addition to “Nouns” and “Verbs”). You can also play in single or two-player mode. I can recommend this only as a game for beginners; others will find it too easy, and without definitions, not even a bit enriching.
All three games are compatible with both the iPhone and iPod touch. MobilityWare’s Hangman and Hangman Sim run on the iPhone 2.x software update; JamSoft’s Hangman requires the iPhone 2.1 update.
[Jeff Merron is a freelance writer and editor living in North Carolina.]
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