Disclaimer: we were provided with two review copies of the first edition of Wibbell++ (two copies in case we were going to review Muckell) by Stuff By Bez in return for a fair and honest review.

Wibbell++ by Stuff By Bez is a game system designed to support a wide variety of different games. In a Wibbell++ box, you’ll find a deck of 48 cards, each with two letters and a number surrounded by a patterned border. Five games rules come with the deck – Wibbell, Phrasell, Grabbell, Alphabetickell and Faybell – but there’s many more over on Stuff By Bez.

Wibbell++ is a box packed full of potential, and because of the expansive nature of the game system, today we’ll be reviewing three different games you can play with a Wibbell++ deck, before delivering our ultimate verdict.

Wibbell

In Wibbell, the entire deck is placed face down in front of the players, and two cards are drawn face up. The first player to shout out a word containing at least one letter from each card then takes one of the face-up cards and places it in front of them. Then another card from the deck is flipped and you repeat the process, except any players with cards in front of them must also include a letter from their own cards.

A game of Wibbell - two cards drawn face up

Once one player has four cards in front of them, they take the remaining card in the centre and then all players flip their cards face down into their own personal scoring pile. Play continues until the deck is exhausted, with the winner being the player with the most cards in their scoring pile.

Sounds easy? That’s because it is – the rules alone only take up the space of two playing cards. The beauty of Wibbell is that it makes itself sound like an easy game, until the moment you try and make a word that includes five of your letters and the best you can come up with is ‘CROZMFLT’, which may sound like a deliciously muffled croissant but is in fact pure nonsense.

This subtle handicap means that players who might be less adept when it comes to word games have a chance to pick up some points and potentially get the better of the bookworm in the room. Players can only shout out one word and if they make a mistake, guess what, they cannot make another attempt. Making the game a race is like playing Scrabble with a chess clock on a blitz setting, the entirety of the English language narrowing itself down into a fraction of itself while panic simultaneously clouds your thinking.

In that split-second when a card is flipped face up, you might as well be at the start line of a 100m sprint where simply standing up from a crouched position has never felt so daunting. At an ample-sized player count, it’s a quick battle of wits that feels quite casual – with just two players, it’s quietly brutal, each of you going on quick runs of intelligence before being pulled back level. The game even comes with additional handicap variants so you can reign in the smartest (or smuggest) player if you need to.  

Wibbell‘s simple set-up and quickfire gameplay makes it a very welcome addition to our favourite gaming category – games you can set up, play and finish in the length of time it takes to drink a mug of tea.

Coupell

As its name implies, Coupell is a two-player game using the Wibbell++ system. And it’s co-operative!

Working together, you and a partner have to get the best score possible by rearranging your cards to form the longest words you can. The difficulty is that each of you are forming your own separate rows of cards. On your turn, you have to draw 3 cards from the deck, then perform up to two actions.

Cards drawn have to be added to the end of your personal row one at a time, and you cannot change the order of the cards. To form words, you have to use your two actions carefully. The actions are fairly easy – you can move one card from anywhere in your row and place it anywhere in your partner’s; move a card in your partner’s row to another position in their row; or claim a word which is made up of at least four adjacent letters in your row.

Placing a card down in a row in Coupell

Simple? Again, not so easy. For at the end of your turn, you can only have eight or fewer card in front of you. Finish a turn with nine cards in your row? The game is lost and ends immediately. This makes Coupell extremely tricky. Remember – you have to draw 3 cards, at random, each turn, and place them specifically at the end of your row without re-ordering them. This means you really have to be claiming a word once every two turns at a minimum.

That’s mad! Almost every time you have to add cards on the table, you are left to the whims of Wibbell’s own distribution of letters. In Coupell I’ve never thought so much about prefixes and suffixes, nor have I have I ever found myself so excited to spell a simple four letter word which turned out to save the day.

There’s may be more than a modicum of luck in Coupell, but the game is so light and quick it’s not going to have you tearing your hair out. And when you do nudge yourselves to a win – and a semi-respectable score – there’s definitely a strong sense of accomplishment.

We’re not going to be picking Coupell off the shelf every night – it’s not quite enough of an enigmatic puzzle to be drawn to it instantly – but it is a nice little something to have on hand. It’s not going to be the game that sells Wibbell++, but it’s certainly got the sort of charm that emphasises what this lo-fi game system can do.

Alphabetickell

Each player (there will be two to five of them) is dealt three cards and picks one to start their personal line of cards. Each turn, a dealer draws and card and the first player either adds it to their line or passes. If taken, the card must be placed at either end of their line, and the line must be kept in alphabetical order by using one of the letters on the card.

Placing a card in Alphabeticell

If you can’t place a card or don’t fancy it, you can pass and the next player decides whether to take the card or not. If everyone passes on a card, it goes in the discard pile. The dealer changes to the next player if a card is taken, otherwise it stays put and you play another round.

The game ends when the deck runs out or someone takes their 11th card. The player with the longest line is the winner – or you can play multiple rounds and keep score if you wish.

Like the other Wibbell++ games we’ve played, there’s a welcoming simplicity to Alphabetickell. It’s delightfully quick to learn, set up and play – but there’s also a tricky little risk-taking puzzle here. Crippling your game too early – by taking a card that skips too many letters, for instance – is frustrating. But unlike other Wibbell games, it’s not randomness that’s forced that error – that mistake is on you, my friend.

The interaction with other players here is pretty strong, as a lot of your decision making is impacted by looking at other player’s alphabet lines and judging if you should take a card to ruin their plans, or if by taking it you’re forcing yourself into a corner. It definitely feels more like a typical drafting game, only again cut down to that very core experience. And it works here – there’s not some theme just slapped on it for instance, which you might get if this was a bigger and more expansive game. Instead, Alphabetickell just sticks to that card drafting mechanic and says, yeah, that’s me, that’s the game. And that’s great.

Alphabetickell doesn’t know quite how to end itself, however. The deck is a natural timer but that very much depends on the player count, and the suggested winning total of eleven points feels somewhat arbitrary. This is a criticism only in so much that out of all the Wibbell++ games, Alphabetickell feels like it has more ambitious design space to work with, given how effectively gripping the basic card drafting mechanic is.

Update: the rules for Alphabetickell have been changed recently, with a new end game trigger – when four cards have been discarded by the group, the round ends. We’ll definitely be giving that a try, and seeing how that changes things!

This is certainly the game I would roll out to a group to open a game night with – it doesn’t rely on speed of thought but on careful consideration, the bonus being that the card drafting is not attached to expansive or complex engine building. Do I want this card? Does my opponent want this card? I’ll take this card. Curses, I really didn’t want this card, can I give this card back, maybe I could just fake needing the toilet to get out of finishing this game which I am now clearly going to lose….

Another quick and fun game in the Wibbell++ system, Alphabetickell is by far my favourite for its pure mechanics, fun player interaction and simple, almost childlike puzzle.

Verdict

Variety, simplicity and flexibility are all trademarks of indie designers, and Wibbell++ is no exception. In a small deck of cards, Stuff by Bez have created a great system for a growing number of games. You’ve got games that test your reaction, games that challenge your wits, a few really heavy thinkers, and a great balance between co-op and competitive. Whether playing solo, with a partner or a whole group, there’s always some fun to be had.