If there’s a company out there that knows how to make gamer zombies out of the casual masses, it’s Zynga. From Farmville to Zynga Poker, from Facebook to iOS, they’ve got a huge chunk of the population hooked on their wares. And it’s no surprise, because their games are easy to get into and so addictive that they’re hard to quit. Hanging With Friends, a multiplayer hangman game, is their latest title on the App Store, and it looks primed to be a major success as well.
And with good reason: it’s loads of fun. Each match is a two-player affair. From within the game, you can connect to opponents by their user name, by searching your contact list or Facebook friends, or just by challenging a random person online. Or, if you have real-life friends, you can do pass-and-play local multiplayer. Once you have your opponent, the game begins.
The rules hew fairly close to traditional hangman. One person chooses a word and the other has to figure it out, letter by letter. Then the guesser picks a word and their opponent has to figure it out. This goes back and forth until one person fails five times. But instead of ending with an execution by hanging, the loser is dropped into a pool of lava. It’s all very cartoony, so kids won’t be traumatized.
A real brain-burner.
But the game differs from hangman in several respects. When you choose your word, you do so using a Scrabble-like interface, with 12 random letters to pick from. The word you choose has to be at least four letters long, but it can’t exceed eight letters. Like in Scrabble, you can snag word and letter bonuses, and your word has to exist in the in-game dictionary.
Then, the opponent goes about guessing letters as they do in hangman, but one vowel is already filled in when the word arrives. The number of wrong letters you’re allowed to pick depends on how long the word is: shorter words grant you more strikes. Optionally, the guesser can use a lifeline.
The lifelines are hints that vary in usefulness, and you can only use one per turn. You get a certain number of lifelines for free, but soon they start costing in-game currency. Eventually you’ll be able to purchase this currency using real-life cash, but for now you have to earn it by playing the game.
Everything is great so far, but there are a few problems inherent to this type of game. First, there’s nothing to stop anyone from using websites designed to help you cheat (and there are plenty available already). Granted, there’s really nothing the developers could do to fix this, so we can’t hold it against them. The best way to assure yourself that you’re playing a fair game is to play against friends you trust. Another issue inherent to this type of game is that, once the in-game store opens up, the advantage will go to people who spend lots of cash on lifelines.
Regardless of any minor complaints, we’re having a total blast with Hanging With Friends, and we plan to keep playing for a long time to come. It’s a very polished version of the pencil-and-paper classic that anyone who likes word games will enjoy. Word nerds, unite!