Every round of Babble Royale begins with 16 player-controlled ‘A’s plummeting towards a Scrabble board, where they do battle. There is no turn-taking, and this is not your nanny’s Scrabble board: it’s a deadly, shrinking arena littered with power-ups and regret. Your goal is to be the last word standing, either by spelling your way towards the central safe zone or eliminating other players by connecting your ‘active’ word with theirs.
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It’s one of the best takes on battle royale I’ve ever seen.
This all sounds ridiculous, and part of the appeal is that it absolutely is. I’m still at the point where the initial drop gets me giggling, as each flurry of hopeful vowels descends towards their chosen staging grounds. Let’s be clear, though: Babble Royale is no joke, and beneath the gimmick lies a ruthless tussle of strategy, quick thinking and fancy vocab.
As always when you’re battling royally, different approaches have their merits. Dropping towards the centre means it’ll be a long time before you have to worry about escaping the hot zone, but landing towards an isolated edge leaves you more room to both earn cash and collect vital power-ups. You get cash by earning points just as you do in vanilla Scrabble, except here that cash can be spent on expanding the number of letters and all-important power-ups you can hold. Those do stuff like giving you a free ‘S’, refreshing your letters, or replenishing health you’ve lost to the hot zone.
If you’re somehow still picturing the dry, ponderous affair that is traditional meat-space Scrabble, let me blow that up by telling you about the bombs. They are by far the best power-up, to the point where my starting strategy currently revolves around collecting as many as possible. That’s because they remove nearby surrounding letters that don’t belong to another player’s active word, which lets you carve your way into otherwise impassable territory, or – more excitingly – instantly transform the terrain you’re fighting around.
In contrast to other royales, bombs provide moments of marvellous control. Executing a three-step punch, where you follow up a bomb with a quick horizontal word followed by a speedy vertical knockout, generates a cerebral thrill that rivals any 360 no-scope. Every player is a tiger, prowling this shared word-jungle with their own plans and hidden tricks, where victory goes to those with both killer instincts and knowledge of outrageously sneaky language. Pleasingly, when you’re knocked out by another player a definition for the killer word comes up, so you can see that yes, a ‘Diya’ really is an Indian oil lamp with a cotton wick dipped in ghee or vegetable oil.
There is, of course, also plenty of panic. You can see the squares where other players are trying to slap down letters, so you know when they’ve smelt blood. Racking my brain for a counter-attack as a desperate enemy gropes towards my vulnerable ‘D’ has proven more tense than anything so patently absurd has any right to be.
I’ve barely tipped my toes into Babble’s wordy waters, but the potential for high-level strategy is already mind-boggling, and I imagine watching professional Scrabble champions wade in would be an absolute delight. If anyone reading this has the power to make that happen, you know what to do. For everyone else, Babble Royale is free on Steam. I’ll see you on the board.
Babble Royale is currently free to try in Early Access on Steam.