Word games

Word searches, anagrams and crosswords are all very well, but these games do new and fresh things with such traditional frameworks.


This game comes across like a politically literate tirade against censorship. An Orwellian adventure story told through one half of an increasingly mangled email exchange, it also happens to be a word game based around decoding blocks of text.

You play the part of a downtrodden citizen of a dimly sketched dystopia, receiving messages with parts blacked out by censors. All you have to do is work out the missing words - which is easy at first, but becomes increasingly tricky as Blackbar's internal logic starts to weave and tangle.

It can be frustrating. You may find yourself baffled by a single word required to unlock the next screen. But the rewarding nature of cracking each puzzle along with the clever, funny storyline makes it all _________.

£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Blackbar

Best iPhone & iPad games: Blackbar


Because Letterpress's approach is unique - sort of a clever mashup of Boggle and Strategery - it takes some time to explain the rules. Once you get them down, though, this word game (with a healthy serving of strategy) is alarmingly addictive.

On your turn, you can use any of the letters in a five-by-five grid to build a word. After you submit your word, the tiles you used turn blue. Then it's your opponent's turn to make a word. The tiles he or she uses to spell a word turn pink.

As you play, then, some tiles will go from blue to pink to blue again, if you and your opponent keep spelling words with the same letters, but if you box in a blue tile with other blue tiles, it turns a darker shade of blue and stays that way. Once all the tiles have been used (or after both players skip a turn), the game ends. Whichever player turned more tiles to his or her colour emerges the victor.

Fans of word games won't be disappointed. Letterpress is seriously fun.

FREE + IAPs | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Letterpress

Letter Rooms

This word puzzler knows what it wants to be - a really good anagrams game. It doesn't try anything wildly new, and it's not aiming to blow your socks off with buckets of innovation, dazzling animations, or adrenaline-fuelled timed challenges. It just wants you to have fun dragging letters around to fashion words that match brief clues.

That might sound reductive - even dull. But while it's true Letter Rooms isn't exciting, it does manage to be engrossing as you work your way through its 200 or so puzzles.

Much of the enjoyment stems from a bold interface that features chunky coloured vertical letter columns that you drag back and forth. On an iPhone, this makes for a visually bold game infused with clarity that's the opposite of fiddly. On iPad, it's a joy, with you dragging even bigger columns left and right, sounds playing as you do so.

Gradually, additional gameplay mechanics are wisely introduced to shake things up and make your brain work a touch harder: on-off characters and columns that can be switched between multiple letters. This adds useful variety to stop Letter Rooms from getting samey. A daily puzzle would be a welcome addition too, but in its current incarnation, Letter Rooms deftly fulfils what it sets out to achieve, being a pleasant, refined, focused anagrams game.

FREE (89p/99c to buy all puzzles) | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Letter Rooms

Best iPad & iPhone games: Letter Rooms


Imagine a text-based adventure from the early 1980s devoid of the vast majority of its narrative and you get Ord. Here, every scenario plays out as three words. There's a single-word setup that describes each situation. You then select from two options to define your action, after which point you're treated to the most concise of written outcomes. If you're fortunate, it will make you laugh or at least progress your story. Make the wrong choice and your fast-paced exploits of lexical brevity come to an abrupt conclusion.

It sounds crude, limiting and minimal, but the game's atmosphere is heightened by sound effects and subtle visual flourishes. Mostly, though, you quickly find your mind starts to fill in the blanks. Despite every tiny scene featuring just three words, you'll find a sense of horror when caught in a time loop, or tension when picking your way through a dangerous forest.

Ord. is, however, at least as much word game as adventure, hence its categorisation in this roundup. It's about recognising a situation and figuring out what might be associated with that word, rather than traditional adventuring that affords you plenty of context and logical pathways through a quest. Regardless, Ord. is a must-install. It'll make you grin as you come to grips with its terse form, be a go-to game to fill spare moments, and keep you playing until you've weaved your way to every ending.

£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Ord.

Best iPad & iPhone games: Ord.


The original SpellTower is a classic. Drawing from magazine-style crosswords and word searches, it subverted such games by introducing elements from arcade-oriented puzzlers like Tetris.

This 'plus' version spruces up the original, adding full cross-device support, and a handful of new modes and features. All over again, SpellTower finds itself propelled to the top of the word-game heap.

The clever way tradition and arcade gaming are merged becomes apparent the second you start Tower mode. The jumble of letters resembles a scrambled crossword puzzle. Words can be created by snaking a path through the tiles. Submit a word and its letters disappear; gravity then makes itself known, and tiles left hanging plummet downwards. Maximising your score requires strategic planning rather than merely dragging out the longest constructions.

Beyond this, you get a range of other ways to play. Puzzle adds a new line of tiles for every submitted word, ending your go when your tower reaches a red line. Rush is more tense, since you play against the clock. Double-speed versions of these modes exist - great for quicker games - along with Bubble Puzzle (blow up bubbles before using letters) and Search (one chance to secure the biggest word, utilising double-score tiles where possible).

For free, five modes are unlocked, but ads frequently intrude. For the best experience, pay your fiver and fully unlock the finest solo word game on Apple devices.

FREE + £4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download SpellTower+

Best iPhone & iPad games: SpellTower+


Zach Gage apparently has a thing for rethinking classic puzzle games from the world of print. SpellTower is a word search crossed with a well-based puzzle game, and Really Bad Chess subverts the chess puzzles you sometimes still find lurking in newspapers. TypeShift is in similar territory, only this game has hurled all the component bits of crosswords up into the air to see what would happen.

What you end up with is a grid of letters that you manipulate by dragging columns up and down. If a word is found in the centre row, its tiles are coloured in. The aim is to use every tile on the board - and as quickly as possible, if you're inclined towards bragging about your brainpower online.

There are set packs of puzzles and a daily entry that toughens as the week goes on. The star of the show, though, is the clue puzzle, which doesn't allow you to find any old words. Instead, you get a list of obtuse clues, and must find a word associated with each. The end result is a game that really does feel like a perfect combination of old and new. For free, you get a small selection of puzzles to try (and the daily challenge); extra packs are available via IAP.

FREE + IAPs | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download TypeShift

Best iPhone & iPad games: TypeShift

Up Spell

This fast-paced word game keeps things simple. At the bottom of the screen, you get seven letters, and a two-minute timer starts. You drag letters into the tray, which turns blue whenever it recognises something in its (more lenient than most) dictionary. Tap the word at that point and it disappears, and new letters arrive for you to use.

The game's flexibility and lack of fussiness are evident throughout. Rather than trip you up, it tries to aid you while the clock counts down. You can drag and drop letters to and from the tray, and rearrange those you've previously added. Tapping the downwards-facing arrow immediately empties the tray. When no letters have been added, the aforementioned button is instead a trash can, for replacing your entire set of letters.

Naturally, get good at the game and there are bonuses to be had. Much like in Scrabble, trickier letters net you a better score, as do longer words. But because you've limited time to play, you can sometimes amass higher scores by playing more shorter words - well, as long as you don't go for something like 'at', which awards you all of two points.

Do well and you can share your game with a friend, whereupon they'll start with the same letters - or you can challenge them to a fresh competition by way of the duel mode.

£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone | Download Up Spell

Best iPad & iPhone games: Up Spell

Word Forward

If you fancy a strategic take on word games, Word Forward fits the bill. Rather than having you pit your wits against randomly generated letter grids, or human opponents in a game of Scrabble (or an 'almost Scrabble' clone), Word Forward instead presents hand-crafted puzzles. Each grid must be entirely removed - which is easier said than done.

Your initial approach might be to drag out show-off snaking constructions that'd make a lexicographer's lower lip wobble. But this often leaves tiny letter islands that are subsequently impossible to remove. You must therefore engage your chess brain, think ahead, and figure out how you're going to eradicate awkward consonants inconveniently clustered together in a corner.

The game does at least provide a helping hand of sorts, by way of special tiles. Some are letters you swap for existing ones on the board. There's the ubiquitous shuffle, and a bomb for unsportingly blowing a particularly tricky letter to oblivion. Of course, you'll use them all, complete a level, feel triumphant, and immediately be informed you can in fact finish the entire game without such assistance. Still, that gives you the impetus to do better - or sit slowly rocking in the corner, hugging a dictionary.

£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Word Forward

Best iPad & iPhone games: Word Forward


The key to a good game can come down to approach. That's the case with Wordsmyth, which doesn't do anything new, but offers an experience and level of elegance that propels it towards the top of the word-game heap.

The game itself is Boggle with fewer letters. You get a three-by-three grid and are tasked with using those nine letters to make words. But there are no timers and few expectations. This is a contemplative word game that wants you to succeed and has no interest in making you stressed.

To that end, you can at any time swipe upwards to check your previous words and how many of each length remain to be found. There are plentiful hints to get you going when you're stuck. Even the basic interface for working with letters is nicely conceived, with leftwards swipes enabling you to remove a letter or two, in order to adjust a word ending.

The general idea is you'll dip into the game daily, but even there Wordsmyth is relaxed about things. Seven previous puzzles remain accessible and days where you don't check in are ignored entirely. Instead of grind, then, here's a word game that doesn't care about completionism, instead providing a gentle workout that eradicates frustration and keeps you hooked simply by being really pleasant.

£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Wordsmyth

Best iPad & iPhone games: Wordsmyth

Further reading

If you're a big fan of iOS gaming, you've come to the right place.

We've got a roundup of brilliant free iPhone games, if you'd rather not pay for software; if your preference would be to pay a monthly or yearly subscription for your iPad, iPhone, Mac and Apple TV games, take a look at our roundup of the best Apple Arcade games.

You may also like to read our round up of the Apple Games Console rumours.

Finally, here's how to block persistent review requests, which is a recurrent annoyance in mobile gaming.