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


Although half the world's addicted to Words With Friends, Scrabble is the daddy of crossword boardgames - and remains the better game. You get the familiar (and best) layout, with triple-word tiles at the edge of the board, and other bonuses exploding out from the centre. Then it's down to you and an opponent to battle it out, making best use of those special tiles to rack up a high score.

There've been quite a few incarnations of Scrabble on iOS - and, frankly, they've been variable. Right now, we're going through a good patch. Scrabble for iPhone and iPad looks great and has modes for playing against the computer, online, or by passing your device between several people. And if you're fed up waiting for chums to take their turns, there's always the chat system to turn to - or a speed play mode, which flings up penalties if anyone dawdles.

£5.99/£6.99 | For iPhone and iPad (separate apps) | Download Scrabble for iPhone or iPad

Best iPhone & iPad games: Scrabble


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


At its core, W.E.L.D.E.R. is a word search. You create words of four or more letters by swapping nearby tiles. If, for example, you've got the letters PUSN lined up, tap S and then N and the two letters change positions, forming PUNS. When this happens, the letters vaporise, earning you points, and any letters above drop down.

The steampunk interface looks very cool, and just as unnecessary-yet-lovely are the ambient sounds that whoosh and tick along in the background. Taken altogether, W.E.L.D.E.R. is addictive, instructive and a pleasure for the senses. If you have the slightest interest in word games, you should own it.

FREE + IAPs | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download W.E.L.D.E.R.

Best iPhone & iPad games: Letterpress

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

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.

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