Critical Play: Competitive Analysis with Contact

Contact Word Game by 2iins
Courtesy of NowGaming


Given that the game that my project team and I are prototyping is a word-guessing/avoiding game, the game I conducted this critical play on is called Contact. As a brief overview of the game, the following are instructions on how to play pulled from Front Row Crew Forum:

“One person thinks of any word and all other people must work together to guess what that word is through giving clues to other words. For explanation purposes, I’ll call the guy giving the word the defender. The defender gives out the first letter of his word. For example, let’s say the secret word is “duck.” The letter “D” would then be announced to everyone. Now, everyone else must secretly come up with their own word that starts with the given letter and announce a clue pertaining to that word. The goal of this clue is to stump the defender but hopefully get someone else to know what is being referred to. When a clue is announced and another person thinks they know what word is being referenced, they declare “contact” with the clue giver. When this is declared, the defender is now forced to guess by himself what the word is. If he can not, he declares “challenge” in which case the people that have declared contact counts to three and shouts what word they think it is. If the words match, the defender reveals the next letter in the word. If the words do not match or the defender successfully guesses the correct word, the clue becomes void and nothing happens.”


Contact is a word-guessing game that is said to exercise and rely on intelligence, cleverness, wit, speed, and vocabulary knowledge. 


One primary mechanism of Contact is the ability to guess what the “opposing” player(s) are thinking. The players can guess at any time what the defender’s word might be, while the defender can guess what the other players are about to guess whenever someone declares “contact.”

Another mechanism of the game that keeps the game moving along is the slow, letter-by-letter reveal of the mystery word. Each time the defender is stumped by the challenging players and the players’ words match, the defender must reveal another letter of the secret word. This mechanism keeps all players engaged, as the other players are motivated by having more of the word to work with, while the defender must stay alert to defend the word before more of it is given away.


The game achieves the following aesthetic goals:

  1. Fellowship – this game is designed to be a very social game involving at the very least three players, with the ability to accommodate far more. Given the issues with auditory lags present on video conferencing platforms, the game is also meant to be played in live social settings. Since the game is completely prop-free, it can be played in any environment, and allows for people to join and leave seamlessly at any point. The game can also be paused and resumed up easily, making the game highly accessible for anyone to play at any time and contributing to the smooth and casual overall look and feel of the game.  
  2. Challenge – this game is designed to be a challenge for both the defender and the rest of the players. The defender is challenged with the task of predicting what the other players may guess, while the other players are challenged with trying to guess the defender’s secret word.
  3. Submission – this is arguably the least prominent aesthetic goal the game accomplishes. The only reason I list this here is because I have often played this game on long car rides, long lines at amusements parks, at restaurant tables while waiting for the waiter to bring food, and when there are few other options for non-game things to do. 


Abuse is inherently prevented in this game by the game’s rules. The checks and balances of power are achieved by allowing the lone defender to start out with the “advantage” in the game (only having one letter revealed to the rest of the players), before players slowly start guessing the rest of the word at a letter-by-letter pace. As a result, there’s not much opportunity for either side to abuse their rights in this game.

My experience

I played Contact this past weekend in person with friends who were a part of my Stanford “household” at 1 am on a low-key Saturday night. There were 5 of us in total, and we took turns being the defender. The secret words that were used included “farthing,” “circumlocute,” “penurious,” “eclectic,” and what turned out to be the hardest one of all due to its silent ‘t’ sound – “lotion.”

Since this game is a purely oral game, I couldn’t take screenshots of its design to include in this piece. I did, however, find this nice visual representation of the game on Campfire Hacker:

The defender starts by revealing the first letter of the secret word.
If two players simultaneously guess the same (incorrect) word, the defender must reveal another letter.

Some of the most significant insights I drew were that this game has a greater emphasis on fellowship than I anticipated. In order for two players to bank on being able to simultaneously guess the same word, they must be confident enough about what the other person will guess based on what they know about the other player. This led to many moments of my friends saying things like, “I totally thought you would be the person to guess ____!”

Another interesting insight I drew was that it picked my brain more than I thought it would in terms of testing the breadth of my vocabulary. My friends and I would guess what felt like every single possible word in the English dictionary when stuck on half a revealed word. The challenge this game presented made me really wrack my brains to try to remember my SAT vocabulary (yuck).

All in all, the game was a very social and challenging option of a game to play on a relatively calm Saturday night with my household. Excited to apply the successful and fun elements of this game to my team project!



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