Hanging with Friends (review)

**Hanging with Friends (2011). iPhone version reviewed. 4/5.**

I’d never been a devotee of the _…with Friends_ series before: _Words with Friends_ stopped being cool long before I got my first iPhone in October 2010, and I prefer go to chess, so _Chess with Friends_ was out.

But hangman… There’s a game everyone can relate to, right? _Hanging with Friends_ is a new, networked take on the childhood favorite from social gaming giants Zynga. It’s easy to get into, and fun to play.

There’s a twist on the old formula here: you have to make the words for your opponent using a set of _Scrabble_-like tiles dished out to you each round. It’s unlikely you’ll get to flummox your opponent with _rutherfordium_ or _pavonine_, unless you’re exceptionally lucky. You’ll also find that you’re often unable to make words that need more than one of a particular vowel, as the chances of getting multiples are slim.

Like _Scrabble_, points are awarded, when creating words, for using less-common letters like _X_, _Q_, and _Z_, and you can get double letter scores or triple word scores if you hit the appropriate tile (here randomly placed, one per word created). Points go towards earning coins that can be used in an in-game store, but at the time of writing that store isn’t operational yet. Clever players will realize that since their opponent has an incentive to place _X_s and so on, that there’s a better than usual chance of them appearing: so when guessing, don’t just stick to the common letters.

Players face off and take turns to guess each others’ words. Avatars float above a pit of lava, held up by five balloons, one of which bursts for every word not guessed before you’re out of chances. Once all your balloons are gone, the match is over.

As I write this, _Hanging with Friends_ is still iPhone game of the week on the iTunes store, but as yet, only a few of my friends have the game. What’s more, I work in publishing and write fiction in my spare time, I’m known as something of a wordsmith, so my Chinese housemate refuses to play with me. Fortunately, initiating a game with a stranger is easy, and finding a match is quick. I’ve heard that some players are substandard and will quit matches after a loss. However, the players I’ve encountered have been relatively good at word formation and guessing, creating matches that lasted over ten rounds. Victory tended to come through forming words that were hard to guess: I found _hazy_ was a reliable winner, and pulling it out now feels like a cheap trick.

This leads to the only major criticism I have of _Hanging with Friends_: it seems too hard to lose a balloon, and you have too many to lose before the match is over. I’d like to see slightly less chances to guess a word before a loss, and only three balloons per contestant, possibly with some handicap options based on rankings (although no rankings are currently implemented).

But despite its few failings _Hanging with Friends_ is a solid, simple retake on an old childhood favorite, and with the right opponent makes for an engaging social gaming experience.

Author: Ben Hourigan

Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.