Alphabear Proves Free-to-Play is Not Dull Yet


After seven years of working in free-to-play games, I’m a little jaded. Endless clones of Clash of Clans or Game of War bore me, which is why a goofy new game like Alphabear is so refreshing.

Make no mistake, Alphabear follows a classic economic model. It’s a puzzle game with a series of boards that cost Honey (soft currency) or Coins (hard currency) to play. Honey refreshes over time, while Coins can only be earned or purchased. The game makes money when the player buys unlimited Honey, buys Coins, or watches video ads.

So far, so good, so not new. What makes Alphabear stand out is how it combines a word game with gatcha collection and the classic economic model above.

Bearly keeping up.

Each game board is a word seek game on steroids. You start with a few letters exposed, and use some of those letters to make a word. The word scores points, and each letter you use uncovers the hidden letters next to it. The board grows as you make words.

The letters also have timers. You have 3 to 10 turns to use any letter you expose, with the timer ticking down after each word you make. Fail to use a letter in time, and it turns into a useless stone on your game board.

With this board setup, Alphabear strikes a pleasurable balance between choice and restraint. You have lots of letters and can make many different words, but you need to use the letters that are closest to timing out if you want to maximize your score.

Alphabears on the Loose!

Maximizing your score is important for achieving your long-term goal: collect all the Alphabears. The game offers 67 bears with different rarities. Each bear provides a score bonus and a special power.  The Fore Bear gives you a bonus for four-letter words (all of them, not just the dirty ones). The Stretch Bear gives you more time to complete levels with timers on them. The Pirate Bear gives you more points for using “A” and “R”.

Pass an easy score threshold and you get a blue egg that releases a common bear. Pass a harder threshold and you get a golden egg that releases a rare or legendary bear. The score thresholds go up as you progress, of course, forcing you to up your word skills and level up your bears for bigger bonuses. The concept is simple, but the game loop is strong.

Alphabear also introduces an interesting mix of game board “events” as you play. There are one-time events and repeating events. There are different distributions of letters and bears from day to day. Board shapes vary, and some boards have timers that force you think fast instead of searching for the best possible word.

Best of all, the game has a sense of humor. The puns are terrible — see the Pirate Bear above — and each game ends with sharable image of a bear saying something using words you created during the level. The bear Polaroids are nonsensical and cute and the first viral element I’ve actually wanted to share in years.

Mmmmm, manta.

Add in a smart mix of achievements and you’ve got something special. Alphabear is a fantastic little game, and one of the first games I’ve seen in a while that I wish I had worked on myself.

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Copyright 2015 The Roaming Designer

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