Ah Pictionary. Now there is a party game. You pick some teams, pull out an egg timer and a comically large drawing pad, and test your art skills against the guessing skills of your teammates. Yet often a round of Pictionary is merely a precursor to a yelling match. There is a score, a time limit, and the self-important eyes of the opposing team when your partner keeps guessing bird when you have so obviously drawn a banana! No, I still haven’t forgiven you, person who shall remain nameless.
Anyway, wouldn’t it be great if someone got rid of all that? You know… if they made a version of Pictionary that didn’t have a score or a time limit, that you could play without someone’s judgmental eyes leering at you while you draw. Well that is exactly what you get with the latest OMGPOP iOS/Android game, Draw Something. There is no story to uncover, no leaderboards to climb to the top of, there is only art and friendship.
You begin a game by picking someone (more on that in a minute), selecting a word, and then drawing a picture of that word for the person to guess. They will then see your drawing, be able to guess the word, and then they will be able to send you a drawing of their own for you to guess. It sort of feels like digital painting ping pong.
Drawing is as easy as finger painting. You have colors you can select along the top and four different brush sizes to choose along the bottom. There is no time limit, so you can take as much time as you want getting your drawing exactly the way you want it before sending it off. In an inspired move, the person guessing gets to watch the drawing unfold, brushstroke by brushstroke, allowing them to guess the word at anytime. Clever players will take advantage of this fact by slightly animating their drawings; if you get in a game with a good digital artist, it almost feels like watching a painting being created on your device.
You don’t get to choose any word you want to draw. The game will offer you three words to choose from. These words are arranged so that the easiest word will win you a single (in-game) coin while the hardest word will get you three. The hard words are either longer words or something that might be more difficult to communicate through pictures, like proper nouns. No matter which word you select, the person guessing will have twelve letters to choose from total, so they aren’t left in the dark for too long.
There are no true fail states, as you can continue to guess until you get it correct. You can use in-game coins (which you earn through correct guesses or can be bought through microtransactions) to purchase bombs which will remove most of the unnecessary letters. Bombs can also (and more wisely) be used to get another batch of three words to select from when making a drawing.
For my virtual money, additional color packs are the way to go. You start the game with only black and the three primary colors. Ok, five colors if you count the eraser tool as white. While you could technically play the whole game with just these colors forever, adding more colors just adds to the fun. With lots of games going on, and focusing on the three-coin words, you can soon have quite a sizable chromatic collection. Plus, buying the premium ad-free version (typically $1.99, but often on sale for half that) will give you a few more thousand words in the "word bank" and a starting bank with enough coins to get another color pack right off the bat.
The main draw (accidental pun!) of this game is the cooperative social aspect. It's in your best interests to keep the game going by drawing the clue well enough for the other person to guess, because a correct guess earns both people coins. OMGPOP wisely designed this game to not only connect you to people through Facebook but also be able to function cross-platform. Android players can play a game with iPad/iPhone owners and vice versa. There is the option to play against a random person, but it is much more enjoyable to play with family and friends. For example, once I had the word ‘bat’ to draw. I could have drawn the animal, or drawn a wooden bat next to a baseball… instead I chose to draw Batman and then wrote ‘- man’ next to him. It could be because I’m an art major and know how to draw, it could be because I happen to own a stylus for my iPhone, but really it was just because I knew that the person I was drawing it for was a nerd like me and would get a kick out of it.
This could also become the game’s greatest flaw. It's 100% multiplayer dependant. You only have as much fun as the person you're playing against is putting into it. Without an end point to the matches, or a chance of failing, there will come a time when the whole thing gets stale. At this point in time, it's just sort of like texting your friends with pictures.
Still, for the price, a lot of fun can be had communicating through pictures instead of words. It's almost the ideal mobile game; easy enough for anybody to play, flexible enough to allow talented artists to show off a little, quick enough to play for two minutes, fun enough to hold your attention for a few hours.
This review is based on the 1.4.1 premium version of Draw Something for the iPhone.