Oggle

There are lots of Boggle-inspired word games for iPhone. Imitators like Qwordy and Wurdle have complex score boards, novel word challenges, and eye-catching graphics. Electronic Arts has posted an official Boggle iPhone app with a wide feature set and impressive 3d dice-tossing effect. All of these games are entertaining, usable, full-featured, and popular.

But none of them are fun like Boggle.

I don't think these games don't recreate a Boggle "experience", and it's not because they're trapped behind a screen (so to speak). Their creators weren't really actually trying to duplicate the original game, or maybe they simply misunderstood the point of Boggle.

The point of Boggle is not to find jumbled words on a grid. The point of Boggle is to share a challenge with friends.

The difference may seem finicky or obvious, but it's not. Generally speaking, single-player games have to engage a user with a limited attention span, but group games need to foster interaction between players.

This has some interesting design consequences:

Essentially, single-player games seek to monopolize your attention, and those that are harder to ignore are the most successful. Group games (like the original Boggle) serve as platforms on which interactions with other players can take place—and a game's merit is determined by many actors.

The game designers of the original box game could have marketed Boggle as a solitaire game, but they didn't. The truth is, Boggle isn't quite as much fun without other people to play with. That's why, and a friend of mine keeps a full boggle board and dice in her purse.

So, I built a different kind of Boggle app. It's a simple replacement for the physical boggle tray and dice, not the entire game (paper, pencils, and other players are not included). Hopefully, it will encourage games whenever friends meet. Anyone can play for free on their phone.

Oggle includes just the few features I thought were essential—namely, a three minute timer and a built-in dictionary to settle player spelling disputes. Also, like a physical Boggle board, letters are randomly rotated so the board is equally readable from any angle. I've left out distracting animations and bright colors wherever they did not serve an important function, and scorekeeping has been removed entirely.

In a way, the project represents my hope for our inevitable future of digital gaming. Today, mobile interactive tech tends to isolate users into attention silos. Consumers still have control over their time and money, and they should have high expectations of the tools they invite into their lives—not just the mechanics and visual design, but the broader effects a product has on one's health, thinking, and relationships. In an age of increasing cheap distraction, I'd love to see users consciously vetting and curating their interactive experiences.

Designers and developers, hopefully, will continue to recognize that the best experiences don't come from features or glitter. They come from understanding the human problem at hand; then artfully engineering a solution in the simplest way possible.