Alphaset by POWGI is the eighth (eighth!) word-based puzzler from Lightwood Games, who are pumping them out at a rate of one every few months. But far from being shovelware, the likes of Gaps, Mixups and Ladders are well-crafted and full of content, with simple achievements for hounds to hunt. They are compendiums of back-of-a-newspaper puzzles at a cheap price, and they’re more interactive than the ones you’d find at the front of a WHSmiths.
This time round, we’re getting ‘Alphaset’, a codeword crossword game where you’re presented with partial words running up and down in a crossword-like grid, and you have to add letters to make them complete. The difference from a traditional codeword crossword is that there are 26 spaces in these partial words, and you must use one – and only one – of each letter in the alphabet to complete them. Yep, even the Q and Z.
If you’re like us, you get into a kind of staggered pattern. The first step is to complete the obvious words. F__OFAX is only ever going to be FILOFAX, so you can chuck in the I and L to complete the word. Roughly half of the words in the grid will be that simple, so you start reducing your options early.
The second step is to take stock, and see if – crossword-like – the letters you’ve now added make other words more complete, more guessable. There’s a minor bugbear here that words don’t overlap as much as you’d expect. Ideally, adding a letter would have a chain reaction where other words suddenly become more guessable. That happened less often than we would have liked.
Next, you get into the step that I like to call the ‘Q’ phase. Lightwood Games have been burdened with creating words that contain some Scrabble 10-pointers, like a Q, X and Z, so the next best play is to find out where they might go. The Q is the lifesaver: almost always partnered with a U, there’s only so many places it can be slotted in.
Finally, it’s the last stage, and this can go one of two ways. You will – hopefully – have so few letters and so few words to complete that it’s a game of elimination. Sure, you only have the ‘O’ in _O__, but if you have an F, X and Y then it’s going to be FOXY, baby. If you’re unlucky, however, you’ve got lots of letters, words, and permutations for how they can be solved. It becomes a game of trial and error, or – if you’re feeling naughty – it’s time to break out the crossword solver.
And it’s this last situation that stops Alphaset short from being one of POWGI’s best. Too often we got into a situation where we had, say, three words left to complete, but – using a crossword solver – there were dozens, even hundreds of words that could fit all three of them. There were plenty of letters still remaining, so it becomes a stilted game of trial and error as you drop in some letters, backtrack, and then drop in some other letters. It feels less like a puzzle to be solved, and more like a process.
To Alphaset’s credit, it offers a ‘Check’ tool, which is extremely generous. It scans the whole puzzle and informs you of the total number of errors. You can then reverse those errors, and you’re not punished for doing so. Alphaset is completely exploitable if you’re that kind of person (drop in a letter, check it, drop in another letter, check it), but we’d hope that’s anathema to most of you. Regardless, while the ‘Check’ tool can get you out of holes, it doesn’t erase the tribulations of a puzzle’s final stages.
The package itself is exactly what you’d expect from a POWGI release. There’s 150 puzzles here, which is a staggering amount, and they never feel created by algorithm: these have clearly been hand-made, as there are no obscure words, no impossible puzzles. You get a cheeky little joke after every puzzle, and that joke riffs on a word you just completed. So, again, it all feels nicely tailored and a lot of thought has gone in. I know that Richard Dobson, our resident POWGI reviewer, misses the trivia that were in previous releases, but the jokes tickled me. Sorry Dobbo.
Achievements are on offer for completing three-letter words in the puzzles, so – if you’re an achievement hunter – all you need to know is which of the 150 puzzles have that three-letter word. What we’re getting at is that this is an easy 1000G if you know what you’re looking for, and won’t take you more than an hour. For puzzle-hungry players, these take about two minutes each to finish, and there’s 150 of them. Doing the maths (ach, the other side of our brain), that’s five hours to fritter away, which is decent value for money.
Yet, in POWGI terms, Alphaset is one of the weaker releases. A good puzzle is fiendish rather than laborious, but Alphaset can often end up in a state of trial and error, which can’t help but feel like labour.
But in broader, Xbox terms, this is a vast, easy-to-use puzzle compendium. It’s great value for money, and you’ll enjoy it far more often than you’ll be frustrated by it. If you’ve exhausted all the other POWGI offerings – and we would still recommend the others over Alphaset – there are plenty of reasons to tuck a biro behind the ear and get puzzling.
You can buy Alphaset by POWGI from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S