Word Sniper

Today we’ll be taking a look at the card game Word Sniper. Designed by Masahiro Ogawa, the board game shop Rigolier picked it up and released a new version with art by hoccipocci. A word play game, players complete to say a word beginning with a character related to a theme. For example, if the “Food” theme came up and the “su” card was on the table, I could say “sushi” and get a point.

What’s Inside

Coming in a playing card sized box, it includes 50 double sided cards and one set of instructions. One side of the card has a theme and the other has one or more hiragana characters.

Rules and deck of cards, character-size up


There are three modes of play, with the latter two adding more difficulty to the game, but they all follow the same general pattern.

"Things necessary to live" - "ma"
“Things necessary to live” – “ma”

There’s an official how to play video in Japanese, but the rules are summarized in English below.

Standard (1 star difficulty)

"Long slender things" - "su" and "e"
“Long slender things” – “su” and “e”

The standard way of playing is to have a deck of cards with the theme-side face up. Players then take turns flipping over the top card to reveal a new theme and the characters that a word must start with. The first player to say a word beginning with that character and matching the theme gets the character card, which has a point value next to a coin symbol. Play then continues until the deck is exhausted, at which point the winner is the player with the most points.

When the validity of a word is contested, it’s up to the a majority vote, but a house rule is if it’s elicits an “ahhhhh” response, it counts. If no one can think of a word, an additional card is flipped over, revealing both a new category and letter. Either letter may be used to begin a word, and each is captured independently.

Reverse (2 star difficulty)

For this mode of play the deck is placed with the character side face up. Five cards showing themes are laid out and play begins when a sixth card is flipped over. The first player to say a word beginning with the character that matches any of the themes collects both the letter and corresponding theme card. If no one can think of a word, the letter card is flipped over and its reverse-side added to the available themes. Play continues until the deck is exhausted.

Multitarget (5 star difficulty)

Similar to standard mode, the deck is placed theme-side up. Five character cards are then laid out, and when play begins a sixth card is flipped over and added to them. Players can only say words that use the available characters, and it must correspond to the current theme. The player then collects the character cards corresponding to the cards they used. For example, if the theme was “Food” and there were “su” and “shi” character cards, a player could say “sushi” and collect both the “su” and “shi” cards.

Hands On

"Red things"
“Red things” beginning with “u”

The owner of Rigolier, who happens to be the publisher of the game, and several regulars were kind enough to play a game with me. The rules are simple, but it’s surprisingly fun and we were all laughing. You also learn a bit about your fellow players based on the words they use. For example, I found out one player was interested Roman history. Deceptively easy, some letter and theme conversations are hard.


The instructions are concise and easy to read, and the kanji on the cards have furigana. Being a language game, though, it obviously requires knowledge of Japanese to play. Some cards, such as four letter words (四字熟語) are harder for non-native speakers, but can be skipped if they’re a problem. Genuinely fun, this could be a nice addition to Japanese study.

Rules Example

Turn over the top card of the deck, flipping it over and placing it next to the deck.   Six “Themes” will be lined up.

Word Sniper (ワードスナイパー)
Time 10-20 minutes
Players 2-6
Ages 6
Game Designer Masahiro Ogawa 小川昌洋
Art Design hoccipocci
Publisher Rigolier (リゴレ)
Shop Link Rigolier’s Website

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