With the likes of Scrabble and Words With Friends dominating the tile word game genre on the iOS platforms, it takes a confident developer to try to capture a piece of this landscape. Enter Kalimat. Concept creator Farès Fayad along with the folks at AppsArabia and Piranah Byte have not only embraced this seemingly insurmountable challenge but prevailed with flying colors. Kalimat is the great equalizer amongst tile-based word games.

The basic game play is exactly what you’d expect, you have lettered tiles worth differing amounts of points and you must play these tiles on a the squares of the grid-pattern game board to form words. Your goal being to earn the largest number of points possible once all the tiles have been played. Head to head multiplayer games are played eitehr via pass and play on the same device, or in an asynchronous fashion against other players online via OpenFeint. OpenFeint integration means there is also support for achievements, high score leaderboards and you have the option of challenging any of your OpenFeint friends to a game or you can select an opponent at random. Players can have up to 1000 games going at the same time (though I have no idea who’d possibly have the time to have that many going at once) and when it’s your turn, you are sent a, nearly instantaneous, push notification alerting you to do so. While the OpenFeint integration is perfect choice (especially if the decision is ever made to bring the game to other platforms) , one minor annoyance I had was that the opponent sector list shows you ALL of your OpenFeint friends, not just those that own Kalimat. This makes it a bit cumbersome to try and find someone to play with, as you have no idea who owns the game or not. I wish the developer would filter this list.

So what makes Kalimat different? Why do you need another word game?
Fortunately Kalimat is not just another Scrabble clone, the developers have come up with some really nice features that branch away from the traditional word tile game play and create a game that is truly unique and special. I’d have to say that this is probably the first game in this genre that really seems to have specific tools in place to really equalize game play between avid players and newcomers. In the interest of full disclosure I usually shy away from games like this. I am just not good at them and quickly get discourage by my superior opponents who seem to have the entire Webster’s dictionary committed to memory, while my words generally consist of CAT or BOOK. As a fairly poor Scrabble player, I find the equalizing elements of Kalimat to be the biggest draw for me over something like Words With Friends.

One of the first things regular Scrabble (or Words With Friends) players will notice is that the special squares on the gameboard have a much different layout than usual and there’s even randomly hidden “Ali Baba” square, worth 50 bonus points if you happen to place one of your tiles on it. This new board configuration means that even bad players can rack up some REALLY large multipliers. If you are lucky enough to grab an opening on a line of the board containing (stackable) alternating double word score titles…well you can imagine the possibilities. Another of the “evening” features of Kalimat is the fact that the game uses it’s own unique dictionary (complete with definitions), somewhat reducing the wordsmithing dominance of more skilled Scrabble players and their arsenal of obscure 2-letter words.

Quite possibly my favorite feature of Kalimat is the Remix gameplay mode. Remix features a free tile swap, the aforementioned Ali Baba square and a three-minute bonus timer which begins counting down as soon as your turn starts. The quicker you play your tiles, the larger the bonus multiplier (up to 3x your total word score). It’s a simple addition, but I like the timer a lot since it entices better players spend less time strategizing and throw down their words quicker rather than trying to come up with the longest or best word they can. That being said, I think the timer length could safely be cut by at least a third and this would help solidify this equalizing aspect of the game even more. Hardcore players can always forgo the extras of Remix mode and stick with the more traditional game play mode.

In Conclusion

Kalimat is a crisp word-tile game that offers some unique aspects that make it much more approachable to players of all skill levels. As I mentioned earlier, this is the first game in this genre I’ve played where I felt like I could compete on a fairly level playing field with players much wordier than myself. The key to the game’s success will be winning over both current Words With Friends/Scrabble players and people (like myself) who tend to shy away from tile word games. Kalimat is currently $2.99 on the app store and while it’s worthy the asking price, AppsArabia really needs to consider launching a free, ad-supported version of the game (like it’s direct competitors) to help build up the user-base. Until then, if you are getting bored with the usual suspects, I’d certainly recommend giving Kalimat a try.

Update (April 07, 2011):
A free lite version of Kalimat has now been released, so if you are still on the fence, check it out.