Poetry Slam: A Boardgame for Beatniks

Poetry Slam game box
Poetry Slam game box

Serious boardgamers are often dismissive of word games. “No theme,” or “too light,” they’ll say. We’ve found a word game that is thematic while being meaty enough for strategy gamers.

Poetry Slam from Mayday Games hits just the right balance of brain workout without being too heavy for older kids or crossword fans. Players take on the role of beatnik poets. Far out, man!


Second Letter is: N
Word Prompt and Letter

Each round, the player designated to be Wordsmith flips a Word Prompt card and one Letter card (sometimes two cards) to create a restriction. Every player immediately works to write down a word that fits the restriction.

As soon as a player has their word written down, they grab a “speed” tile and may record their points for word length (1-4 points) and speed (1-5 points).


When all players have written a word and received a speed tile, the Poetry phase begins! Each player must create a rhyming couplet (ie. two lines that rhyme) that will act as a clue to let other players guess their word. For example, when combined with the prompt above (Second letter is N), “Heavenly beings in the sky / With wings and harps they fly” could be “angel” or “angelic”.

Players may start reciting their poems as soon as they are ready. If another player guesses the word correctly, great! The guesser receives 1 point, and the poet receives 3 points (if they recited their whole poem) or 2 points (if they were interrupted before completing the poem). This point difference rewards clever rhymes that take thought to figure out. Unfortunately, if the poet’s word isn’t guessed, the poet receives 0 points. The round continues until every player has recited their poem.

At the end of the round, players receive points in each round in 3 categories: word length (1-4 points), speed (1-5 points), and poetry (both for successful poetry and successful guesses).

Poetry Slam speed tiles: numbered 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
Speed tiles

Letter Loss

But that’s not all! There’s one more phase to go before the round is over. Flip over your speed tile to reveal a letter or tier number (e.g. “tier 3”) on the other side. Take an X marker and put it over that letter on your letter board. If the tile revealed a “tier”, pick one letter from the appropriate row. You are no longer allowed to use that letter in future words, making Poetry Slam more difficult in successive rounds. Discard the Word Prompt and Letter cards from the last round.

Board full of letters. "R" has a token on it.
The speed tile gave you 4 points, but you can no longer use “R”. I hope it was worth it!

Groovy: Snaps and Slams

Poetry Slam Tokens: Snap (orange) and beatnik (purple)

So far so good. This is already deeper than most word games get. But in keeping with the beatnik theme, Poetry Slam provides a way to reward cleverness. Beatniks snap their fingers to show appreciation, and you can do the same. You begin the game with three beatnik tokens. At any time you think a fellow poet’s poem (or created word) is particularly worthy of appreciation, flip over a token to the Snap side and give it to them. It’s worth +1 point for them at the end of the game – but if you have any left showing the beatnik, each will be -1 for you.

There’s one more way to lose points: SLAM tokens. Poets are supposed to receive a SLAM any time they make a mistake. Anything from failing to match the word prompt, to incorrect spelling, to using a “lost” letter. Each SLAM you receive subtracts 2 points from your final score.

Ending: Get some Closure

Continue creating words and crafting poems for a set number of rounds, depending on the player count (between 5 and 8 rounds). After the last round, tally your points and determine a winner!

Poetry Slam player screen


We’re very impressed with Poetry Slam. It’s one of just a few word-building games that do more than give you a bunch of letters to create the “best” word you can, and it’s the only one I know of that incentivizes players to reward their opponents for making a great play. The Snap tokens prevent the game from becoming overly competitive and reminds us to appreciate the cleverness of others.

In some ways, it feels a lot like Scattergories (“quick, come up with a word starting with S!”), but requires a more robust strategy. While making a word, you must balance three things:

  • Make a word quickly (to get your choice of speed tile – do you want a low number with an easy-to-avoid letter, or a riskier high number?)
  • As long as possible (to maximize “length” score)
  • That you will be able to clue for your fellow players

On top of all that, you will still need to come up with a rhyme, and it shouldn’t be too obvious, so you can get the full 3 points for finishing the rhyme before a correct guess.

Everything Plus

Poetry Slam word prompts: Second Letter is (N), Third Letter from the Last is (Y), Has the letter (L) twice in a row.

Because there are so many factors at play, we never played Poetry Slam with kids younger than 10 years old. Those select 10-year-olds had great vocabulary and at least passable spelling, but still often struggled to either come up with a word or a rhyme. Because of this, we would not generally recommend Poetry Slam for kids under 12.

Poetry Slam can be played in a small group of 3, but shines at 5 players or more. Since it supports up to 10 players, it would be a great option for a large group that wants something a bit deeper than the average party game.

Harsh, Daddy-o

The biggest downside is that Poetry Slam feels just a bit too lengthy, like a houseguest that has overstayed their welcome. Even at a low player count, we usually feel that we’ve played enough by the 5th round. That’s not a huge problem, of course. The whole table generally can decide that the next round will be the final, no matter what the score sheet says.

In addition, the setup is burdensome, with 4 kinds of tiles to be distributed in different ways, 2 kinds of cards, plus player screens, “lost letter” boards for each player, pencils, and so on. We mitigated this a bit by creating “player quick start packs” with zippered baggies. We also separately bagged each of the 5 types of speed tiles, since every round needs exactly one speed tile per player, but with an even distribution of the available numbers (1-5). It seems like there are just a few too many moving parts here; perhaps we could skip the SLAMs (it’s just as easy to mark a -2 on your score sheet) and the letter boards for a more streamlined experience?

Far Out!

Overall, we’d recommend Poetry Slam to any hep cat. It’s fun for strategy gamers as well as fans of more casual word games. For about $30, there’s a lot of game in the box, and it’s great for a mixed group of adults and older kids.

The Family Gamers received a copy of Poetry Slam from Mayday Games for this review.

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Poetry Slam
  • 6/10
    Art - 6/10
  • 9/10
    Mechanics - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Family Fun - 8/10


Number of Players: 3-10
Age Range: 10+ (we say 12+)
Playtime: 30-45 minutes