Review: Morphology

In linguistics and biology, morphology is the study of the shape, structure, color, pattern and form of component parts and how they fit together. In the game world, Morphology is a fun twist on Pictionary that has you composing visual clues out of beads, popsicle sticks, rubber o-rings, wooden pawns and other colorful bits. It's a great game for people who can't draw, but it's also a great game for anyone who wants an exciting building-and-guessing challenge.

A simple "lily pad" game board serves as a scoring track, and some cool plastic frogs serve as the player tokens. One thing I like about Morphology is almost any number of people can play - you just form up into teams. Unless you have a really packed party, you'll probably want to play with two teams, but you could play with as many as 20 people (five people each in four teams) if you don't mind the game taking longer. Once you've got your teams and your frogs, the game begins.

The first two lily pads are "play" spaces, that is, you just play the basic game with no variation. This is to get you warmed up. The next six pads are "roll" spaces, meaning you roll the 6-sided die to determine what play variation you will use:
  1. Everybody Plays - like an "All Play" in Pictionary or a "Club Cranium" in Cranium, the other team gets to play at the same time and maybe steal your point.
  2. Eyes Closed - you'll be using all the components to build your word, but you need to do it with eyes closed, so make sure to arrange the stuff so you can find it
  3. Weak Hand Only - do everything with your non-dominant hand, which for most of us is our left hand
  4. String only - You only get to use the string. Luckily, the string is the most useful and versatile piece in the game.
  5. You Pick Five - Choose five pieces to build your word (probably one of the five will be the string.)
  6. Interception - If you can't get your team to guess correctly within the time limit, the other team gets a chance to confer and guess once after your time runs out.
The ninth and penultimate pad is a "Pick 3" space, meaning you choose only three items to build your word. This extra challenge gives the other teams a bit of a chance to catch up. Make it past Pick 3 to the FINISH pad and you win!

Playing Morphology is an absolute rush. The clues are challenging - each card has an "easy" and "hard" word, and even the easy ones can be tough (one card, for example, has "Monster" on the hard end, and "Nose hairs" on the easy end) - your success here will depend on what pieces you have to work with. (The different difficulty of the game variations might frustrate some players, but adds a good level of randomness to the game. Each successful round moves your frog forward one space, which is as it should be.)

Because you feel extra smart when you finally come up with the perfect, brilliant way to arrange the pieces to represent the word and your team guesses, you'll be high-fiving when that correct guess comes just in time. The corollary to this is things might get a little intense if you're playing with the sort of competitive folks who tap the sand timer while you're playing, just to make sure the sand is moving through expeditiously. But this is a game you'll remember - I'm still proud of how I finally managed to represent "dot" and "ladder" using just the string.

The components in Morphology are good quality wood, glass and plastic. The sand timer works well and there's no need to tap on it. And best of all, it has frogs! I had a small issue with one of the pieces, and Kate Ryan Reiling, creator of Morphology, was kind enough to assist me in making it right. I heartily recommend Morphology to anyone who likes creative, fun party games with a guessing component. But don't just take my word for it - it's Time magazine's #2 Toy of the Year for 2010!

Learn more about Morphology at


  1. GREAT review. Makes me want to buy it. But I am curious, "I had a small issue with one of the pieces," what was the issue? Should I hold off on buying the game?


  2. The string was a little sproingy. You could use any length of string as a fill-in if needed.


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