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Alphabear, the amazingly addictive new word game with adorable spelling bears

The bears of Alphabear take selfies using words you've played in the game, which results in phrases both weird and wonderful.
The bears of Alphabear take selfies using words you've played in the game, which results in phrases both weird and wonderful.
Spry Fox
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Human life has always comprised a series of thankless, random tasks; what's great about this modern age is how those thankless, random tasks are now broken up by bite-size games you can play on your phone in between. But finding the right game is tough. It should be challenging but not too challenging, and it should offer a wide variety of gameplay options, without being so complicated that it becomes impossible to keep track of.

Enter Alphabear, the latest game from the reliable Spry Fox (the studio responsible for 2014's thoughtful, melancholic Road Not Taken). The premise is simple: Spell words using a series of tiles set before you, in the tradition of Scrabble or Boggle. With every turn, each letter "counts down" from an initial value between 3 and 10. If you run out of turns for any of your letters, they turn to stone, getting in the way.

Take a look at the game in action.

As you play, you'll unlock a series of cartoon bears (some might call them ... Alphabears), which will imbue you with certain special powers and abilities. One bear might give you more S's — the better to make plurals — while another might bestow upon you extra points as a bonus for spelling five-letter words. Once you score enough points, you'll be able to open up more stages and hopefully unlock another of the game's 67 total bears, or to unlock a new "level" of every bear you already have. (Each bear has 100 levels, so you could theoretically beat stages 6,700 times and still earn rewards.)

Some of Alphabear's stages are more sprawling free-for-alls, perfect for when you have a longer stretch of time to kill. Some are timed, perfect for when you only have a spare minute or two. And the challenges connected to each stage change with each day of the week — the letters W, O, R, and K will never appear on Sundays, for instance.

Also, you can send postcards of the bears to friends or Twitter followers. Good times!

A postcard from Alphabear.

The sort of postcard you can send to your friends to irritate them.

Spry Fox

Alphabear is charming and whimsical, which is one reason it's so addictive. But it's also surprisingly deep and strategic, with lots of great twists and turns. The difficulty ramps up substantially as you progress, but gradually enough that your gameplay will ramp up right along with it. And the game features enough modes that it's unlikely you'll ever encounter a situation where you don't have time to play a spare stage or two. The only problem is that Alphabear requires an internet or data connection, blocking it on, say, subway or plane rides.

Alphabear is available for free (with minor, optional cash payments to unlock certain options) on both iOS and Android.