Friday, November 04, 2016


Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

One of the problems with having a large vocabulary is that people are afraid to play Scrabble against you. You would think that knowing a lot of words would help, but it doesn’t. It’s true that knowing words and knowing how to spell them helps. However, there is some strategy involved.

First, let me explain the game. You have a set of tiles, two of which are blank. The rest have all of the letters of the alphabet with a corresponding point value. Letter distribution and point values are based largely on how often the letters occur. Q, X, and Z are rare, but are also worth more points. There’s also a board with a 15 by 15 grid, which is the playable area. You should get 4 letter racks, which is one for each player. (You’ll need at least one other player to play.) To start, each person draws one tile; the lowest letter goes first. The letters are returned to the bag (or the box, if you have an older version) and take out 7 new tiles. The first player makes a word of at least 2 letters from the 7 that he or she has drawn. Subsequent words are made off of the words that have already been played. (All words either have to be left to right or top to bottom. I’ll have more details on word placement later.) There are special bonus squares through out the board that double or triple the value of one tile or the whole word. (The score for the word is determined by adding the scores for the tiles factoring in these bonuses.) You also get a 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles. Be sure to have a dictionary handy, because you are allowed to challenge a word if you don’t think its real.

The skill comes in with word placement. You have to make a word that connects to a word that’s already in play. If the first word is ‘rat,’ I can add ‘es’ at the end to form rates. You don’t get the bonuses under the tiles that already been played, but you would get the face value for those tiles and you would score the new tiles with any bonuses that they get. You can also form a word going in another direction. If rat is horizontal, I could play ‘snow’ going down with the ‘s’ at the end of ‘rat’ so that I form ‘rats’ and ‘snow’ I’d get the face value for ‘rat’ plus the normal score for the ‘s’ plus the normal value for ‘snow.’ (If ‘s’ is on a bonus for the entire word, you’d double both ‘rats’ and ‘snow.’) When you make a word, you take tiles to replace the ones you’ve used so that you always have 7 tiles. This continues until either one person runs out of tiles or no one can think of any more words. If one person runs out of tiles, then as a bonus, they get the total score of the other players’ remaining tiles. The other players each take a loss of points equal to the value of their own tiles. If no one runs out of tiles, then each person just takes the loss of their own tiles.

This means that you want to get rid of the Q, Z, or X as quickly as possible. You should know at least a few words that have each letter, and not just at the beginning. Words like ‘acquire’ and ‘enzyme’ help in case you don’t have as much room. ‘Jazz’ is another good one because it has a Z at the end, but there’s only one Z in the set, so you’ll need a blank. You’ll also want to know a lot of really short words. In most of the games I’ve played, the tiles seem to cluster in one quadrant of the board and what few opportunities you may have might be cramped. Getting just 2 or 3 points is better than nothing. You’ll want a large vocabulary only for the flexibility that comes with it. You’ll need skill for the placement.

While the game can is for two to four players, I’d recommend three. Two takes some of the challenge out of it and four gets a bit crowded. Find friends that are similar to your own skill level. With any game, it’s never any fun if always lose by a large margin. Doing crossword puzzles will help to an extent, both in terms of vocabulary and word placement, but nothing helps like playing the game a lot. Despite the long description, I’m still leaving out a few details. You’ll figure out how to play as you go along. 

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