Thursday, February 9, 2012

Words Words Words OR Scrabble and Other Word Games

I haven't played many games of Scrabble, but you wanted my take on things, so here it is.  I find Scrabble challenging, I don't find too many flaws with the game, but I don't like it.  I think that there's two problems with word games in general - one, the biggest vocabulary always wins, and two, there's virtually no luck, or all luck based on the tiles.  Now, don't get me wrong, Scrabble is a good game.  The board is interesting in terms of the various tiles, but it boils down to who knows the most before the game.  To me, that's not much of a game when all players don't have a reasonably equal chance to win.

Boggle is a step in the right direction, since it removes the luck of tile draws, thus giving every player equal access to words, but the main problem still remains.  The person who knows the most words will once again win.

I do find challenge in word games when it's timed to see how many I can get in a given period.  The problem is that these are best suited for computer games, little social networking apps, and phone games, thus they are best as single player games.  Even then, the experience is less than satisfying.  Maybe it has to do with pure skill games and the way that players can get better than everyone else through practice or certain other means.  If one person is always going to win the game, or almost alway win, what's the point in playing?

So the question becomes how do you improve Scrabble.  Well, the first idea is make sure you play with people right around your vocabulary level.  Sure, sometimes you'll know more words, sometimes others will, but that makes the game closer.  Now, this isn't perfect since there's not a great way to quantify vocabulary knowledge.  So what might help? How about a list of possible words, something like 30-50 words so players can play quickly even if they get stuck.  I really don't have great solutions here.

Some other word games that might scratch the Scrabble itch, but do it in a more compact or fun way.
Word on the Street (Junior version as well)
It's a two player/team game where one team reads a category and the other side has to come up with a word that fits the category.  They then spell the word moving each letter in the word one spot closer to their side.  This causes people to come up with words using b's d's, g's, w's, etc. and stretches players vocabulary.  It will favor the bigger vocabulary, but there are ways to win before that becomes an issue.  It may not be the best alternative, but it's out there.

I don't know of any other word games, but I know they exist.  If they don't, maybe it's a sign that the masses have given up their thesauruses in favor of simplistic language and that word games just aren't all that fun to play with the same group over and over again.


  1. I'm really interested in furthering this discussion. I love me some word games. Word on the Street is near the top of my list, as is Prolix by Gil Hova (check that one out if you haven't). It seems, however, that a lot of word games have shifted to iOS/Android platforms (e.g. Welder, War of Words, Word Fighter, Words w/ Friends, Hanging w/ Friends, etc. ad nauseum).

    Currently, I'm trying to build a Word based deck-building game. You have four piles: Vowels, Consonants, Letter blends, and Special Powers. Vowels are 1 point to purchase, Consonants 2, Blends 4, and special abilities are 7. Point distribution is done in a manner very similar to Super Scrabble. The game starts with players purchasing (face up) cards from any number of pile equal to 30points (ex: 10 vowel cards and 10 consonant cards).

    Subsequently, when a player makes a word, he/she can spend those points to buy cards from any of the stacks. So, for example, if a player made a word worth 13 points, he/she could by a special tile, a blend, and 2 vowels. After purchasing, the hand gets refilled to 7 and play progresses.

    It's still in an alpha phase, but it's got potential. My big hangup right now is how to work out scoring.

    1. Your game sounds rather interesting to me. I think that iOS/Android are the way word games are going to be played. This gives people time to think/look-up words and learn something. I don't deny that they are educational, but the games aren't as much fun for the masses. There's a lot of potential here.

      Thanks for furthering the discussion, it's always appreciated.

  2. Yeah, I'm an English major, but I don't really like Scrabble that much. It's okay, but while my vocabulary is good, my visualization and recall skills don't work well under pressure. It's even worse with Boggle, which I swear has nothing to do with words, it's all about Seeing in that special brain-twisty way. I prefer Scategories, but even that is a challenge.