A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Scrabble reformers: W*W*S

Last month, the Scrabble world was briefly rocked by news reports saying that a new version of Scrabble would allow proper nouns to be used as words. (It doesn't take much to rock the Scrabble world.) These stories turned out to be false. Actually Mattel is just introducing yet another of its many tangential spin-offs of Scrabble - in this case, a game called "Scrabble Trickster". But the resulting outrage serves as a good illustration of how passionate people are about defending the standard rules of Scrabble.

And then there are those on the other side of the spectrum, who believe that something is wrong with Scrabble and that it needs to be fixed. And they have come up with some delightfully crazy solutions.

Discontent with the word-memorization and short words that optimum Scrabble strategy requires, Peter Roizen came up with two small changes that totally transmogrify Scrabble into something else. First, he got rid of the blank tiles (which can stand for only one letter) and added in twelve wildcard tiles (which can represent long strings of letters). So, for example, the word
could be spelled

Unlike blank tiles, when building off of the wildcard tiles in the other direction, they can again stand for any sequence of letters desired by the player. And the second change he made was to add wildcard squares to the board. When placing a word that includes one of the wildcard squares, any tile can be placed on the wildcard square, turned over so it looks like a blank, but still functions like a wildcard.

An extra twist is that the player placing the tiles does not have to immediately reveal what the wildcards stand for. The opponents then have to decide whether to challenge the word, based on whether they believe the first player really knows a word that matches the wildcard pattern. Therefore, bluffing and pattern matching play a large role in this game.

The main effect of the wildcards is to break the game open, so rather than being dominated by short words, the board becomes covered in long words (albeit, long words that tend to be represented by 5 or 6 letters and some wildcards).

The web site for the game is filled with amusing discussion and digressions on Scrabble and WildWords.

There is also a free computer version of WildWords for computers that run on the Windows operating system. It allows people on different computers to play together.

The obvious question now is, what effect would including either blanks or wildcard tiles have on Bananagrams play? My guess is that both tiles would just make Bananagrams go faster. But it might be interesting to mix them in to balance other variations that tend to slow down the game to get a game with different strategy while maintaining Bananagrams speed.