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

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Online Speed Scrabble: a review

I discovered that there is a web site called Supernifty which has an online Speed Scrabble game that can be played for free. Naturally, I decided to try it.

To play, you have to go through a straightforward registration process which requires only an e-mail address, a password, and a nickname. Once you've logged in you are greeted by a listing of available games that you can join, or you can create your own game. The feature that I particularly like here is that you can give a name to your game by typing it into the blank before creating the game. In principle, this gives players the ability to set up games for different skill levels or with different rules. Or if someone wants to practice on their own, they could call their game "Solitaire Only."

The game is an implementation of the "Take Two" variant of Speed Scrabble: You start with seven tiles, and once someone has formed a valid grid, two more tiles appear on the top row of every player's board, and play advances to the next "round". There is some scoring system where you get credit every time you win a round. Whoever wins the tenth and final round wins the game (and gets a lot more points). Points are also based on how long your longest word is in each round, and on how competitive your opponent is.

Diligent readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan of Speed Scrabble, but this online version does away with a few of the nuisances of the offline game: Starting with a small number of letters and no ability to dump tiles makes it hard or sometimes impossible to form a valid grid early in the game. If you encounter such a situation in Supernifty Speed Scrabble, you can just skip that round by pushing the "Give up on round" button to get two more letters. (At least you can do this when playing alone, I did not run into this situation when playing with other players.)

I was a little surprised at how often the initial set of letters could be formed into a grid of words, and I started to suspect that this was by design when I got letters that seemed to coax me into forming a symmetric grid for a couple of rounds (as shown). Whether or not this is built into the program is something that I can't tell yet...

The game is implemented in Javascript, rather than Flash, which may be the reason that the interface is more minimalist. I liked how smooth and clean it felt, and since many of the games I played were solitaire games, it was overall kind of a relaxing experience (except the few times that the timer started to run down and I had to franticly drag tiles around the board.) My only frustration with the interface was that it's not possible to select a rectangle of tiles (as in the electronic version of Bananagrams) and move it around. This sometimes leads to having to shift a bunch of words from one place to another, one tile at a time. Aside from that issue, it is otherwise an intuitive interface, so you can just start playing straight away. If you'd like a more detailed description, try the official description of Speed Scrabble.

There were only a few people drifting on and off the site while I was playing, and often I was the only player on the site at all. If I am interpreting the scoring system correctly, the list of high scores corroborates the idea that there are just a handful of hard-core players and some others who have played on many occasions. But the site just came online in August of 2009 and an iPhone client for the game has been recently released, so the number of players may be on the rise.

If you like online word games and you want to try something different, I can recommend Supernifty's version of Speed Scrabble.