Improving on well-known word games

• ~800 words • 3 minute read

I love words. And games. And games involving words top the list. Mostly Scrabble, Boggle and other anagram-centric derivatives. I also enjoy games that can be played more casually, without scoring, that I would consider word games — like Balderdash and Cards Against Humanity ((Oddly, I don't care much for crosswords.)). They use a different part of the brain and there's a little bit of self-expression mixed-in.

Today I played Scrabble with a good friend of mine as part of our semi-regular get togethers. We're perpetually in the middle of a game on Facebook playing Lexulous, but in person games are more fun. The pace is more enjoyable and it's a joyful, social thing instead of an act of procrastination or time wasting, as most things online have a tendency to devolve into. In keeping with tradition, he whooped me pretty thoroughly ((I'm actually not a bad Scrabble player, but I pretty much only play with this person who regularly breaks 400 and bingos several times a game. It can't be good for my confidence.)) and there was a lot of laughing.

As the game was winding down we started discussing ways to make Scrabble more fun. We've joked in the past about games where you can only play dirt words, only play proper nouns, and so on. From there we somehow got on the topic of combining regular Scrabble with something like the guessing games from Whose Line is it Anyway? and the general inappropriateness of Cards Against Humanity.

Let me explain: Whose Line is it Anyway? ((Wayne Brady is great but the original British version owns my heart.)) was essentially a bunch of theater games performed in front of an audience. For the guessing games, one actor would have to "guess" the personality or motives of the other actors as they improvised a skit. It could range from something as simple as being a compulsive liar or having slinkies for legs.

What does this have to do with Scrabble? Well, we explored the idea of each player receiving a prompt ((Mostly inappropriate prompts)) on a card that would influence the way he or she plays. Some examples included:

  • Only plays synonyms for genitalia.
  • Only plays onomatopoeias.
  • Only plays words that are also bodily functions.
  • Only plays words that are associated with Canada.

And so on. But Scrabble is a tricky enough game without imposing more rules, so we decided making it wouldn't make the most sense to force players to play a certain way. Instead, perhaps players could pull a card and receive bonus points when a word coincided with the theme. As an added element to the game — and to bring it back to the Whose Line is it Anyway? reference — the prompts would be kept secret from one another (the bonuses could be tallied at the end upon revealing each players secret motive), but any of the other players could hazard a guess as to what another player's card might be if they felt like they knew. If guessed correctly, the players bonus points would now all go to the player making the guess. If incorrectly guessed the player would lose his or her turn, like an ordinary word challenge.

We decided there was something to this idea. It seemed there might also be cards that can be played to allow breaks from the traditional rules of the game. Something that might permit the player to:

  • Play all the consonants (or vowels) in your hand, making up a gibberish word.
  • Play the name of a famous actress from the 40s
  • Play a word backwards (no score bonus).
  • Play a word in another language.
  • Play a word that can only be found on Urban Dictionary.

Maybe it would even be possible to combine some cards, like combining the backwards word card with the Urban Dictionary card Now it's getting interesting!

So now we have two types of card: one that can influence a players general strategy throughout the game (a motive card) and one that be played to modify individual plays during the course of the game (a modifier card).

There are still a lot of questions. Perhaps a third type of card is in order? One that would permit removing letters from the board or swapping with another player? Should the motive cards bonuses only be applied to words played by that player with the card or applied to the board as a whole?

We'll have to try this the next time we sit down and play Scrabble together and work out the kinks. And come up with a clever name.