Scrabble is a terrible game

You lose as soon as you start by not playing other games!

Scrabble is a terrible game.

And I’m an English major for god’s sake. But this game, I cannot abide by it. I know I am in the minority, and that even as you read this you may be playing Word with Friends. But this game takes something I love, words, and boils them down to nothing.

Perhaps I should back up a step, and admit that I am not the best at spelling. I am more of a thesaurus kind of guy. If you can’t spell it, find a synonym I say. But mostly I dislike scrabble because it takes words and makes them a matter of math and memory. Math because there is a scoring element that takes into account how often a letter shows up and therefore the difficulty of playing it. And trivia because if you don’t know a word to create out of your sorry set of letters, you are in trouble. The game rewards knowing words for their letters not their meaning. A finished game of scrabble is the furthest thing from poetry there is that is still made with letters.

And then let’s talk about the randomness. Randomness can make a game fun, and balance it out across skill levels. But scrabble is a game of bad letter luck, and even more luck on the board. It is illustrated in what is considered a great play: something long, with lots of Zs, and that just so happens to land on a triple word score.

Notice how I didn’t need to tell you what the word is? It doesn’t matter. No one checks the dictionary in a game of scrabble to see what a word means. They just check to verify it DOES exist. That is the beginning and end of that conversation.

Scrabble’s close cousin, the crossword puzzle at least has a bit more soul. There are clues, puzzles to solve, something planned where the existing letters can give you a key clue to another row or column you hadn’t solved. Not so in scrabble. Not seeing the forest for the bark, but not taking a nature walk.

Scattergories involves coming up with words that start with a certain letter and match these categories

So with that rant over, what are some great WORD games, that respect the word itself? There are, thankfully, too many to name. Balderdash is a favorite, where a real word is presented to the group and each player must make up a definition and then guess which of the proposed definitions is real. Much more joy and laughter here already compared to a bunch of folks staring at a tray of useless letters. Scattergories is a favorite, with a letter die that drives pulling vocabulary out of your head that all matches the categories given. Originality is rewarded, as any duplicate answers don’t score, and the time pressure can create quite the brain freeze.

Codenames makes for a great party and a lot less spelling.

Those are both older games, but there are plenty of new word games as well. Codenames has two clue masters giving one word hints to try to associate as many words on the board as possible. It’s all about the meaning of the hint and common theme between it and the words on the board. If you are looking for something like scrabble but with more of a soul Paperback combines the spelling aspect with a more forgiving deck building structure, along with wild letters that everyone at the table can use. It’s still spelling, so not for me, but for you spelling bees out there it is a better option.

Scrabble is certainly iconic, and like other games with a rich history it often gets a pass because it’s a game everybody knows. But for those of us who are not lured by the temptation of spelling and math there are much better options out there. It could just be my bias, but I like word games that create stories, rather than a grid of nonsense. What are your favorite word games?