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?

4 thoughts on “Scrabble is a terrible game

  1. As the director of the Albany Scrabble Club, I beg to differ about it being a terrible game. I’ve been playing the game for many years, and each game is a new challenge to use your racks to try and make the best you can on each turn. What you may not know is that in our club, we mainly play in what’s called TWL (Tourmament Word List), which is basically the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (one that’s sold in stores), plus all offensive words. We also have a couple of players that play in the Collins Dictionary, which is a British-based dictionary that has more words than TWL, and is the dictionary used in the World Championships, We have 2 players in the club who are rated in the top 15 in their respective dictionaries. Schenectady’s Karl Higby has a rating of 2028 in TWL, making him the 11th ranked TWL player in all of North America, after having won a major tournament a week ago in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Also, Matthew O’Connor, who lives in DeWitt, near Syracuse, and is currently a sophomore at Skidmore in Saratoga Springs, has a rating of 2006 in Collins, making him the 15th ranked Collins player in North America. Matthew is also the reigning Junior World Champion, having won the title last year in Nottingham, England.

    If you want to visit our club, we meet every Thursday night, starting around 6:15pm, at the Third Reformed Church, off of Delaware Avenue, near Whitehall Road, in Albany. Also, this year, the North American Scrabble Championship, which is a 31-game tournament played over 5 days, is being held in early August at the Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center in Buffalo.

  2. You can ‘fix’ Scrabble by adding in some house rules. When we play we allow the use of a dictionary, we have a really big one. That compensates a bit for lack of vocabulary and bad letters, it also speeds up the game. We also play it to have some fun. If the board is too tough to play anything we just toss all the tiles back into the bag and start over. At times we also do not bother to keep score.
    Most importantly, don’t take it too seriously. Winning or losing at Scrabble says nothing about your language skills. I beat my wife in Scrabble many times and English is my second language. Likewise, winning in Monopoly does not make your a Wall Street wonder.

  3. I would ask you not mention as a terrible game, because there are heck a lot of games that promote hateness,putting others down,cheating and winning.
    Scrabble is totally different from them and as you mentioned, memory and math are a great traits of any successful person.It helps harnessing one’s memory skills and being calculative, and i dont see anything wrong in that.scrabble has huge collection of words within its TWL and if players are stuck at a certain stage, there are also some tools like to assist, something like a boost up and get going.
    At the most, just think of any board games as a fun and if you dont like one, just choose any other game that fits to your choice. why to try blast in front of all.

  4. “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.”

    Can a scrabble player illustrate why this is considered a great play? Based on the author’s sloppy wording, it looks like he thinks using both blanks as z’s in one word, and only hitting one triple word score is indicative of smart playing.

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