Scrabble: A Game of Quones and Kwyjibos
Scrabble’s position in the board game world is truly an enigma (9 points); a query (17 points, much better) if you will. Its viewed by much of the general public as being a game of elitists; a game for the more intelligent among us. But by board game snobs, its considered one of the pedestrian, mass market games which they love to trash despite their status as classics. Yet both of these are quite unfair to the game, which is nowhere near as mundane as the mass market games its clumped with like Monopoly, nor is it so posh or elite that it can only be played by the brightest of players. Scrabble is right in that happy medium, a smart yet highly enjoyable game.
Perhaps Scrabble’s association with spelling and lexicon knowledge is why it has the reputation as a game for smart people. And yet if we look at Scrabble’s existence in pop culture we see that this may not be the case; even Homer Simpson plays Scrabble, fat, dumb, balding North American ape that he is. Perhaps certain players do have an advantage if their vocabulary is slightly more advanced than others, but its still a game that everyone can comprehend and play. And if you’re stuck you can go the Kramer way and fake it. After all, why can’t Quone mean “to quone something”?
Whether its quirks are displayed through pop culture references like The Simpsons and Seinfeld, or its being deemed too highbrow by the general public, or too lowbrow by board game aficionados, Scrabble continues to search for its place despite being around for sixty years. So where does Scrabble fit?
The basic idea of Scrabble is branded into the public psyche pretty strong by this point. Players take turns trying to spell words out of a selection of seven letters in their hand. However, they must connect their word to the existing chain of words on the board. Words with rare letters get you more points for your word.
The real strategy of Scrabble comes not in knowing what words to spell (though that is still a significant part), it is knowing when and where to use those words. By trying to save your biggest words for the double or triple word score tiles you can really rack up the points. So while having an extensive vocabulary will help you, its not as necessary as some may think. Patience, planning and thinking ahead is where the real strength of this game lies.
The wooden letter tiles of Scrabble are iconic board game components. There’s something about their wooden textures, their engraved letters and simply the feel of them in your hand which makes this game very tactile and aesthetic. The clacking of the tiles on the board and against each other brings a real sense of familiarity to those playing. The wood-carved tile shelves are also excellent as they allow you to easily see what letters you have available while still concealing your hand from others.
The board is pretty basic, but it is planned out quite cleverly. The standard Scrabble board is a 15×15 grid of spaces with special squares for double and triple word scores and double and triple letter scores spread out in such a way so as to maximize strategic word placements. Some fancier versions of Scrabble have a swivel board so that players don’t have to look at the board upside down as well as small ridges along the squares to prevent the tiles from shuffling and getting mixed up. Both are great improvements, though unfortunately I have the regular old Scrabble board.
Scrabble is one of the most popular games in the world, yet most people still don’t know what to make of it. Its not a goofy game where you make up silly words like kwyjibo, nor is it mindless drivel to be thrown in with the likes of Life and Snakes and Ladders, nor is it a game which can only be played by snooty college professors with patches on their elbows. Scrabble is simply a fun game with more strategy than hardcore gamers give it credit for and less dichotomy between ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’ as the public seems to think.
A larger vocabulary is certainly an asset in Scrabble; that cannot be denied. In fact that is why this game is looked down on by many people. They believe that the fact that you must bring external skill sets into the game is a detriment and that the strategy should be entirely self-contained. But aren’t you always bringing outside skill sets into a game, whether its problem-solving skills, negotiation skills or spacial recognition skills? There’s nothing wrong with bringing outside knowledge into a game
However, I think people overemphasize the impact of this outside knowledge. Chances are the person with the more expansive lexicon will likely win, but not if another player is able to use the special tile spaces better. And regardless of who wins, its not a game with complex rules, so anyone is able to play and enjoy themselves. So where does Scrabble fit in this world of games and hobbies? Scrabble is simply a fun, interactive, stimulating game which lets you use your brain differently.