The board game Scrabble is popular around the world. Recently an idea has emerged which is widely expected to improve the game. First, let us briefly explain how the game works:
Scrabble involves two or more players taking turns in laying tiles on a board. Each tile has a letter on it and the tiles must be laid in such a way that they spell out a word. It must be a word that can be found in the dictionary.
At the start of the game the players have seven tiles each, drawn at random from a bag. Any tiles used are replaced with new tiles until the tiles run out.
Each tile also has a small number on it. This indicates the number of points which the tile is worth. Some (more commonly used) letters are worth low points. The less frequently used letters are worth more points. By making words, the players score the total number of points displayed on all the tiles in that word. The player with the highest score at the end of the game is the winner.
The board itself is divided into a 15 by 15 grid and the tiles must be laid on the squares within that grid. Some squares have special characteristics, for example they double the value of any tile placed on them.
To place a word, the tiles must also join or cross a word which has already been placed on the board.
To be successful, the Scrabble player is dependent on a number of factors:
- Firstly, the letters available to the player: these have a significant bearing on what can be achieved.
- Secondly, the vocabulary of the player: knowledge of a wider range of words presents greater options for how to deploy the letters.
- Thirdly, the context of the game: the current situation on the board dictates the opportunities available to the player and determines the approach they should take.
- Finally, the skill of the player: a player with limited vocabulary or a challenging selection of letters can still be successful by reading the context well and employing tactics effectively.
The problem with Scrabble
A common concern within the global Scrabble community is that the results of games are not consistent. Outcomes are uncertain and are entirely dependent on the knowledge and skill of the player. It is clear that some improvements could be made to the game which would ensure more consistent results. It has therefore been proposed that an international standard for Scrabble playing is defined.
It is felt that the standard will make life easier for Scrabble players:
- it will ensure that a common language is used in the game
- it will facilitate a common understanding of how the game should be played
- it will eliminate complex methods and therefore simplify how the game is played
- it will reduce the demand for learning and thus open the game up to a greater number of players
Setting the standard
The key points of the standard are as follows:
A common language – There are currently 55 editions of Scrabble available globally, in a wide range of languages. This means that players are subject to different conditions depending on where they are. The standard will ensure that English is used as a common language. The other 54 editions of the game will no longer be required.
Eliminating complexity – Within the standard English version of Scrabble, some of the letters on the tiles are difficult to use. For example, the letters X, Z, Q and K. Others are far easier to place. For example, the letters E, A, T, R and S. The unusual letters will therefore be removed from the game. They act as a barrier to entry for some players and it is essential that Scrabble is simple to play. Any letter which currently has a score of 1, 2 or 3 points associated with it will be retained. These letters are the vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and the following consonants (B, C, D, G, L, M, N, P, R, S, T).
Simplifying solutions – The removal of 10 letters from the game will significantly reduce the vocabulary required to play Scrabble. To further simplify things, a cap on word length will be applied. In future, words used in the game will not be permitted to exceed five letters in length. The words must still comply with the English dictionary (American English will be permitted).
Note: whilst the changes are undoubtedly an improvement on the current situation, it has been proposed that further enhancements to the standard (including a pre-defined list of permissible five letter words) should be investigated. A working group has been convened to look into this.
Delivering the standard
A booklet has been produced which explains the Scrabble standard in detail. As the standard will be adopted globally, it is recommended that all players familiarise themselves with the contents. There will be a fee for the booklet.
A number of training providers are expected to take up the challenge of disseminating the knowledge required to comply with the standard. Whilst there is no link between the standard itself and any certifications available, it is anticipated that providers will tailor their courses and certifications to reflect the standard. The training providers will require payment for their time, however we understand that some will be offering a ‘certificate guarantee’ for anyone taking part in courses.
A brighter future
It is anticipated that through these changes, players will no longer be required to undertake time-consuming exercises to build up their vocabulary. With the appropriate training and certification, players will be able to partake in games in the knowledge that they are part of a global community committed to consistent results.
For further information, or to assist in future revisions of the standard, please contact the Association for Scrabble Standards.
Please note: none of what is written above is true. Nobody is proposing a standard for Scrabble. The game works. Scrabble players enjoy the challenge of learning new words and improving their strategy. They enjoy encountering different situations and take pride in using their skills and knowledge to overcome difficulties. They know that each game is different and that outcomes are not, and can not be guaranteed. This adds to the enjoyment when things go well, and encourages improvement when things don’t go well. Long may it remain so.