The Scrabble Variations
Growing up, a game of Scrabble was a near-daily event. Our television was reserved for PBS , and I hated playing outside. (Seriously, there are bugs out there. Bugs.). Board games became a big part of my youth by default.
I grew to love Scrabble because it was challenging, but at the same time, I discovered that it left a lot to the luck of the draw. You can have the biggest and best vocabulary in the world, but it won’t do you any good if you’re stuck with XPQWDSL. Fortunately, I was able to use Seussian logic and the wiles of a cute eight-year old against my parents quite often. Thneed is too a word, and you thneed one. Blink-blink. Can I watch TV now?
I don’t play it nearly as often now, but when I do, I like to jazz things up a bit by imposing several by-laws you won’t find in Scrabble’s ironclad rule set. You can try them if you like, but be warned: While adding constraints to any game makes it more challenging, it also raises the frustration level. (Example: The time-honored practice of throwing money under the “Free Parking” space in Monopoly extends the length of the game, and in so doing elevates it from boring to excruciatingly boring.) Trying any of my suggested Scrabble modifications may turn the game from a nice evening’s entertainment into a full-on, arms-flailing contact sport, one in which English itself ultimately suffers the heaviest losses.
Fake Word Scrabble. Only those words not found in the dictionary, or words with non-standard definitions, may be used in this version of the game. And not only must you make up the word, but you must also have a definition ready because you will be challenged. (Pictured above: CHUD is an acronym for “Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller”; DL is short for “on the down-low”; and a bluevet is, naturally, a nice comfy blue duvet. We allowed slub, a word that actually does appear in the dictionary, purely by accident; we thought it was a good word to describe “a chubby slug.”)
Dirty, Dirty Scrabble. This is a lot harder than it seems. Once all the obvious words are taken, you have to get creative with with your compound words and definitions. Apply innuendo early and often.
Stacking Scrabble. This is pretty much a do-it-yourself version of Upwords, in which stacking tiles upon existing words is allowed. Be warned: When the stacks get over three high, they will fall and your words will be rendered meaningless. Come to think of it, stack ‘em five-high.
Horizontal/Vertical. Before the game starts, each player must choose between “horizontal” or “vertical,” and they can only make words in that direction.
Fun with Onomatopoeia. Vroom, bamf, rrrawr! Allowing onomatopoeia is a great way to easily use those unusable random letters that accumulate in your tray. I’ve found it best to limit its usage to a maximum of three times per player per game, but y’know, vrrrrrrip! happens.
I-Spy Scrabble. You can only make words that relate to things you can see. Be sure to play this version with people who have lots and lots of hobbies.
Online Scrabble. One thing I’ve learned throughout my online Scrabble-playing career is that no matter how good of a sportsperson I want to be, no matter how much I value playing the game over winning, I’ll cheat at it. And you’ll cheat at it, too. We all cheat at Scrabble. Let’s all of us get together, set fire to the dictionary, and go play it at the pub instead.