Ha! Scrabble Trickster! An invigorating new twist on a staid old boardgame, or a sad reflection on modern society?
Scrabble purists were horrified when the news came out, earlier this year, that the rules of the venerable boardgame Scrabble were being relaxed to allow proper nouns – that is names of people, places and things, even brands. Visions of boards filled with trailer-trash slang and names like JayZ and Beyonce filled their nightmares…
It didn’t reassure them much to hear that this was not a change to ordinary Scrabble, but the creation of a new spin-off “Scrabble Trickster” … which allowed other novelties like placing words unconnected to other words, or spelling backwards:
Such was the outrage that boardgame producer Mattel hurried to reassure everyone that this was only a limited edition, and Hasbro, the American distributor, went one further, haughtily declaring that they would never release Trickster nor any version of Scrabble like it into the American market.
Hmmm. It really makes me wonder if any of these people had actually played the game. It’s far from the freakish monster implied in the news stories.
Scrabble Trickster – The Truth
Most of the time in Trickster, it plays out exactly like traditional Scrabble. For like 99% of the game it works like that. Proper nouns aren’t allowed, neither is spelling backwards, etc. It’s normal Scrabble.
Maybe once, or twice per game a player will get the opportunity to break a particular rule. But often then it isn’t in their advantage, so they don’t. The things that so shocked the purists are almost never in a game.
The tiles look like ordinary Scrabble tiles, with a letter and a point value, and the board looks very familiar with the traditional double, triple letter and word score blots. In fact, you could just stop there and use the set to play ordinary regular Scrabble.
The novelty now is that there are also squares marked “Trick” that allow players to pick a random card from a deck of Trick cards. Players keep the cards hidden until they choose to use them. There’s a special slot for them on the top of the usual tile rack.
Indeed those are the cards that will later let you break the rules, but you can only have a maximum of three, they can be stolen by other players, you can only play one per turn, and most of them require you wait until your next turn to play.
Sure, you could try to use one of these “rule breaking” cards on every turn, but usually you’ll hold onto them, hoping for the perfect timing. You also don’t accrue them quickly. It’s unusual to have three. Amongst the big stack of trick cards, I think there’s only one that lets you play a proper noun – in fact most of the tricks only appear once, making them quite an exotic mix. There’s also the ability to steal the last player’s last score, being able to play one word unconnected to all others, play a backwards word, steal others’ tiles, or even turn one of your tiles over to make it a blank – but these things happen so infrequently that the game is still definitely Scrabble.
There’s also a big card that lists all the two-letter words that are valid in Scrabble. It’s kept face-down, and you can look at it briefly if you trade in one of your other trick cards. It’s an interesting idea, but in the games I’ve played, no one seemed interested in doing that.
After introducing the boardgame to some first time players, I asked them what they thought about the game. They said they’d had a great time, and said that it was more fun than regular Scrabble where one player will often streak miles ahead in the points. The word-smiths will still have the upper-hand in this game, but other players will still feel like they have a chance – so it will stay fun, rather than the drawn out slow-death of many Scrabble games.
The cheekiest result I’ve seen from the new Trick cards, was when one player was able to get 96 points with only playing two tiles! As you can see, that unique Trick card allowed a word to act as if it crossed a “Triple Word Score” square … but the ten-point-Z of the word had already been placed on a “Triple Letter Score” as well ! I think it was a very crafty play!
And here’s the board from a completed game … note the oddities such as the upturned tiles and the floating word. I didn’t notice until now, but this game didn’t have any proper nouns either!
Where to buy Scrabble Trickster
- This boardgame doesn’t appear to be available in any nearby “physical” games stores, but …
- Games Paradise (Australian Online Games Shop)
Other interesting links:
- “War of words over Scrabble rule change” [ABC News]
- “A Step Back-words” [Scrabble World]
- Official Scrabble Trickster Homepage
- Mattel Games (who kindly sent me this copy)