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Are you willing to break the rules? That's the slogan of Scrabble Trickster, a new version of the popular board game. There can't be many who haven't played Scrabble, and all sorts of versions exist already from Original (cheap plastic) to the Deluxe (revolving board). But these are basically all the same game. Scrabble Trickster is something of a departure.
I have discovered to my surprise that Scrabble is pretty popular amongst my peers. I had rather assumed that it was a game for people older than me (fortysomething) and that my love of the game was best kept a guilty secret, but it turns out that I had nothing to be ashamed of.
We Scrabble players are a diverse bunch, I dare say leading otherwise normal lives defying any sort of categorisation or stereotyping. But if there ever was an attempt to find a common personality trait amongst Scrabble devotees, I doubt it would be that we are rule-breakers.
Leaving aside the pedantic point that being allowed to break the rules means that you are not really breaking the rules at all, you have to wonder at the thinking behind this game. It is essentially the same old Scrabble we know and love with one key difference. As well as the usual Bonus squares on the board, there are now Trick squares which allow you to collect a card, which in turn allows you to depart from the normal rules in a particular way. For example you can treat one of your tiles as a blank, play your word anywhere on the board or swap your tiles with those of another player.
There are now Trick squares which allow you to collect a card, which in turn allows you to depart from the normal rules.
It sounds fair enough and an interesting variation to the game. But I'm just not convinced.
Scrabble is first of all a challenge to create words from the letters you've got and to place them on the board in a way to get maximum points - a puzzle, pure and simple. In that respect you could play Scrabble on your own just to pass the time. This would be less pointless than Sudoku, but only marginally less boring, because the second key element is of course competition. And by and large the competition in Scrabble is fair.
That is not to say that luck doesn't play its part - it does. The letters you draw at random completely determine your fate (and in my case often my mood) but a good player will know which tiles to try to play and which to keep back to maximise future scoring opportunities.
I always set myself a challenge to play all seven of my letters at some point during the game to claim the 50 point bonus. I don't know if that is a good tactic or not, but what I do know is that if my opponent then played a "Steal your opponent's last score" card I would be more that a little irritated. In fact the playing of that card, without any skill or judgement required, would very likely completely change the outcome of the game. And for "change the outcome of" read "spoil".
So it would be fair to say that I was not expecting to like this very much. What actually happened when we played was... well not a lot really. I guess that once you have played a game for years you play in a certain way, and you can play Scrabble Trickster in exactly the same way as the original version.
We dutifully collected our trick cards but I for one ended up playing them just for the sake of it. Surprisingly it actually made very little difference to our first game. I have read that the trick cards can create a more level playing-field for players of unequal ability, but I'm not sure that is really true. A good player will surely also play their trick cards to their best advantage.
As I'm concerned original Scrabble uses the right amount of luck already.
With further plays we came to realise that focussing on getting trick cards over simple high scoring was probably a mistake. Many of the trick cards give you only a slight advantage, and could be a distraction. But then there are those few that can change the game completely.
And that's where I struggle. I can't think of many truly great games that are won completely on luck, and as far as I'm concerned original Scrabble uses the right amount of luck already. Scrabble Trickster just increases the element of chance.
If, like me, you already enjoy Scrabble, I think you'll probably enjoy the original version more. I suppose if you don't have a Scrabble set already you could buy this version - after all you don't have to use the trick cards if you don't want to.
Maybe I'm more of a rule-breaker than I thought.
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