Changing the Rules of Scrabble

Cultural pressure seems to emphasize competitive achievement through conflict and winning. We would like to share how rule changes in one game, Scrabble, which might be extrapolated by similar principles in other games, can emphasize different values. Exceptions to manufacturers’ rules of play are suggested; otherwise, original rules prevail.

Scrabble rules ban the use of dictionaries (except to resolve challenges), but since Quakers value the fulfillment of each person’s potential, we changed the rules to open‐dictionary play, with all players cooperating in research on behalf of each player during that person’s turn. There is one stipulation: the player must remember the meaning of the newly researched word used through the end of the game, when all word meanings are reviewed. Scrabble rule limitations still apply: No capitalized, hyphenated, apostrophized words, etc.; if a word is in a dictionary, it is usable.

As Readers Digest urges, “It pays to increase your word power.” These revised rules are really helpful. The scope of possibilities was suggested in a recent news item noting a South Dakota Scrabble meeting that used words in the Lakota Sioux language. Once we even experimented with a set of tiles with Greek characters, as these revised rules are applicable in any language.

To remove competitiveness in favor of cooperation, individual scoring is replaced by totaling the score of all players together. The scorekeeper notes the word(s) constituting that increment of the score beside each player’s contribution, which facilitates the memory test at the end of the game. We strive for achievement, but it is a group effort encouraging maximum cooperation. Manufacturers have set “par” between 500 and 700 points. Over the years we have recorded our totals as indicated on accompanying graphs.
Cooperation can take a number of strategic forms:

  1. A player can gain consensus to reserve certain spaces for the development of words with advantageous scoring.
  2. Other players can help a player possessed of difficult letters (e.g. Q,X,Z, etc.) by deliberately tailoring words that will facilitate their use—for example, a U spaced for use by another player’s Q.
  3. A player can position a word to approach a bonus space along one axis, in order to afford another player the opportunity to pluralize it with a word along the other axis, and this achieves bonus points for both words.
  4. Likewise players can plan to reuse short words with appropriate prefixes or suffixes to form completely different words. Such re‐use boosts scores dramatically. For example:
  5. The players can seek consensus on optimum placing of words where several options prevail, including the very first word in the game.
  6. Playing with more than one dictionary offers simultaneous research from several sources on behalf of one person’s turn. Besides the unabridged, we use special Scrabble and rhyming dictionaries. We have constructed a notebook recording especially helpful words. A recently acquired resource lists under each alphabetical letter words beginning with that letter, words with that as second letter, as third letter, and eventually as final letter.
Word Tile Score Meaning
BU 3+1 18th‐c. Japanese gold coin
BUR 3+1+1 Variation of BURR
BURL 3+1+1+1 Wood knot, tree growth
BURLE 3+1+1+1+1 Plural of BURLA: a boisterous musical composition
BURLESQUE 3+1+1+1+1+1+10+1+1 Comic grotesque imitation

Some general observations:

  1. A standard Scrabble game (using the amended rules) runs about 1 to 2 hours for two players. Each additional player increases the length of the game.
  2. A new Super Scrabble game has a bigger playing board, higher bonus space opportunities, an increased number of tile letters, about doubles playing time, and doesn’t quite double the total score (using amended rules).
  3. Cooperation must be sought from a player whose turn it is. Unsolicited help may be rejected initially, only to be asked for later (without hurt feelings or rancor). We are all in this for fun and for maximizing the potential of each person through skill development in cooperation as well as individual knowledge improvement.
  4. Remembering meanings through to the end of the game can be especially challenging with Super Scrabble!

Scrabble is a registered trademark owned by Hasbro in the U.S. and Canada.

Alice and Bob Mabbs are members of Sioux Falls (S. Dakota) Meeting, which met in their home for two decades.

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