Review: Word Games

For my 13th birthday, the only thing I wanted (and, along with a wonderful Mets watch that’s God-knows-where, the only gift I received) was a copy of the Deluxe Edition of Scrabble. I’ve gone on to use that board game for almost five years, and it truly has been one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever received – playing Scrabble without having to crane your neck (thanks to the Lazy Susan) and actually having a full tile set (unlike my previous set, which I think is working on about 93 tiles or so right now) is a joy. And while Scrabble is sort of the 800-pound gorilla in the room in terms of word games – it really needs no review – there are some other word games which I love to play:
  • Scrabble Deluxe Edition: Yeah, I’m going to review it anyway. Of all the variant boards for the original game, this is one of the best. There have been a few different models for the Deluxe Edition – I use the 2000s one, of course – but they’re mostly the same: the grid is raised to allow for the tiles to stay on the board without moving, there is a cloth bag instead of the silvery plastic one for tiles, and the tiles are a darker wood. The selling point for me, however, was the turntable – again, it removes neck strain and allows for board movement, not to mention providing a  nice place to sit for my cat.

    Scrabble Diamond Edition.

    The Diamond Anniversary Edition, above,  is a similar product – it has the raised grid, smaller turntable, along with curved racks, a folding board, trays for the tiles, and newly-colored premium squares.

  • Super Scrabble: Instead of the 15 x 15 board, Super Scrabble has a 21 x 21 tile board, 200 tiles, and more premium squares (including special Quadruple Word and Quadruple Letter Spaces) – which provides for some high-scoring, but ridiculously long, games. And there enlies the problem with Super Scrabble – you have to invest a good 3-4 hours for just a two-player game, at which point you might want to just play a long game of Monopoly.
  • UpWords: Basically Scrabble, Star Trek chess style. Along with going along the length and width of the 10 x 10 tile board, you can stack upon the tiles on the board for extra points. It’s a lot of fun and the game moves fairly quickly, and it’s also fun to have the tiles stacked high. However, a major problem with the game design is the lack of a bag for tiles (I originally used a landscape-sealed manila envelope, then the bag from an old Scrabble game once I got the Deluxe Edition).
  • Scrabble Scramble (a k a Scrabble Express): Unlike the Express versions of Monopoly and Sorry!, Scrabble Scramble is like Scrabble. Instead of the 100 tiles, there are 12 cubes, and instead of the regular board, there is a 9 x 9 Twister-esque mat. The rules are modified so that the game moves quickly – enough to play two or three games within the time period of a full-on Scrabble game. Everything – the cubes, the mat, the timer, and the scorepad and golf pencil – fits in a cup, so it’s a nice travel game, as well.
  • Boggle: My second-favorite game. I always lose to my mother (but I’ve only been shut out twice, and one was a 5-way shutout), but it’s always a fun challenge for the 3-minute word game.
  • Jumbulaya: I heard about this from its many awards – 2008 Games magazine Word Game of the Year, a Mensa Select Game – and it certainly rises to the occasion. Unlike other tile word games, it’s a ‘word jumble’ game and not a crossword game – it’s only linear. For another thing, the points are tallied at the end of the game – which only comes when a player claims all nine lines, when a player forms a ten-tile word (there are ST, ED, and CH tiles along with the Qu, now standard in all games except Scrabble), or when a player finds a ‘JUMBULAYA’, a 7-, 8-, or 9-tile word going from one end of the board to the other. It’s not only a game of word knowledge, but a game of strategy and of mental stimulation – there are few better feelings from board games than finding the JUMBULAYA (which is much like catching the Golden Snitch – it ends the game, but it does not always guarantee victory – I found it in the first game we played, but lost by only five points). While it takes a while for game play – a JUMBULAYA can only be found when a six-tile word is put on the board – regardless, it’s quickly becoming my new second-favorite.

Any other word games I should know about (Bananagrams, &c.)? If there are, leave ’em in the comments!

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