A night on the tiles - why Scrabble has messed with its own rules


SMALL PRINT:FOOTBALL IS often referred to as the “Beautiful Game”, but many will argue that Scrabble really deserves that title. It’s an endearing, endlessly addictive pursuit that rewards luck, vocabulary, skill and memory (as anyone who has memorised all the English two-letter words will attest).

So why is Mattell changing this distinctly not-broke formula? Some might say that they’re toying with a perfect blueprint just for publicity, but others might argue that it could bring new fans to the game.

Scrabble Trickster adds a new, fiendish element of chance to the game with a selection of “trick” cards. Chosen at random and sitting strangely atop each tile rack, a card might allow players to play proper nouns, swap tiles with opponents and even play two words at a time.

For this writer, the possibilities were thrilling, and the arbitrary, even cruel fate of the cards offered the tantalising prospect of hissy fits, arguments, tantrums and storm-outs.

“It’s a bloody disgrace,” said one friend, who was given a copy of Scrabble Trickster. “I haven’t even taken the plastic off the box yet, and I’m already against it!”

But how does it really play? Well, a lot like normal Scrabble actually. The first thing you notice is that the board is instantly more colourful, with “Trick” squares across the board. Land a tile on a trick square and take a card.

The presence of those tiles alone are a little distracting, as is the little pile of cards sitting by the board (looking like they’ve been relocated from a Monopoly set).

Once it kicks in though, the fun begins. Collective gasps become commonplace when you can make a player lose a turn or steal tiles from an opponent. The nadir (or highlight, depending on which side you’re on) arrived when I took an opponent’s score from their previous turn. “You get points for doing nothing and I get points deducted for doing well!” As if Scrabble wasn’t contentious enough.

Scrabble Trickster is undeniably entertaining, but it does lack the purity of the original. Besides, I’m not sure my heart or my friendships could survive it. It’s best recommended as a lively, occasional substitute for the real thing.

But the controversy is far from over: the next edition of Scrabble Trickster will feature trick cards suggested by the public – details are on tricksterscrabble.co.uk – I shudder to think.