Tahlequah Daily Press


August 16, 2012

What’s in a word? Players know

TAHLEQUAH — Traditionally, board games are played in real time under tangible conditions – like sitting in chairs around a kitchen table, awaiting the chance to spell a high-point word or roll the dice.

A chair or table may still be part of the turf, but board games like Scrabble have taken on a new format, with online versions or smartphone applications that let players be part of an ongoing game 24 hours a day, anywhere on the planet.  

It’s National Scrabble Week, and the National Scrabble Association hosted its National Scrabble Championship this week in Orlando. The tourney used the traditional across-the-table format, pitting 350 wordsmiths in face-to-face competitions at the Royal Pacific Resort. Malaysian Nigel Richards earned his fourth title and third consecutive championship Wednesday as he claimed the 2012 Scrabble crown.

Players competing in the international competition qualified for the NSC event by playing in an officially-sanctioned Scrabble event to earn an official tournament rating as a member of the North American Scrabble Players Association.

Pick-up game players looking to sit around the tiny 15-square by 15-square board displayed on their smartphone screens don’t have to qualify to play an online game, much less verify if they’re getting help with answers as they await the cellular signal that denotes their next turn.

It’s important to plan ahead when playing Scrabble, said Cherokee Lowe, who schedules a game night with her children to maintain a healthy connection with family.

“When I’m playing the actual board game, I’ll try to plan ahead where I’m going to put a word. I don’t necessarily do that online. I just wait until it’s my turn and play,” she said. “You’re not just waiting on the other person to take their turn and can be doing something else until it’s your turn. I’m sure you do better when you’re planning, though.”

How they play it

In the original board game, two or more players sit around the square playing board and try to use seven tiles marked with letters and point values to form words horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally. Each player draws a letter tile to determine the turn order, which goes in a clockwise direction, with the player choosing the letter closest to “A” going first. This process is repeated until each player’s turn is designated.

Players then select seven letter tiles using the designed turn order. The first player begins play by beginning his or her word on the center square, marked by a star, which is also a double-word score opportunity. After each turn, the person who just played or spelled a word on the board must draw as many letters played or used in the spelling of the word. This process is repeated until the letter tiles in the bag have all been used.

In crossword fashion, players can use letters of words already on the board as part of their words. The score is based on point values noted on each letter tile used to make a word. The Internet version is similar in the turn-taking process and how points are scored, but the “anywhere, anytime” method of completing the game could take longer than the duration of a family-hosted game night.

“I know I play with some people who do obviously cheat,” said Lowe. “I play with a 14-year-old who plays bigger words than I do. You can tell because you’ll have like 72 points and they’ll have 350. And you’re like, um, yeah. For some people, I think it’s more important to win. For me, I just want to play. I don’t care if I win; I just want something to do to take my mind off of other things.”

Like Lowe, Julie Poor enjoys playing board games with family, and said she’s lost five straight Scrabble games to her husband. The biggest difference in playing the board game version of Scrabble versus the online version has to do with patience, said Poor.

“I think it’s the convenience, and the time factor thing,” she said. “We have great fun [on our game night]. You’ll see a different side of our family because we’re so relaxed. When you play it on the phone, you’re playing a game with someone, but it’s very individualized. Like my daughter couldn’t say, ‘Hey, what are you playing?’ and sit down to play. The whole point of family night is to be together.”

What they’re saying

In responding to the Daily Press’ Facebook post on the classic vocabulary game, Kip Sue said her family enjoys the board game version and uses it as a learning tool.

“We allow the kids to use a dictionary so they can learn how to spell, and tell us what the word means,” she said. “No score at all. That’s what makes it fun for all of us.”

David Simons has played Scrabble, Words with Friends and other Internet word games, and said the biggest deterrent for playing an online version is the “cheat” applications.


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