2005 July 25

Duplicate Scrabble

Topics

I think Scrabble® is a great game, but the standard rules create some frustrating play experiences. Most prevalent is that familiar feeling of agony you get when drawing your third rack in a row of KXQOVNW or EEEIIFU while your opponent happily plays RETRI_S on a Triple Word Score. Another problem plagues 3- or 4-player games; invariably, one person must cope with the leavings of the best player while the best player gets gifts from the third or fourth player. Going first is an advantage. And what’s with that double whammy at the end—losers subtract tile values, while the winner adds them?

All the Fun, None of the Luck

My favorite game, bridge, suffers from similar difficulties in standard (“rubber”) play. Fortunately, competitive bridge players long ago adopted the game to Duplicate Bridge. In this variation, all pairs in a tournament play the exact same cards—so what matters is not your raw score, but only how your score compares to everyone else’s. Nor does it matter whether you get all aces or all twos, because everyone else holds the same cards. Luck is greatly reduced, and skill tends to shine through.

I figured someone by now would have introduced Duplicate Scrabble, but some cursory Googling suggests not. So here it is. Enjoy!

Equipment

A Scrabble board, a timer, and pencils and paper for each player.

Number of Players

Any!

Rules

On each turn, a single rack of tiles is displayed to all players for 3 minutes. The players write down their final word and its exact board location. When time is up, players share their moves; the highest scoring move is played to the board, and the rack is refreshed to seven tiles.

If multiple moves reach the highest score in different places, one is chosen at random to play to the board.

Any player may challenge another player’s move. If the move is found to be illegal, the player submitting that move forfeits the turn.

Play ends when no player can make a legal move with the remaining tiles, or when no tiles remain.

Scoring

All players score the value of their moves, regardless of which move is played to the board.

Note: You may want to keep a running total of moves played to the board (which, remember, are the highest scoring moves each turn). Then it’s easy to calculate your percentage of perfection for a given game: Just divide your score by the board’s score. Telling friends you had a 78% game, for example, is more meaningful than saying you scored 288 points.