Scrabble

Scrabble may be universally loved, but it hasn’t really offered anything new to spice up crossword formula since the game debuted in 1938. That’s more than 70 years with nary a tweak to the rule book. Previous releases like 2006’s Scrabble Deluxe have done a tremendous job of perfecting Scrabble’s board game to video game transition, so what’s left to tackle? If you’re behind the recently release Scrabble Plus, the answer is “a lot.”

Whereas previous releases like Scrabble Deluxe have been limited to classic and tournament play, Scrabble Plus strives to add a certain level of wackiness and fun to the Scrabble formula. In addition to the classic mode that we’ve all come to know and love, Scrabble Plus has added in three new game modes; Scrabble Golf, Scrabble Battle and Scrabble Wizard. Each of these modes maintains the standard Scrabble rules at their core but adds new goals and challenges to the familiar crossword gameplay.

Scrabble Golf places a small putting green randomly on the board. You’ll place words as you would in a traditional game of Scrabble, but now you’ll have the added goal of working your way towards the green with the words you’ve created. Spelling a word on that green under par will sink that putt earning you bonus points and putting your opponent at a major disadvantage. Once sunk a new green will appear somewhere else on the board for you and your competitor to work towards.

Scrabble Battle has similarities to Scrabble Golf, but the sadistic addition of offensive power-ups ensures that Battle is a wildly different experience. The object of the game is to capture as many territories on the board as possible. These territories take the shape of castles that randomly appear much like the greens in Scrabble Golf. The big difference here is that you’ll be working on your own separate board, and can spend the points you’ve earned on any number of treacherous acts like flooding your opponents board with tiles that block their path or bombing a 3×3 area of their board to remove already played letters. The best of these has to be “Slide,” a move that increases the size of your board at the cost of your opponents. Shrinking their playfield gives them very little room to maneuver and can quickly turn the tide in Battle. It’s a great mechanic in multiplayer games that’s very underused. I’ve only seen it one other time in the puzzle game Lumines Live, so it was definitely a refreshing experience to see it again here.

While Golf and Battle will test the players ability to spell their way in the right direction, Scrabble Wizard offers a more cerebral challenge. Three game modes are offered in Wizard, each of which will force you to put your thinking cap on and work your way through some scattergorical challenges. Categories gameplay will challenge you to build words that fit into certain paramaters, like “animals,” or “science.” Quizzical will put a bunch of extra Q’s, U’s and Z’s into your tile bag to really get your wordsmithery working. But the most interesting addition in Wizard has to be Clabbers. An unofficial rule set often embraced by competitive Scrabble players, Clabbers lets you play not words, but anagrams of words. So if I wanted to play the word MOAT, I could place it on the board as ATMO. Not only does it increase the ease of building quality words, but it gets you thinking about words in a way you traditionally wouldn’t.

These new modes, while a breath of fresh air, did come at a cost. Scrabble veterans who loved the proper tournament style play found in Scrabble Deluxe won’t find a similar mode in Scrabble Plus. For the serious Scrabble fanatic this is a huge subtraction from an otherwise excellent release. So much of what made Scrabble Deluxe a quality game, from the word hints system to the multiple AI opponents of varying difficulty, was kept completely intact. Yet this, one of the most basic of play modes, was completely gutted from the release of Scrabble Plus.

And while the release does offer up said fantastic AI, it’s not without its flaws. On the easier settings the computer is far too apt to simply pass their turn or exchange their tiles. And let’s be honest; a game like Scrabble is always best when played against live opponents. While you can do so locally, Scrabble Plus doesn’t allow you to take the experience online. And even when played locally or against the AI, you’re limited to one opponent. A strange situation from a game that traditionally supports up to 4 players. Considering other recent Scrabble releases like the iPhone and Facebook version not only support online multiplayer but cross-platform compatibility, the lack of even the most basic online component here is a real handicap to this release.

As long as you don’t mind playing against the AI or a friend in the room, Scrabble Plus offers up a terrific experience all around. The introduction of fresh gameplay experiences built on a classic game we all know and love makes this a welcome addition to the Scrabble franchise. Not being able to take these new experiences online is a definite let down and the lack of tournament play is going to be a turn off for some hardcore Scrabble players. If that’s the case for you, Scrabble Plus will still make a welcome addition to your games library — just make sure to turn to Facebook Scrabble or Scrabble Deluxe when you’re looking to truly embrace that classic experience.