A Scrabble Variant For People to Point Out the Weaknesses of




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Bourbon Cowboy
Blog URL: http://bourboncowboy.blogspot.com/
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Location: New York, United States
Blog Summary: I'm a storyteller in the New York area who has appeared several times on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city, often telling stories about my upbringing as an evangelical Christian in Tucson. I also wrote humorous greeting cards for Hallmark for four years, then went back to school to get a Ph.D. in American Literature (with an emphasis on the humorous essay). Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir (title withheld for Byzantine reasons) and a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." Are you perhaps an agent? Because that would be great.
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Post: A Scrabble Variant For People to Point Out the Weaknesses of /February 01, 2008


A Scrabble Variant For People to Point Out the Weaknesses of


At last, I'm no longer wamble-cropped. So I'm heading into the city to (hopefully) meet with some friends at the AWP Conference (that's the Associated Writing Programs; it's where writers go to get university teaching jobs that probably aren't in New York City or anywhere else cool either).

However, before I go, I noticed a game idea I was going to post some time ago and I thought I'd send it up the flagpole.

It has long occurred to me that the main frustration with Scrabble is that the element of randomness accounts for about 40% of the gameplay. If your opponent gets both blanks and all the premium tiles while you draw vowel after vowel, even the best player will be hard pressed to battle to a win. But what if Scrabble were more like chess, with every option on the table, and almost no randomness at all?

So here's my game:

OPEN SCRABBLE

Each player gets fifty tiles, in the following distribution:

A-4
B-1
C-1
D-2
E-6
F-1
G-1
H-1
I-4
L-2
M-1
N-3
O-4
P-1
R-3
S-2
T-3
U-2
V-1
W-1
Y-1
blank-1

There are also a few special tiles, which in my ideal version would be a different color and double-sided:

Q/Z-1
J/X-1
G/K-1
A/I-1

Each of these can initially be played as either letter--but the moment a letter is chosen and played (using the Z on the Q/Z tile, e.g.), the opponent's unplayed tile MUST be the other letter. (So if you play the Z, your opponent is now holding the Q).

Players can play up to seven of their tiles in any turn. But for all practical purposes, they start with a rack of fifty tiles and can choose freely from any tile they still have. In every other respect, scoring and rules would be exactly the same. (At least for now.)

I'm curious to figure out how this would work, particuarly with high-level players. For any given Scrabble rack, there is almost always a single best play. But with all the tiles visible and available, I'm not sure whether there would still always be a best first play (ZANJERO!), or if it would start to become more like chess--"Oh, you're using the Zanjero Gambit?

Let me just respond with the Zugzwang Defense." Obviously, the games would be quite a bit shorter, and the scores much higher, since there'd basically be bingoes every round. But this raises all kinds of questions. Would the first player always win? Should there be some inherent limitation (no bingoes on the first play) to limit this? Would there actually be different strategies, or would one obvious stereotyped game come to dominate (like the Fool's Mate) and make the entire game not worth playing on a high level?


I welcome comments, especially from any friends of mine who are among the top-ranked players in the United States...

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