Why Play Scrabble? 5 Reasons to Love the Game
This is the dawning of the Age of Apps. Actually, it’s mid-morning, at least. So what in the name of Saint Jobs is the point of a board game like Scrabble? Why not play Words With Friends, or Word Cookies, or Wordscapes, or Word Anything Designed To Be On Your Phone? Really, now. Did you know the first board games are 5,000 years old? Are we not, as a culture, a little past that?
No. No, we aren’t. Just to start with, one of those first games was backgammon. That’s a 5,000-year-old game you could pick up right now at Amazon or Walmart, and when you sat down with your friends to play, they’d probably know the rules. Some things just don’t get old. Scrabble, which has passed its 80th birthday, is one of those things. Why play Scrabble? We have five reasons to love the game on a board or a screen.
Reasons to Break Out the Board
People have been bringing out an oddly carved board and having fun with it since they had the tools to oddly carve a board. There’s something special about the experience of an actual, physical board game. In fact, three things.
Seeing eye to eye
At the risk of a copyright strike from Captain Obvious, it’s important to socialize face to face. In a board game, that goes beyond competition (as described below) in two important ways. First, part of the experience of playing an actual person at an actual board game has nothing to do with the actual gameplay. It’s seeing your opponent in the flesh (as it were), reading their body language, learning their tells - strategizing. That doesn’t happen the same way through a screen.
Party in a box
“But wait,” our clever readers cry out. “You said there were two important ways Scrabble is social in a way apps aren’t! Where’s the other one?”
Good eye, y’all. This is the other one, and it’s dead simple: it’s boring to watch somebody futz with their phone. It’s not boring to hang out in a room where a board game is being played. Conversation happens. Advice is given. Tangents are taken. Jokes are told. Snacks often occur. The word is “kibitzing” and sometimes it’s more fun than playing the game.
Part of the pleasure of any kind of play is just that: pleasure. Ask any sports fan: the sound and feel of a ball on a bat, or through a net, or off a tee just right, is part of the joy. Apps do their best, and haptics have come a long way, but just like there’s no video game that quite feels like a basketball on asphalt, there’s no app that quite replicates the sound of a tile bag rattling, or the feel of a letter snapping into place just right on a great play. Playing Scrabble, in its purest wood-and-cardboard form, just feels good.
Reasons to Get Digital
Even if you’re all about that app life, there are plenty of reasons to play Scrabble instead of, or alongside, its many competitors, imitators and proud descendants.
One of the arguments in favor of Words With Friends and other digital word games is that they often include a mechanic that allows you to compare point values and determine the legality of plays before you make them. That’s a good thing. It encourages improvisation and lateral thinking, both of which are valuable skills.
The thing is, so is actually knowing stuff, which Scrabble requires. The Scrabble app doesn’t provide a friendly robot that lets you lay down improvised plays until you find one that’s a unit of currency in Papua New Guinea (“toea,” a great word to use up some vowels). You still get a friendly robot, but the Scrabble app’s robot chimes in after you play, telling you what your highest-scoring possible play was.
Other word game apps help you play. The Scrabble app makes you better. Scrabble is as much a test of memory as it is of vocabulary, and a good memory and vocabulary is important in word games. Also, life. To get a jumpstart on that, check out our lists of words with lots of vowels or consonants, or for extra mind-blown goodness, words with Q but no U.
Scrabble is highly competitive. How often can you trounce your friends and relatives in the board game? (Or rather, have fun with and learn from people you care about while they have fun with and learn from you.) Once you’re done with them you can meet and decimate people from all over the world in the digital version — improving your skills, vocabulary and confidence all at the same time.
The Original and the Best
Scrabble, board and digital alike, has always had an edge on its imitators: it was built, all those years ago, to accommodate four players. It’s sold in 29 languages in 121 countries. It’s almost certainly the most popular word game in the world. No Word Radar, no coins, no leveling up or farming XP, not even in the app. Anyone can pick up the Scrabble app and play.
Scrabble is the OG word game for a reason. It’s the inspiration for countless games that have followed because it’s a darn near perfect piece of design. Blow the dust off the box or download yourself a digital piece soon.
Matt Salter has been a professional writer for over 10 years. He is a gaming and technology expert, and world-class word nerd.