Critical Play

Is this game balanced?

Critical Play Background

Name of game: Scrabble

Creator: Designed by Alfred Mosher Butts, Published by James Brunot

Platform: this is a board game, so it has no specific platform but it is manufactured by Mattel and Hasbro.

Target Audience: Families, word-game enthusiasts, players ages 8+

Type of fun: This game is mostly social fun, as it is multiplayer and the game can get quite heated!

Important Formal Elements of the game:

  •  PLAYERS: 2-4 players, dynamic is player vs player!
  • Rules & Procedures:
    • Players draw a certain number of letters from a pouch (each letter has a different value) and then they place them on a boar to make words.
    • Players can make words that are horizontal or vertical, diagonal words are not allowed.
    • There is an official “Scrabble Dictionary” to consult if there is confusion over whether a word can be played or not.
    • New words may be formed by: adding one or more letters to a word or letters already on the board, or placing a word at right angles to a word already on the board.
    • Scoring: for each turn, record the sum of the letter values in each word formed/modified, plus the additional points obtained from placing letters on Premium Squares.

A discussion of Balance

The four types of balance from this Article 

  1. In single-player games, we use “balance” to describe whether the challenge level is appropriate to the audience;
  2. In multi-player games where there is asymmetry (that is, where players do not start with exactly equal positions and resources), we use “balance” to describe whether one starting position is easier to win with than another.
  3. Within a game, if there are multiple strategies or paths to victory that can be followed within the game, we use “balance” to describe whether following one strategy is better or worse than following another.
  4. Within a system that has several similar game objects (such as cards in a trading-card game, weapons in a role-playing game, and so on), we use “balance” to describe the objects themselves, specifically whether different objects have the same cost/benefit ratio.

In my opinion, Scrabble is a very well-balanced game. The game is meant for players of all skill levels but without some of its components, it would give some players a direct advantage. Though Scrabble is not a single player game, it is definitely well matched to its audience. There is no asymmetry, in that it does not advantage one person due to resources or position. Everyone starts with the same number of letters, even though they are different the randomness accounts for this disparity. There are multiple strategies, but none is really all that much better than the others. Players might aim to make longer words with more complicated letters or maybe make easier words that get multiplied by the Premium Squares! Both strategies could result in a win.  In terms of the objects, Scrabble tiles fall most neatly into the category of transitive, instead of intertransitive or fruity. Tiles with high frequency use letters are worth less points, tiles with low frequency use letters are worth more points: there is a clear cost curve at work here.

Suggestions for Improvement

Scrabble honestly is a great game, I think that the only balance improvement could be helping young ones to supplement their lack of word knowledge with some kind of word bank.

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