Scrabble Rush

22 04 2014
Photo (c) Laura Hall

Photo (c) Laura Hall

I discovered quite by accident, that a game I designed when I worked at Hasbro, had been produced.

It has been slung under the ‘Words with Friends’ partnership and seems to have only been released in Canada.
(note the product description appears to be for a toy truck rather than any kind of game)
erronous product description
Nonetheless, I was delighted to find out that one of the games I designed there actually made it out into the world.

So I thought I’d share the design process as best as I can remember it.

March 2011-ish Ross of Gambling Lambs fame, was staying with us for Game Camp and we played a lot of games including Bananagrams.
Bananagrams is a great game, but I always feel slightly dissatisfied at the conclusion. The ‘winner’ is the last person to take a tile from the communal pile, but they don’t have to have been the person that did the most work in the game. Another oddity of the game, is that it feels communal but it’s really just several single player games happening at the same time. Unless you take pains to review and talk through everyone’s board at the end of the game, the words you are proud of creating go ignored.

Ross and I tried modding the game to make it actually communal by building a single massive board. This co-op version was a lot slower paced as we deliberated our words, and felt more like solving an abstract jigsaw puzzle.

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Co-op Bananagrams

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At some point I was drafted onto the Scrabble brand team to make a version that was more appealing to teens. A perfect opportunity to ‘fix’ the niggling faults I found with Bananagrams.

My department manager was Katharine Chapman, who should be famous for designing Monopoly Deal A CARD GAME THAT MAKES MONOPOLY ACTUALLY FUN, but she isn’t, because big companies have a policy of obscuring their designers.

We worked together to bring this idea to life, I forget who did what exactly, but given that Katharine’s superpower was making things more fun, I suspect it was her idea to make the game competitive instead of co-op.

The problem that I hypothesised Bananagrams hit against, was that they legally could not have numbers on their tiles. Being able to score the words made would take away the arbitrariness of who wins the game.
Scrabble being the patent holder for numbered tiles are allowed and so we could try out this win state.

The initial test game that we pitched to the marketing departments was a three player game. The idea being that additional coloured tile sets could be added to the range to make it for more and more players. The added bonus of this being – that any Scrabble tile inclined Etsy-makers would jump at the chance to add new colours to their crafting palettes.

We shot a teaser video of myself, Katharine and Victoria the head of copywriting, playing off against each other making the gameplay look as raucous and fast-paced as we could.
(internal presentations to upper management were the most lavish I’ve ever come across, for the presentation Katharine was flown out from London to Providence, Rhode Island with mock-up models, hand-outs, videos, promotional T-shirts and collectible stickers. All to try and save one concept from failing the internal review)

But fail it did, and the idea got shelved; stored in the database affectionately known as the graveyard.
In the following months, upper management restructured and the boardgame design studio got drastically downsized, my department was cut and I had to leave the simultaneously best and worst job I’ve ever had.

Whoever dug the game up from the graveyard added some extra rules which are optional. One being that you can sacrifice a tile and shove it under a word you have made to make it a double word score and two to make a triple word score. I’m not such a fan of this rule, so I’m glad it’s optional.

March 2014, The retail version of the game finally came in the post and I forced friends and family to play it.

The first thing of note is that it has a really nice carry case and the tiles are really satisfying to touch. Having watched it played within various sized groups I can say that it is far more fun to play in teams than single player head to head.

Each team picks a colour and turns all their tiles upside down and draws nine to make up their hand. As they spend their tiles they constantly draw up to nine. The game stops when one team uses up all their pool of tiles. Whoever has the highest score wins (coolest word wins bragging points).
You can move your own tiles around in the grid as much as you like so long as you don’t leave any words as fragments or cut any words off from the grid.

Whichever team can come up with the longest word from their hand, gets to start the grid off. Thats the end of turn orders, everything else is now a free-for all scramble to be as quick as possible.

And then there’s the fun of making up silly phrases and quotes out of the tiles after the game’s over.


Best part is the one one and only customer review on Amazon. Oh Dear.




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