Written by James. Published on under the Board Games category.
(The picture above is from a previous game, not the one in which I lost that I describe in this post.)
For the last few weekends, I have been playing Scrabble. Scrabble is my favourite board game. On its face, Scrabble seems like a game of words. As I have played more games, I have found Scrabble, like all board games, requires a good strategy to win. When I started playing, the goal was to get words. Now I am starting to think turns ahead: if I play this word, will it give my opponent an advantage?
More than ever, I am aware of the double and triple word tiles. When possible, I will play in such a way that the opponent is more likely to play a word that will, on my next turn, let me play over a double or triple word tile. This does not always work, especially at the beginning of the game. It is something I keep in mind as part of my strategy. A well-placed word over a triple word tile could change the game, as it did in the game I just finished playing (which, unfortunately, did not fall in my favour.)
I have found that Qs, Zs, Xs, and Js are one's friend, so long as you use them strategically. I used to think: what am I going to do with a Z? Now I know to look out for opportunities to play "za" (short for pizza) and "zen". With these two words in mind, I at least have a chance of making use of a Z, even if my opponent was the one to first play the Z. When possible, I try to play these tiles in a place that does not allow my opponent to use them, such as in a position that is close to the intersection of two words. Ideally, I will target a triple or double letter tile (as they tend to be a bit more accessible for shorter words that involve these letters). I typically don't letters like X or Z towards the beginning of a game, instead saving them for later.
Let me give you an example of what a Z and a Q can do. My opponent played "Quiz". The "Z" landed on a triple letter. That word scored them 42, a big boost to their already significant score at the time. That's the thing about the Q, Z, X, and J letters: you have to actually get them out of the bag if you want to play with them strategically, otherwise you will be beholden to how your opponent plays.
I am now trying to look out more for prefixes and suffixes. The "s" is a good letter to have. I typically save it until I think there's a good opportunity to use it on the board to earn a high number of points (where the definition of "high" changes depending on the words in play and my score), or if I am in a bind and need to play a word, any word, to continue.
I have won my fair share of Scrabble games these last few weeks. I did not count my winning streak. Now, however, after a well-contested game, I have lost once again. My letters were not as good as I had hoped. I was looking out for a letter that never came. I accidentally played a letter I should have saved for later.
I have also learned that saving too many letters is not a good idea. I have seen my opponent save letters only to never be able to play the word for which they are saving. I like to save letters only if doing so is going to land me a good word. But even then I have to take into account the likelihood of my being able to play the word I want to play. If I am waiting for a P, for example, it might never come because there are not many Ps in the bag. So I might just move on.
My final lesson to share about Scrabble in this blog post is that, like in all games, you are going to lose, no matter how good your strategy is. You may think strategically but if the letters don't fall your way you are at a big disadvantage. You can get by with bad letters—and indeed this way you will likely learn new words—but the game becomes a lot harder.
The best way to learn about Scrabble is to play. Observe the board. See what your opponent(s) do. Try to anticipate their move. Build your own strategy. What I have shared above is some of my lessons from my past games but I am by no means an expert, just a Scrabble enthusiast. If you play Scrabble, I'd love to hear from you. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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