Monday, August 5, 2013

Scrabble: the gathering



I played Magic: The Gathering a few times a while ago, but I never really got into it. I like games and I quite like most of the idea of this one, but there’s one feature that puts me off. It’s not the wizards and magic element; I don’t care about that one way or the other. It’s the building your own deck element. For those of you who don’t know, Magic is a card-based game, where each player uses their own personal deck of cards. You don’t use a standard deck; you put together a deck with good cards in it, to give yourself an advantage. A deck can be good by containing cards which are good in themselves, and by having a deck whose cards work well together. This leads to the Magic experience having two parts: playing the game, and buying and trading cards to produce a kick-ass deck. The second part can get quite expensive if you take it seriously, although I don’t see that this in itself should put you off when you compare it with other leisure activities like playing golf, going to the football or drinking in a pub.

Anyway, when I play a game I want it to be fair, either by being roughly symmetrical (like chess) or by having a well-organized handicapping system (like golf). And I suppose that for me the collecting part of the Magic hobby is not only unappealing in itself, but also spoils the playing part. I’d prefer it if the cards were dealt randomly from a communal deck. People could still collect fancy cards to add new elements to the game, although since fancy cards wouldn’t give their owner an advantage people wouldn’t want them so badly and the Wizards of the Coast wouldn’t make so much money. So it won’t happen. Oh well.

When I was thinking about why I don’t like Magic, I thought of how Scrabble could be modified in a similar way, and that I wouldn’t like that either. The corresponding modification to Scrabble would be for each player to have their own customized bag of tiles, instead of both drawing from a standard communal one. There would have to be some restrictions on what a bag could contain to stop people just having a bag full of blanks and laying down bingo after bingo, although thinking about it this would probably lose to a bag with mostly blanks and the odd high-scoring letter, so perhaps the unrestricted version would have some interest. But this would be feasible, and I understand there are restrictions on Magic decks too. Corresponding to the fancy new cards in Magic, you could have fancy new tiles, like a tile that could be any vowel (maybe scoring ½), or a tile which turned its square into a double word score, or increased the values of adjoining tiles. There are all kinds of possibilities.

Now, I’ve already said that I wouldn’t welcome this modification to Scrabble myself, but the kind of people who like Magic might, and I wouldn’t mind them sending some of their money my way. I could call it Words with Enemies. I doubt the makers of Words with Friends would have the front to sue me for making a minor modification to their idea and marketing it as my own. That would be ridiculous.

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