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Scrabble (Classic Game)

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Like the Traditional Game Scrabble, but for Amiga

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      13.10.2005 18:03
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      The first definitive video game adaptation of Spear Games' 'Scrabble'

      Even in the glitzy space-age twenty-first century we inhabit, Scrabble remains one of the most popular and stimulating board games for people of all ages. Young children can play as an aid to their learning and the very elderly can use it to keep themselves on the ball, so it was inevitable and highly satisfying when Supervision released the first truly playable video game adaptation for Sega’s MegaDrive console and Amiga home computers in 1994.


      ADAPTATION & IMPROVISATION


      Converting a board game to a 16-bit console environment isn’t as easy as you might think; home video games are commonly made for one player, and the in-game dictionary is (mostly) responsible for everything that can be played. As such, there had to be compromises: while two human players can play each other in turn, each shielding their eyes when it isn’t their turn, the single player can choose opponents from a veritable smorgasbord of intellect.

      The Amiga’s keyboard is not used to select your letters: these are instead given to you automatically after a turn and their use can be selected with the joystick or joypad, depending on the game format you use. The player’s actions are simplified to a table of diagrams below their letters, including ‘swap rack,’ ‘racks visible’ and ‘pass.’ There are nine playable characters, this makes no difference to the player in control as the character’s intellect is not carried across to either enhance your own or render you seriously stupid, but they are essentially presented in order of difficulty as opponents.

      This leads to some of the petty problems with the game: you can’t enter your own name, and it may be difficult to find a character who you feel you resemble. Unless of course you work for Hardcastle & Son’s Carnival of Freaks in which case it’ll be like looking in the mirror. Not that you probably own a mirror, you poor deformed humanoid.


      MAKING & BREAKING RULES


      Although many people have their own personal rules for the game, occasionally veering wide of the original guidelines, the rules for this game are not for compromise. You can’t have proper nouns, you can’t add an ‘N’ to make up a nonsense verb based on an obscure headword that you only imagine exists so you can get the triple word score, and you can’t look at the other player’s letters. No wait, I mean, you can look at the other player’s letters. At any time you want. As well as this rather dodgy optional feature, the player can select to receive a ‘hint’ on their turn. This doesn’t always work, but will occasionally result in a feeble word of around 9 points; useful if you’re really stuck, as the in-game dictionary contains some very bizarre words I’ve never encountered before or since.

      Owen Thomas is credited under ‘Dictionary’ and he did a great job, although I’m still not sure whether this involved him working day and night typing each entry from a dictionary or simply uploading one off whatever passed for the internet in 1994. I believe it was still the internet, but only clever people had access and there was far less pornography. In cases where a word is placed by the human player that is not recognised, the suited referee raises an eyebrow and asks whether or not this is a real word.

      This is the silliest part of the game: although useful in checking whether your badly remembered noun was real or just from a dream after all, this basically means that you can put down ‘qxzyjvb’ as your first move and win as many cheating points as you want. But you’re only cheating yourself. Tempted though, aren’t you? You make me sick.


      FEATURES


      The game’s memory is limited, the cartridge or floppy disk already full of the English Dictionary, and as such there is no save option. Anyone fancying a day-long tournament against other players or the computer will find their best scores for individual words and overall games maintained in a list, as long as the console isn’t switched off or reset, and you can even try and take on the whole cast of characters if you’re man or woman enough.

      I was very impressed to see the language select option at the beginning. As well as being able to play extended games in British English, the cartridge/disk also features a full version in French, German and Spanish! This is truly impressive, as is the faithfulness to the original board game with the options to change tiles, pass a turn and check your own rack when the opponent is playing.


      VERDICT


      An excellent, almost flawless conversion of the classic board game to video game format, and perhaps the best that could ever have been achieved. Although the MegaDrive and Amiga were both declining in popularity at around this point, usurped by the more powerful PlayStation generation of consoles and Windows a year or so later, Supervision’s ‘Scrabble’ surely set the mould for the best selling hand-held GameBoy and GameBoy Colour versions and presented an easy way for people to waste their time and lives with the Sega joypad in hand.

      Supervisions’ Scrabble is also an interesting exercise in personal tolerance and frustration. Some of those computer players are really, really difficult. They put down some very good words. The word ‘qxzyjvbk’ isn’t in the Dictionary, but as far as the Spock-eyebrowed referee knows it could be a common term in the futuristic 2005, perhaps the name of our Jeston-style flying cars we all have. You can cheat at this game if you want to, but you’re only cheating yourself.

      You’re only cheating yourself.

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