“ Brand: Mattel / Players: 2-4 / Ages: 10+ „
Scrabble Trickster by Mattel
I would bet a considerable sum of money that the vast majority of people reading this review have at least heard of that time-honoured family favourite that is a game of Scrabble. Most of us will have played it at some point and have our own stories to tell of family fall-outs, unscrupulous tactics and dodgy wordplay. And then there is the occasional harmonious game where everyone gets along.
Mattel clearly decided that board games were not venomous enough and thus have presented us with a new form of Scrabble called Trickster. Scrabble Trickster is very similar to regular Scrabble and the basic rules and points scoring systems remain in place. You still have 100 letter tiles all with their classic points value and the aim is of course to outscore your opponents when the letters run out. I will not give a run-down of the rules of Scrabble because I think for most people these are already well-known and can easily be found online if not.
I will however point out the differences between regular Scrabble and Scrabble Trickster.
The board layout is very similar to the classic board with its 15 x 15 squared grid and usual double and triple letter/word squares. The crucial difference here is the addition of a new square - the Trick Square! If you make a word that runs through one or more of these trick squares then you get to pick up a 'trick card' from the pile. These trick cards can then be played throughout the game to help you amass your overall points total. Each trick card has an action on it which you keep secret from your opponents and can play (usually) at the start of your next go.
I will not spoil the surprise by detailing each trick card as I think the first few games are very fun when you don't know the details of the tricks. As a taster though I will give you a few examples - 'Steal a tile from your opponent's rack', 'Turn one of your tiles face down and use it as a blank' and 'Steal your opponent's last score'. These give you an idea of the type of underhand actions that the trick cards allow you to make legally. The latter example is also a sure-fire way to make a new worst enemy and the general feeling towards the player playing any trick card is "You jammy so-and-so" but not necessarily as polite! Pretty much every time-treasured rule of Scrabble can be broken with the use of these trick cards.
There are 22 trick cards in total and you can only pick them up when you play a word that runs over a trick square. If you make a word that covers three previously unused trick squares then you can pick up three trick cards. You do not have to use every single card you pick up but you can only hold a maximum of three at any one time.
The rules are not exhaustive regarding this and we have had to make our own rules up regarding the disposal of trick cards to pick new ones up. We have it so that you can only discard one trick card in a game so if you have three tricks you do not want to use and have already discarded one then tough. This adds to the fun of the game by stopping someone running through all the trick cards to find the best ones whilst other players do not get a look in.
To keep your trick cards the letter racks of classic Scrabble have had a revamp. They now have a thin slit across the top of the rack for you to slot your cards in. This way you can see which cards you have without your opponents seeing them.
The main downside to the trick cards (despite the squabbling) is the complication it can cause when adding up points. It is not unusual for someone in our house to score a total of 150+ points using a combination of trick cards. After the collective sigh from the group has subsided, the person unfortunately appointed chief scorer has to begin the laborious task of adding up each double letter, triple word and trick card computation. This slows the game down a bit and can be tricky at times.
That aside, the addition of trick cards is a brilliant idea in my opinion. It adds a great deal of fun to the game and is a refreshing revival for the classic game. Since buying Scrabble Trickster we have rarely played Classic Scrabble and usually always opt to play with its younger cooler brother. With three of us, games can last around 40-60 minutes which is a little longer than we find with the classic version. This is because everyone seems to take longer to take their goes as they mentally tot up all the various points scoring scenarios regarding their trick cards and deliberate risking a treasured friendship by playing a devilishly mean trick card.
On the whole though, we find Scrabble trickster is much more fun than the classic version and every game turns out differently depending on who gets which trick cards. The potential for high scores escalates and the thrill of scoring 200 points in a single turn is certainly exciting even if does not endear you to your opponents. This means that a game is never quite over until the last tile is played no matter how big a lead someone may have.
As with classic Scrabble, Trickster can be played with 2-4 players but you can include more people if some players play together in a team. I have played with five players before where two people combined to make a team. It is worth pointing out, for my own amusement, that double the brain power did not work on this occasion and they still came in a resounding last place.
This leads me onto a worthy advantage of Scrabble Trickster. Whereas luck will always play a role in the outcome of a game, Trickster significantly levels the playing field. Having the best vocabulary, although definitely an advantage, no longer means you are a shoo in for victory on most occasions. Average players can haul back the advantage by playing trick cards and dishing out their share of treachery and wicked behaviour. As a result, everyone is in with a shout of finishing on top due to the added luck element of the trick cards. This makes Scrabble much more appealing for some and the suggestion of a game is not met with as many groans as its classic version attracts.
Another plus point of Scrabble Trickster is that it becomes a much more personal and involved game than it ever used to be. We would regularly cruise through games of the classic kind with such monotony and quietude that the dialogue exchanged could be written on a postage stamp. With Trickster, there is a greater sense of energy around the game and everyone is glued to the board whilst plotting their menace (or revenge!) and trying desperately to become victorious. It becomes less about the letters and more about the person sat opposite. I still have to exact my vengeance on the person who dared to cross my path on the last outing resulting in me falling short of victory by an agonising three points!
Of course, how personal you decide to take the game depends entirely on your disposition and those you choose to play with. You can of course laugh it off when someone steals your precious points haul or snatches the last trick card remaining in the pile but then where is the fun in that? In my mind, and the minds of my enemies...I mean fellow players, it is all about dishing out as much villainy and wickedness as you dare get away with!
So, would I recommend Scrabble Trickster? The answer is an unreserved yes! If you like Scrabble but want something with a little more bite then this game is a must buy. If you do not like the sound of the traditional Scrabble game being altered so much then this may not be for you. However, I think Trickster makes Scrabble much more fun and definitely much more competitive. The trick cards level the playing field and every game is an event in itself. Just remember one thing - Revenge is a dish best served cold!
In the box:
Scrabble Trickster Game Board
100 letter tiles
22 trick cards
Red cotton drawstring letter bag
4 x Black letter racks
Card showing all possible 2-letter words
Scrabble Trickster is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £13.07 (with free postage) and can also be found in all good games stores.
Thanks for reading :)
Good old Scrabble - a fun family game best enjoyed by those with a predilection for words. For those unfamiliar with it, Scrabble has been around in its purest form since 1948 and takes place on a board consisting of 15 x 15 squares. Basically, each player, from 2 up to 4, each pick out 7 tiles from an initial choice of 100 lettered tiles (each letter with differing number of occurrences and point values) and has to put down words onto the board to begin accumulating points. The trickier letters such as Z are worth up to 10 points whereas those boring day to day letters that "jolly well come up in close enough to every sentence uttered" such as A (well okay, maybe not in that sentence) are worth 1 point, and there are earmarked squares on the board which will increase the number of points you get for your tiles by doubling or tripling individual letters or the full words. The winner is the person with the most number of points at the end after all 100 tiles have been selected and somebody gets all their remaining tiles down or no more moves are possible.
There is a little bit of luck to be had with Scrabble, for example, if you constantly pull out all the 1 point valued tiles or have multiple rounds in a row being subjected to all vowels or all consonants you will struggle to score highly no matter how skilled you are. But, given the law of averages, the best player, i.e. the person with the best vocabulary and best strategies will more often than not come out on top. Now, I'm not going to lie to you. I consider myself to be a very good player of Scrabble. I won't go as far as to say I could ever reach competition standard, but my friends and family do genuinely quake at my Scrabble playing prowess (don't worry, I am seeking help for this odd form of gigantism seemingly to only affect my noggin, big headedness some may call it). So, when at Christmas my sister proudly whipped out a new version of Scrabble for my family to all sit down and bond over I thought "how awesome, yet another game with which to assert my supreme superiority over my loved ones"...how wrong my gigantism riddled head could be...
Well, at first glance Scrabble Trickster doesn't seem to differ all that much from Scrabble Original. The board is laid out exactly the same with the exception of a lattice work of additional "trick" squares where the same old rules apply whereby players are allowed to (ignoring the first lay) only lay tiles combined with ones already placed on the board in a forward horizontal / vertical direction, only select words from a standard English dictionary apart from proper nouns, abbreviations, prefixes / suffixes, words containing apostrophes and hyphens and are not allowed to pull the "look behind you, a three headed monkey!" trick to distract the other players thus obtaining a sneaky peak at their tiles. So, wherein lies the difference?
Well, in this new version there is but one addition and this is the chance to pick up trick cards if your word covers these new "trick" squares. These trick cards have the ability to completely transform a game of Scrabble. Now, not only do you have to be alert to the usual situations whereby, for example, you must avoid stupidly leaving triple letter squares available to the next player where high valued tiles can be placed for ludicrous point returns, but you must also be aware that at any moment you could be stabbed viciously in the back.
I won't go through all the tricks as that would certainly take the mystery out of the game, but to give you a taste of the kind of diabolical back stabbing you could be subjected to (but on the flip side, that you can also subject your opponents to), the sort of tricks include such things as making opponents lose their next turn, stealing your opponent's last score, being allowed to play a proper noun or even play your word backwards, view your opponent's rack (by which I obviously mean their tiles and certainly nothing untoward), cancel your opponent's last trick played, place a word down that doesn't have to be attached to any tiles already on the board and many, many others.
So, how did the leading Scrabble player in the Jewell household fare with this tricky new element?
For the purposes of this review I shall refer to myself as "Player: Smug" and my opponents as "Player: Blue Moon Winner" and "Player: Always Comes in Last". So, in this example game, things began in a typical fashion with "Player: Smug" taking an expectedly healthy lead and "Player: Always Comes in Last" lagging behind with "Player: Blue Moon Winner" positioned in the middle. "Player: Smug" makes what they believe is a magnificent move by placing all 7 tiles down on a double word to get a bonus 50 points and a grand total of 96 points. "Player: Always Comes in Last" then proceeds to place their trick card down on the next go to steal all those 96 points before taking their own go and jumping up into first place. What the....? Well, at this point the gloves come off and the game turns dirty with trick cards flying left right and centre with flagrant and unashamed treachery that politicians in the House of Commons would be proud of. And, in an unprecedented turn of events the final winner was "Player: Blue Moon Winner" with "Player: Always Comes in Last" coming in a valiant second. No need to mention who was in last place. But on a completely unrelated side note my gigantism is cured.
Scrabble Trickster showcases a brilliant new twist to the original game by adding this dirty and devious side that evens things up so people of lesser abilities can be placed on a much more equal footing which ultimately makes for closer games. I still believe that the player with the higher ability will come out on top more often than not, but I suspect their win/lose ratio will be a lot closer with this format of the game. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is play an amazingly high scoring word only for your points to be stolen in a heartbeat. Lawful cheating is such delicious fun and the shameless tricks you can play on your opponents can lead to many cries of anguished disbelief, but definite entertainment for the other players. Although, it's fair to say this is probably not an ideal game for sore losers. The great thing about this new version is that even more thought needs to go into strategising due to an increased number of pitfalls which really adds a whole new dimension to the game and certainly spices things up nicely.
Highly recommended for fans of Scrabble in general and anyone who enjoys plotting the downfall of others.