“ Online scrabble. „
I found the Pixie Pit Scrabble by searching through Google in an attempt to find a site where real scrabble is played, as opposed to the Americanised version called Yahoo Literati. I got a little skeptical about the value of winning on a site like the Yahoo one, since many games are not won on skill with words, but on knowing which ridiculous words work. It's not the same thing.
I wanted to play a game of skill, rather than a game of knowing words that mean nothing. When I approached the Pixie Pit, I went to the area which this review concentrates on, since for Scrabble players all over the world, what it offers is games on an ongoing basis, not face to face or time consuming like Yahoo games, but games that are played on a board which is located by links in email.
For those who are not familiar with the boardgame, Scrabble is a game where players take at random 7 letter tiles, each having a value dependent upon the difficulty level of the particular letter taken. The idea is to place the first word across the centre of the board. Thereafter, players take turn making words that fit with the words already placed on the board, and reading correctly both horizontally and vertically. As pieces are used and at the end of each turn, players take more letters (up to the allotted 7 letters (which includes several blank tiles which can be used as any chosen letter). Words can be challenged by other players, and if proven incorrect, the player loses the score for the word that was not correct. Players also have the opportunity to switch letters and miss a go. The art of playing scrabble not only depends upon the ability to make words, but on the placement of the words upon the board where certain squares offer double and triple scores either for the word itself or the letters placed.
The site was conceived by a man wishing to provide entertainment for his grandchildren in 1998. What he found though was that the demand to play real scrabble was so great that he had to devote a huge portion of his site to it. There are over 25,000 games being played at any one time, within more than 200 games rooms, and for an individual site manager to manage something like this is astounding, and he does it very well, answering emails from individuals like me that want to know more within a short space of time, and always in a polite fashion. The site feels like it has old fashioned values. It's not slick and streamline, but displays the rooms in a simple form, each room having its own name, and approached by clicking on the door knob that simply depicts each room, their names appealing to all ages.
I think the owner must have realised from the response he was getting from the public that people wanted answers to questions, and he has devised an area which covers most of the common questions asked, which is accessible via the front page. It tells about Firewall problems that users may encounter, problems that people may have like the fact that subscriptions are registered to one email address, and what to do if you change that address. It's all straightforward. They even have an explanatory section relating to use of Apple Mac. Every possible question on gameplay is listed and answered, and I found this to be a very informative area. The site requires Java Scripting to be enabled, and the smaller tile layout is in screen resolution of 800 x 600.
To join the site, you are expected to make a yearly payment of 10.00 dollars (about 6.00 GBP), which covers administration. I think this a reasonable price to pay for the service that you get. Payment is made via Paypal and acknowledged straight away.
Once you are a member, the gaming part is what it is all about. I wanted to find people to play, and looked in the FAQs area, and found that there is a pool of players, and here it is an independent forum, and you can chose the standard of play you want, i.e. Beginner, intermediate or expert, place your email address and wait for players that want to play, or alternative invite those that are looking for the same kind of game as you are. It's a useful starting point, although after a while, you only need to look at the forum for email addresses of members to invite in between your regular games. Another simpler fashion of getting your name on the site for players to invite you is leaving a note in the clearly marked site guest book, and this gets a good response.
Setting up and playing a game.
To start a game, it really is simple. You enter a room, and look for the Set up a game and upon pressing this are taken in to an area where you type your name and registered email address, and the name and email address of your chosen player. I found when I first played that I wanted to be the first player as I wanted to play a game that did not include the Sowpods dictionary, since many of the words are meaningless. The choices that you have upon starting a game, from the link in a confirmation email are many. You can for example have instant scoring (so you can see what score each possibility would give you upon placing the letters on the board. You can chose small board with tiny tiles or a larger one and here, the larger one is great for bad eyesight. You can also chose the alerts that are sent to your email address of your plays, and whether you want to play with a wordfinder, although I feel this kind of defeats the skill part of the game. By choosing to use the word-finder, your opponent, out of politeness is informed of your choice. The dictionaries used are OSPD2, OSPD3, OSPD4, OWL1, OWL2 and SOWPODS, although for me the sowpods dictionary is nonsense. A recent development on the site is that those people who are finicky can use a No dictionaries option and agree with the other player how they want to judge the authenticity of the words used. This really is a good innovation, and players can choose their own choice of physical dictionary for the game they wish to play.
Game play is very easy. Once the first player takes their turn, you are advised by email and given a link to the game in question. From then on, the games really are very well explained, and even a dummy like me found my way around playing very easily indeed. On receipt of your email, often there are friendly messages left by the other player, since on the play screen, there is an area to leave a message for the next player. No one is expected to use it all the time, so it isn't in your face, although I have found it rather nice to discuss the game with competitors. The only time that you are asked to use the message feature is when you challenge someone's word, to explain in a polite manner why.
My overall impression.
I love this site. It's a super alternative to sites that play modern games and don't think about such things as language. The people seem very friendly, and I have played people from all over the world. The choice of languages is quite amazing and the choices of 12 languages means that the site is open to so many people. I play both in French and English, although the Swedish, Danish, Greek, German, Italian, Latin, , Portuguese and Spanish would be of little use to me as a non speaker of those languages.
There are never any technical hitches. Things go according to plan. Email alerts of gameplay are instant, and given that people are offered 7 days within which to make their move, mean that those who are busy with real life can play as and when they feel they have the time without undue pressure. The only exception to this rule is first play. For the first play against an opponent, the time limit is 2 days, although thereafter, the pressure is off. I think that is pretty fair, since people that want to play you don't want to wait a week, and this gives them the time to set up another game with a player that does have the time to play. What I really like is that the site is totally pop-up and advertisement free, which to me is something refreshing, and players do need to have Java scripting enabled to use the games.
I use this site daily, and probably around 20 plays a day, divided between several games played all at the same time. The players are encouraging and friendly, the admin, superbly responsive and very accessible, and the whole scrabble area of the site easily navigated, explained well, and fun. I don't think, from looking at the quality of play in the Hall of Fame area of the site that I shall ever appear there, since the standard of the play is exceptional, though it's not an issue for me. I enjoy the games that I have, and do not feel the need to be on top of the league. I did download the Scrabout game of scrabble to practice playing, which is a 1-4 player game of scrabble, although much prefer to play the game as laid out on Pixie pit's own site. There is a charge for registration of the Scrabout game and frankly, real games against others on the Internet are more interesting to me.
The site does have a chat room, although I find that most serious players don't use it, and prefer to play away from chat, concentrating on the placement of their words, and perhaps giving a little friendly feedback after their play in the box provided.
The site is a marvel and has attracted so many members that it is overflowing with enthusiasm, and the availability of people to play. When I first joined, I did wonder how many people would be available to play but this really hasn't been an issue. I would thoroughly recommend the experience to people who enjoy real word games and who do not want the in your face hostility or personal contact of Yahoo games, or the mindlessness of the same conversation with strangers who are more interested in your age, sex, and location than they are in the game itself.
I recommend the site wholeheartedly, and would also suggest that if you want to see how the games operate, you use the free trial rooms to get a feel for the place. It's a marvelous way of improving your skill with words and having an enjoyable time online with others that have the same passion for words and friendly competition