For some time I’ve had the idea that I wanted to try playing a game of Scrabble which would involve all-made-up words. The game would be scored on 1) the eloquence of your definition of the word, 2) the reasonableness of said definition based on its relationship to existing roots and affixes, and 3) on-board finesse (not relative to score-multiplying spaces). This scoring would be entirely at the whim of whoever was at the table at the time, rules negotiated as they often have been when I’ve played Once Upon A Time, the storytelling game. (So obviously you need a bunch of players who are not inclined to be overweening rule-wonks and have some tolerance for ambiguity.)
I finally had a chance to try this this past week. I was visiting one of my old school crew, of the gang who used to play modified versions of Hangman and Mad Libs at lunch in high school and who did at one point attempt to play a game of Scrabble in Klingon (defaulting to “Star Trek-related words” when we realized there weren’t enough Qs and Ks). I also had Finn with me, so I figured this was an ideal testbed.
We did not, this time around, do any scoring. I think it felt a bit tentative for that — Finn and Janice hadn’t met each other before, and social rule negotiation is helped by pre-established trust. Plus we were under a time crunch. This also had us playing Quaker-meeting-style (as the spirit moves) rather than turn-based. This was really fine for an exploratory round, and could be a regular thing provided no player is prone to monopolize play.
But by the end Janice and Finn both expressed that they enjoyed it, and I got a sense of how this game was likely to be strategically different than regular Scrabble:
The wonkish, cutthroat play one learns to engage in at the tables with the pros in Washington Square Park tends to involve building a lot of parallel words to maximize points, and thus making extensive use of the two-letter word repertoire. This didn’t happen much under the alternative rules. Those two-letter words are a minefield when you’re trying to avoid real words: they do cover a lot of the combinatorial and pronounceable possibilities of one vowel and one consonant. Suddenly your job is to try to stop seeing them and start seeing (and defining) their absence. Hence, I steered clear. Not sure what Janice and Finn’s usual play strategies are, so I can’t speak for them.
Accordingly, endgame play was pretty difficult, as the board filled up, forcing us finally either into parallel word-building or tighter crossword building. This part would take a bit of practice.
Whole-rack dumps were a lot more common. And why not?
The player is not limited by the existing set of long words.Your opportunities for elaborate descriptions can grow, the longer your words are.
One of my family’s traditional rules of play worked well here: if there’s a blank on the board and you can plausibly replace it, you can take the blank and use it elsewhere. (The rule in my family is usually “if you can replace it with the correct letter for the original word,” but it makes sense to replace it with pretty much anything, here, and re-define the resulting word.)
Our definitions for the words in the picture of the board are below.
Bilje: gall bladder sludge. When bile turns malevolent and deadly.
Ixils: the reproductive organs of digital plants.
Llepit: a very small Welsh rabbit
Rixils: rictus on the mouth of a dead mole or vole
Eb: antiquated Scottish for departure
Haeter: German for antagonist
Chinv: (pronounced chihnve, not chin-vee) the cleft in a chin
Biljee: spicy Basque side dish
Eieioac: cognitive condition that involves compulsively pronouncing vowels, otherwise known as Old MacDonalditis.
Kwye: Isle of Skye’s bitter less popular neighbor
Eaiaiocq: alternative Manx spelling of eieioac
Oddde: very very odd; the most odd (archaic)
Roozi: the toughest of Australian tough guys
Wroge: a bandit with a wry sense of humor
Wrogee: someone wronged by a wroge
Eguata: a momentarily faddish but quickly unpopular avocado/guava drink from the 70s
Horgule: punctuation used by a lower class of woman. Alt: the sputum built up in the throat of a whore and used to punctuate a sentence
Neef: the momentary warmth left on a chair just vacated by someone else
Towngy: it’s really hard to explain, it’s this quality of a terrier/schnauzer cross dog, they’re kind of dirty and stinky but not really, they’re kinda soft.
Vromp: a vacuum cleaner, recreating
Uc: technical term, measured in your head by EEGs, of what happens when you lower your foot into the muddy bottom of a pond
Febu: condition of butter when it’s melted but kind of re-cooled at the bottom of the dish, and there’s dust in it, and it’s whitish yellow
Juseaoia: the vocalization when you drop an icee on your feet. “I suppose in colder weather you would add more vowels.” –Janice
Antinn: the metal box in which ants keep their antennas
Av: a very short bird
Drest: a special kind of dressage done with predatory carnivorous animals
W_m: could be i or o. Pygmy females.
Si: failed spanish language competitor to the text editor Vi
Dwom: a subgenre of dubstep invented by Bruno Latour
Dhaeter: one who dhaets (pronounced deets)
Febuds: the buds of the mythological feverfew tree
(If this is not the ruleset you were expecting, perhaps you were looking for Rob Vincent’s proposed Fog Of War Scrabble.)