Scrabble Introduces a Less Competitive Version of the Classic Word Game

Scrabble Together, now available in Europe, is the first major update to the game in more than 75 years

Scrabble box against white background
In Scrabble Together, players work as a team to solve challenges. Mattel

During the Great Depression, an out-of-work American architect named Alfred Mosher Butts devised a new game that required players to spell out different words using nine random letters. His invention—called Lexico—eventually became Scrabble, which would go on to sell over 165 million copies in 28 languages.

Now, for the first time in more than 75 years, the game is getting a major update.

A new double-sided Scrabble board is now available in Europe, reports the Associated Press (AP). One side features the classic layout, while the other introduces Scrabble Together, a new mode made for “anyone who finds word games intimidating,” according to a statement from Mattel.

“Most people who don’t play original Scrabble think that it’s a game that you need a very extensive vocabulary for,” Ray Adler, vice president and global head of games at Mattel, tells the New York Times’ Deb Amlen. He hopes the update will “bring more people into the game.”

In Scrabble Together, all players work as a team. The game, which takes less time to play, comes with “helper cards” that players can use if they have trouble coming up with words, reports Fast Company’s Sarah Bregel; it also has simple scoring and collaborative “goal cards” that present challenges, per USA Today’s Gabe Hauari.

The new gameplay mode won’t be available in the United States anytime soon, as Mattel doesn’t own the rights to Scrabble in North America. That right belongs to Hasbro, which has no plans to change its U.S. games, per the AP.

“The makers of Scrabble, Mattel, have done some research and found that younger people, Gen Z people, don’t quite like the competitive nature of Scrabble,” says Gyles Brandreth, a British broadcaster and the honorary president of the Association of British Scrabble Players, to BBC Radio 4 Today. “They want a game where you can simply enjoy words and language and being together and having fun creating words.”

Scrabble board game against white background
The new edition of the game features a double-sided board. Mattel

The debut of Scrabble Together has ruffled plenty of feathers, with critics accusing Mattel of making the classic word game too easy.

“The whole experience feels a bit like cheating,” writes BBC News’ Anna Lamche, who recently played the new mode at a board game cafe in London. “While I am a distinctly unremarkable player, the joy of Scrabble has always been in the competition—the occasional wins stolen from the jaws of what seemed like inevitable defeat.”

But Tom Brewster, editor-in-chief of the board game review website Shut Up and Sit Down, thinks Scrabble Together introduces new challenges.

“A lot of people think Scrabble is just a game of knowing lots of words and having a wide vocabulary,” Brewster tells the Telegraph’s Ed Cumming. “In reality, it is not like that. The core of Scrabble is in board presence and area control. It’s a game of territory. So if the new version is pushing it towards being about doing clever things tactically on the board, then it is not dumbing down, it is adding new complexity into a game.”

Tim Clare, a columnist for Tabletop Gaming magazine and author of a forthcoming book about the history of games, writes in the Guardian that outrage over the new version is “a weird hill to die on.”

Scrabble “has always been changing,” he argues. “Its core material, after all, is the English language.”

Clare also points out that players have been modifying Scrabble on their own for years. His family plays with a list of two-letter words open on the table, while the author C.S. Lewis and his wife were known to play “huge, sprawling games” that allowed words in at least five languages.

Rolling out new versions of beloved games, such as models designed specifically for kids and teens, is common. Hasbro already makes a “junior” version of Scrabble that encourages children to match letter tiles to words on the board.

New words are periodically added to the official Scrabble dictionary, made by Merriam-Webster. In 2022, the most recent update introduced more than 500 words, including “subtweet,” “adorbs,” “amirite,” “zoodle” and “hangry.” Today, Scrabble accepts more than 100,000 two- to eight-letter words.

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