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Publisher: MacSoft    Genre: Board & Card
Min OS X: Not Supported    CPU: 601 @ 132 MHz    RAM: 32 MB    Hard Disk: 60 MB    4x CD-ROM    Graphics: 800x600 @ 16-bit

Scrabble (MacSoft)
January 15, 2001 | Richard Hallas

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Sound and music
Oh no! I always dread it when a traditional game is enhanced with "exciting sound effects" (to quote the back of the CD box). Sound effects in themselves are rarely if ever exciting, and I don't think that a game like Scrabble is in desperate need of them.

Unfortunately my worst fears were confirmed when I first ran the game. Some of the sound effects are perfectly acceptable (like the sound of tiles being placed, and the small fanfare when you get a triple word score), but others are deeply irritating! Although you can turn them off, it's a case of all or nothing: you can't just enable the effects that you like.

I'd also like to know who decided that it's obligatory to accompany a game of Scrabble with light jazz. There's a selection of 10 music tracks to accompany your game (they can be played sequentially or in random order), but they're all in a similar style. They're OK if you like that sort of thing (I'm not especially keen on it), but I have to wonder why music is included at all. Scrabble is a thinking game, and music in this instance merely serves to distract you.

At least you can turn the music off; and if you do happen to like it, then the Mac version of Scrabble offers the advantage over the PC version that you can replace the standard music with your own choice of MP3s. Hooray for MacSoft/Westlake!

The interface, and playing in general
Scrabble has undeniably flashy graphics that basically look good. But graphics are merely the trimmings in a game like this: much more important is the question of how easy the interface is to use.

Unfortunately, I have to say that I was very disappointed with how limited the interface is, compared with other versions of Scrabble that I've played previously. This new version has two basic methods of entering words: you must either drag every tile individually from the rack to its destination on the board (which is very tedious) or you must first click on the board to place a starting arrow and then type the word that you wish to place.

The latter method is by far the quicker and more convenient of the two, and is OK as far as it goes but the problem is that the previous version of Scrabble from U.S. Gold (TSP) had a much nicer way of placing words. Once you had arranged tiles on your rack into the order in which you wanted to use them, you could then drag them onto the board all in one go. Not only could you drag multiple tiles at once (flipping them between horizontal and vertical directions whenever you wished), but the tiles would hop around the tiles already placed on the board as you dragged them. This was really excellent. Not only did it avoid the need to take the tiles back to the rack and place them again if you changed your mind over where the word should go, but it also allowed you to see dynamically how much your word would score in any given position before you actually placed it. It also made it easier to visualize any other words that would be formed, and was as intuitive as it could possibly be to use.

None of this flexibility is present in this new implementation of Scrabble. All you can do is drag tiles one by one, or click and type a word. This really does make a tremendous difference to the way the interface works; it's a lot more cumbersome and a lot less useful. Admittedly it's closer to the real-life board game than the TSP interface, but it's also far, far inferior. Aren't computers supposed to make things easier?

In other respects, the interface has some good features. There's an excellent dictionary that you can use to look up words, and it'll give you definitions as well as spellings. There's a selection of guides that help you to find words, including an anagram lister and similar utilities for finding hook words, consonant-heavy words and so on. There's also a listing of works containing a Q that isn't followed by a U. Additional information sections provide data such as the number of tiles left in the bag, the value and number of each tile and so on. These options are all nicely presented and useful, but I do have a few gripes.

First of all, not enough useful details are shown on the screen. Although you can find out information such as the number of tiles remaining by clicking through options, it would be much better if such statistics were always present on the screen. Also, a particularly daft oversight is that the rows and columns of the board are not labeled on the screen, despite the fact that the help and tutorial systems refer to board squares by grid references such as 8H.

Secondly, although the help system is useful in that it'll give you a series of clues about the best word to play (or the best action to take, if that happens to be exchanging your tiles), it only offers the one clue per turn. TSP offered a large range of alternative clues, and left it up to you to pick the best-scoring hint or the most strategic one.

Finally, if I'm going to pick the interface apart completely, I might add that I'd much prefer it if the game used a standard desktop interface in multiple windows, rather than taking over the whole screen. The board could have been in one window and other information, like scores, players' racks and so on, in other windows. I don't like being forced into a particular screen size with someone else's idea of a good screen layout; give us windows by preference any day!


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