|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
Mini-gamesPerhaps the best feature of this new edition is the set of mini-games that you can play instead of real Scrabble. When I first heard about the mini-games I thought that they might be a gimmick to make the game more appealing to kiddies. Luckily, though, they're not a gimmick. They're actually very useful, and will help you to become a better Scrabble player.
You play the mini-games on the standard Scrabble board, but just enter words on the bottom row. The correct results that you have typed appear on the remainder of the board to show your progress. Basically, the mini-games are training games designed to help you improve your Scrabble strategy, and they'll be useful and instructive even to experienced Scrabble players.
The games are as follows: 2-Letter Words and 3-Letter Words test your knowledge of these short words by asking you to find all such words on your rack and place them on the board, whilst Anagrams requires you to find all possible words in your rack.
In Prefixes and Suffixes you must add letters from your rack to the prefix and/or suffix that the computer has chosen, and in Hook Words you must take an existing word and add letters to it to turn it into something else.
Word Placement, Best Play and Bingo are all about learning where best to place words on a board that includes other words already. The first two of these games require you to try to find the highest scoring position for a word on the board, whilst in Bingo you must use all seven letters in the rack to form a single word on the board.
These games sound simple but are often actually quite challenging, and will really get your brain working.
In addition, the mini-games section contains Professor Maven and Review Games options. These are extremely interesting options: the computer keeps track of all players' performance (you must identify yourself to the game by logging in), and the Professor Maven option will analyze your knowledge of words and playing strategy, and offer tips for improvement. The Review Games option is perhaps even more useful: you can load a previously saved game, and the computer will offer advice for every single move that you played in the game, telling you what moves would have been better and why. Very impressive stuff, despite the fact that it's rather buried away in the game's menu structure.
My only disappointment with the game analyses is that they do have to be performed in post mortem fashion. It would have been nice if there had also been a trainer mode in which you could play a genuine game of Scrabble, with the computer offering this strategic playing advice for each turn. Unfortunately there's no such mode.
ConclusionsI'm sorry to have to say that I am rather disappointed overall with this new release of Scrabble. It seems to me that too much emphasis has been placed on glitz and pizazz, and not enough on providing a genuinely useful user interface.
That's not to say that it's a poor implementation; it isn't. It'll certainly give you a very good game of Scrabble, and the mini-games are really excellent for training you in the Scrabble way of thinking in order to improve your game. It has some commendable features, like the impressive game analyses and the dictionary with meanings, and the presentation is very attractive (despite my wishing for more options).
My real objection is to the fact that in many ways it's actually considerably inferior than the U.S. Gold implementation of Scrabble that came out six years ago. Six years is a long time in computing terms, so this new version should be a big improvement, and certainly not a step backwards! However, the six-year-old TSP has a much better interface in terms of managing your tile rack and placing words on the board, not to mention more flexible and interesting computer opponents, and it'll give you just as good a game of Scrabble as this new version will play.
Personally, I also like TSP better because it's based on the Spears (now Mattel) version of Scrabble and hence supports all the standard Scrabble words that I expect to find in Chambers' Official Scrabble Words. No doubt American users will prefer this new Hasbro edition for the converse reason. Perhaps licensing agreements preclude support for both U.S. and non-U.S. versions of Scrabble within a single computer edition, but it's something that I'd very much like to see, as is a more flexible choice of graphical styles. In particular, I'd like to be able to choose a computer board that actually looks like my own preference of real-world board. It would also be nice if the junior version of Scrabble were supported along with the adult game.
So, in this new game's favor, it has very nice graphics, excellent training facilities, and supports network games over local networks and the Internet (via Game Ranger). Against it, its interface mechanism isn't a patch on its six-year-old predecessor, and its range of customization options is disappointing, particularly with regard to the graphics.
To sum up, if you don't have computer Scrabble already, buy this; especially if you live in the U.S. If you're not a U.S. citizen, buy it with caution. It'll accept most of the words you know in their British spellings, but be prepared for an occasional glitch. You're unlikely to be disappointed if you havent played a different version previously, but if you have another version of computer Scrabble already, you're probably better off sticking with it. This new version is unlikely to be a significant improvement, and it'll eat up loads of disk space into the bargain.
Pros Attractive board graphics
Mini-games are excellent for improving your Scrabble skills
Ideal for iBooks (800x600 full-color graphics)
Plays a good, strong game with lots of available skill levels
Reasonable (though not excellent) range of customization options
Very useful dictionary, complete with (brief) definitions
Plenty of in-game hints and tips, including options for finding words
Excellent analyses of previously played games, full of useful post-mortem advice from the computer
Supports Webster's Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary (Third Edition)
Supports games over networks and the Internet (via Game Ranger)
Cons Rather limited and clumsy word-entry mechanism (inferior to earlier computer edition)
The graphics do not reflect the look of the real-world board game variations
Does not support Chambers' Official Scrabble Words: some perfectly valid (non-U.S.) Scrabble words are not accepted
No complete list of the two-letter words that are accepted by this edition of the game (despite the fact that the selection is not the same as in non-U.S. Scrabble)
Computer hint system only ever offers a single suggestion