IMG Archives
Archives  Reviews  Scrabble (MacSoft)  

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

Click to enlarge
Scrabble is undoubtedly the world's leading word game. It has been an international favorite for half a century. The game has an interesting history in both its traditional and computer-based variations, so let's start with a little background detail.

A game with a long life
Surely everyone must know the basic rules of Scrabble. If you've been living in the vicinity of Betelgeuse for the last century or two, you may be unfamiliar with the game, but if that's the case you should perhaps check out a site like, where you can have your questions about the basic game answered. Suffice it to say that Scrabble is an incredibly popular board game, and this new CD-ROM is the latest computer-based implementation of it.

Trivia fans may like to know that Scrabble has its origins back in 1933, when an out-of-work architect living in New York state, Alfred Butts, invented a word game called Lexico. He revised the game five years later to include a board (Lexico had used only letter tiles) and christened it Criss-Crosswords. But then World War II intervened, so it was not until 10 years later, in 1948 that Butts returned to his game. Some refinements were made, a new name was adopted, and Scrabble was launched at the end of the year. The game started to become extremely popular in 1952, and in 1953 it was exported to the UK and Australia. To date, Scrabble has sold more than 100 million sets in over 120 countries worldwide, and in nearly 30 different languages. Although it has changed hands several times, the game is currently produced by Hasbro in the US and Canada, and by Mattel in the rest of the world. It has a particularly strong following in the UK, where the first world Scrabble championship was held in London in 1991.

The fact that Scrabble has one publisher in the U.S. and another in the rest of the world means that there are visual differences between the games: for instance, the two publishers use different logos, with swashed lettering for the U.S. version and white-on-red block capitals for the other version. There seem to be more variations based on the non-U.S. game too, such as the attractive limited edition Millennium set. While these graphical differences are trivial, there are some additional concerns that arise in the new computer edition because it is based solely on the U.S. version, as we'll see below.

Although the basic game may not have changed significantly for over half a century, it has never lost its popularity, and the arrival of the computer opened up new possibilities for the game. Make no mistake: this new release of Scrabble on CD-ROM is by no means the first appearance of the game on computer. In fact, the first computer Scrabble game was, I believe, the version launched in 1983 for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This software caused quite a stir at the time because its programmers (Psion) managed to cram into the Spectrum's mere 48K of RAM a game which incorporated not only reasonable graphics and game play, but also an 11,000-word dictionary!

Other versions of Scrabble followed, the most recent and impressive of which was U.S. Gold's version from 1994, known as both Original Scrabble and The Scrabble Player (TSP). Although I have not used the Mac/PC implementations of this game, I own the versions for RISC OS desktop machines and Psion Series 3a palmtops, and have played both extensively. (Coincidentally, Psion is the same company that produced Spectrum Scrabble a decade earlier, though the implementation is entirely different.) They're both excellent, and feature lots of customizable options, plus extremely strong play from the computer. The graphics in TSP are nothing special, but with a game like Scrabble that's not terribly important.

I mention these earlier versions of computer Scrabble not just for the sake of nostalgia, but because they're of importance when considering the latest release of the game from Hasbro/MacSoft.


Archives  Reviews  Scrabble (MacSoft)