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Publisher: GameHouse    Genre: Board & Card
Min OS X: 10.4

January 8, 2007 | Charlie Fletcher

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Gamehouse's new Scrabble game is a welcome addition to the growing number of attractive board games now available. It offers some challenging features and can also help you become a better player with its array of hints and other useful features.

Invented in 1938 by architect, Alfred Mosher Butts, Scrabble is a game played by forming words with letter tiles on a 15-by-15 square board. Points are scored by adding up the total values for the letter tiles and adding bonuses available at certain locations on the board. For example, some squares double or triple the score of a word played on them. Other tiles double or triple the score of a letter tile. The words are played crossword style, so as play proceeds, each new word must intersect another word already on the board.

There have been quite a few computerized versions of Scrabble over the years. However, the new Gamehouse release is the first one to come to Mac OS X that includes all the trademarked branding of the original board game published in the United States by Hasbro, Inc., and is compatible with Mac OS X, both in PowerPC mode and Universal Binary.

Players coming to Gamehouse Scrabble from the Hasbro version will find a welcome look and feel, with a realistic rendering of the board and the wooden letter tiles. It also comes with a nice set of sounds to clue you in when tiles are placed on the board, or when special scores occur. Additionally, the game has a convenient set of keyboard shortcuts that add some welcome advantages over traditional tabletop play.

You can play the game in three different modes: in solitaire mode, with a computer player, or with another human player. However, unlike the original board game and most other computerized Scrabble games, it isn’t possible to play against more than one opponent. The original Scrabble rules allow you to play against one to three opponents. Presumably, Gamehouse intended their game to resemble tournament-style play, which is limited to pairs. Nevertheless, Gamehouse’s promotional material for the game doesn’t say anything about this limitation, so some people may be disappointed.

Also, most other computerized Scrabble games have included options for network and/or e-mail game play. However, Gamehouse’s new version includes neither. You can only play by yourself, with the computer or with one other player in hotseat mode. The game can be played in Classic mode, which is much like a traditional board game with no time limits. In Blitz or Tournament mode, players are limited to executing their plays within certain time constraints. You can adjust the time limits at the start of the game to give yourself a greater or lesser challenge.

Gamehouse Scrabble includes some very helpful features for those who want to improve their play. The Best Play feature provides a list of all the possible words you can play with the tiles currently in your rack. Unless you are quite experienced at the game, you may be surprised at some of the high-scoring words you will find in the Best Play list.

The game also has a Hint feature that gives you the opportunity to guess the top scoring word for your turn. You get about three or four hints — one at a time — that get increasingly specific, first telling you where the word can be played, then telling you some of the letters in the word. In the last hint, the game resolves the mystery by actually placing the tiles on the board for you. The Best Play and Hint features can be turned off at the beginning of the game, if you want to increase your challenge.

Gamehouse Scrabble also includes Merriam-Webster's "The Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary — Fourth Edition," and all words played in the game must come from this source. This could be a limitation for some players, since it is not possible to customize the dictionary.

When playing against a computer player, Gamehouse Scrabble provides eight levels of computer opponents, ranging in skill from the beginner to the genius. The beginner level provides little challenge but does a nice job of setting you up for high scores by playing its own low scoring words adjacent to bonus squares. However, the genius level will give you no such advantage as it has apparently memorized the entire dictionary. But be forewarned: The genius opponent is a slow thinker — even on a very fast Mac.

By and large, Gamehouse Scrabble is an enjoyable new version of a time-tested board game. You can have hours of fun with this game. In spite of its limitations, there is a lot value here.

Publisher: GameHouse
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