05:57 Thu 20 Aug 2009

My friends Niall and Léan introduced me to this tile-based word game the other night, and I’m quite impressed with it. It’s like a speed version of Scrabble played without a board and without points. Each player starts with facedown tiles, and players simultaneously turn them over and try to form crossword-style word layouts with them. When a player runs out of tiles, they say “peel” and each player has to take a tile from the pool. When there are fewer tiles than players left in the pool, the first player to use their tiles wins.
I was happy with this winning effort from last night:

Bananagrams: Revolvers Example
However, the first thing I noticed when I opened the photo today was that I should have gotten rid of “par” and ”age” to make ”programmed”…

That wouldn’t have been an advantage in the game—I won because I finished first, not because of the quality of the words in my layout. Despite my personal satisfaction with ”revolvers”, it could have stayed in its original form of “vole” and it would have made no difference if I’d still found places for the other tiles as quickly.

Naturally, this makes me wonder about tweaking the game to reward longer words. Maybe something like awarding place points for finishing order and longest word? That makes draws much more likely. There’s probably some way to do that reasonably, though.

We were using Official Scrabble Words as the dictionary, which is why “io” (apparently a variant spelling of a name for the Hawaiian hawk) is a valid two-letter word—and the only reason I knew this is because it had been played and checked in the previous game.

Bananagrams is a fun and quick game. Compared to Scrabble, it has these advantages:

  • Faster.
  • Players are freer to manipulate words.
  • No scoring to keep track of.
  • Easier to carry/set up.

It also has these disadvantages:

  • Less interactive.
  • Less tactical/strategic depth.
  • No major advantage to longer or “better” words.
  • Because the board is shared, words that players make are more public.

I see the games as complementary rather in competition with each other: Scrabble is for a longer and possibly more “serious” session, while Bananagrams is for quick and more casual play.

Leave a Reply