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Scrabble Needs a New Scoring System 202

Posted by Soulskill
from the and-anagram-generator-detection dept.
innocent_white_lamb writes "A researcher says that some letters are over valued and some are under-valued in Scrabble, due to recent changes to the lists of allowable words. Z and X are now much easier to play and should be worth less, while U, M and G should be worth more than they are now. Joshua Lewis wrote a program to re-calculate the value of each letter to better reflect the current usage. The co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association says that he often hears criticism of Scrabble's scoring system, but any change would bring about 'catastrophic outrage'. A spokesman for Mattel says that they have no plans to change the game."
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Scrabble Needs a New Scoring System

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  • by ButchDeLoria (2772751) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:06PM (#42606991)
    What are they gonna do, send them a letter?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:07PM (#42607003)

    Why not just version the Rules? Original, 2012, etc? MTG has new decks come out, new rules come out,old cards removed new added... they did fine (relatively).

    The language changes... so should the rules.

    • by Mike Buddha (10734) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:11PM (#42607055)

      Scrabble: The Collectible Tile Game!

      You bring your own tiles and devise a set that gives you optimal word options. And the loser is banished from the land of Dominaria.

      • Scrabble: The Collectible Tile Game!

        You bring your own tiles and devise a set that gives you optimal word options. And the loser is banished from the land of Dominaria.

        Just imagine the black market revenue from counterfeit tiles!

      • by JustinKSU (517405)
        They are not tiles anymore. They are colored runes. Five colors to be specific. Some runes work well together. Other runes are enemy colors and can't be played together.
      • by Megane (129182)

        I've had many times where I was able to get a bunch of Scrabble tiles cheaply, so I have a couple of big bags full. (Hey, they're small.) X is normally 8 points, but I have found at least one 10 point X tile. (The X-10 might have come from a foreign language set [wikipedia.org], probably French.)

        The obvious thing to do with a few thousand tiles is to play a "random tiles" variation where 100 tiles are randomly picked out of a big bag. (That should be easy enough to mechanize.) It would be the Scrabble equivalent of Las Ve

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      Mostly because nobody plays MTG anymore. WoTC destroyed that game.

      • Mostly because nobody plays MTG anymore. WoTC destroyed that game.

        Nobody plays? They've actually had four years in a row of record numbers of players. MTG is bigger than it's ever been. (And as someone who has been playing since 1994, the game is as good or better than it's ever been, too).

    • by davidbrit2 (775091) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:04PM (#42610429) Homepage
      That's what Scrabble is missing! Power creep!
  • by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:08PM (#42607021)

    Mattel has come out with a statement today denouncing logic, reason, and fairness.

    • by Kijori (897770)

      That's not a fair summary.

      What they have said is that they won't be changing the scores because there's a significant disadvantage (people being unhappy with the lost nostalgia) and not much of an advantage, since having a couple of over- or under-valued letters doesn't make much difference in a game with so much inherent luck.

  • Mattel? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:08PM (#42607025) Journal

    Scrabble is Hasbro IP.

    Hasbro and Mattel are two *ENTIRELY* separate companies. Rivals, in fact.

    Saying that Mattel has no plans to change the game is like saying that Microsoft has no plans to change the iPhone.

    • by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:13PM (#42607095) Journal
      Okay, yes. Mattel *DOES* make Scrabble... but only *outside* North America.

      Considering the second-last sentence in the summary just mentioned the "North American Scrabble Players Association" right before Mattel, I trust you can understand my confusion. The article clarifies the point by noting that Mattel make Scrabble in Europe.

      • by lolococo (574827)
        ...but only outside North America
        er, doesn't that encompass, like, the whole rest of the world?
        • by mark-t (151149)
          Yes it does.... but the summary just finished mentioning the North American Scrabble Player's Association, and then suddenly mentions Mattel without offering any indication that the context was being switched.
        • by pjt33 (739471)

          Ssh. It's safer not to tell them.

      • by godrik (1287354)

        What? You RTFA? I thought I was browsing Slashdot. Somebody must have hacked my DNS...

    • by brian1078 (230523)

      Mattel owns Scrabble outside of North America (US & Canada). Hasbro owns it within.

      • by mark-t (151149)
        Yes... got that. Thanks. The summary explicitly mentioned the "North American Scrabble Players Association" before bringing up Mattel, and without any indication that they were switching contexts. The article is more explicit in this regard, and is clearer.
    • by alphatel (1450715) *

      Saying that Mattel has no plans to change the game is like saying that Microsoft has no plans to change the iPhone.

      I see... plans within plans. I see two Great Houses -- House Atreides, House Harkonnen -- feuding... I see you behind it.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      Scrabble is Hasbro IP.

      Hasbro and Mattel are two *ENTIRELY* separate companies. Rivals, in fact.

      Saying that Mattel has no plans to change the game is like saying that Microsoft has no plans to change the iPhone.

      Are you sure?

    • ...Microsoft has no plans to change the iPhone.

      • by mark-t (151149)

        My point was that reporting a spokesperson from company A said they have no plans to change something made by company B is kind of... well... odd. My first thought was that it must have been some sort of mistake slip on the part of the editor, getting the name of the company wrong.

        As the article itself more than adequately makes clear, however, this was not a mistake in reporting... the confusion was due to brevity in the summary itself, which gave no indication that they were talking about other countr

    • "The dictionary of legal words in Scrabble has changed," he told British media.

      John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association, told BBC News that he often hears criticism of Scrabble’s scoring system, but that any changes would bring about "catastrophic outrage."

      A spokesperson for Mattel, which manufactures Scrabble in Europe, told British media that it has no plans to make changes to the board game.

      Seems to me that a British newspaper reporting the response of a British manufacturer/vendor is perfectly normal.

      • by mark-t (151149)

        All mentions of Britain are in the article, not the summary. My initial response was based only on what had been conveyed in the summary, which explicitly mentioned the North American Scrabble Player's Association, and nothing else to indicate that this was being talked about on other continents.

        As I promptly self-responded a few minutes later, it was my bad for hitting "post" before bothering to read the article.

  • It doesn't matter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:09PM (#42607037)

    It is a game, the iportant thing is that everyone is playing by the same rules. Sure, if you were to develop scrabble today, it might be nice to adjust the values of the letters to reduce the element of chance in the game, but now there is insufficient reason to go and change it. It woudl still have been ok if every letter had the same value.

    • by treeves (963993)

      "It would still have been [much less interesting and fun] if every letter had the same value."

      Fixed it for you.

    • by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:47PM (#42607565) Homepage

      But would you really want to reduce the element of chance? People like to play poker because although you will lose to a poker pro over time, you can sit down with the world's best poker player and win some hands, while with chess you'll lose to Magnus Carlsen 100 out of 100 times. Making it a pure skills-based game is only fun for the one with the best skill, assuming fun should have anything to do with games.

      • Making it a pure skills-based game is only fun for the one with the best skill, assuming fun should have anything to do with games.

        Only if you equate "fun" with "winning."

      • by chrismcb (983081)

        People like to play poker because although you will lose to a poker pro over time,

        Many people like to play poker because they THINK they are better than the pro (and an element of luck helps give them that illusion)
        But really people play poker because it is fun. They aren't typically playing a pro, or Magnus Carlsen all that often.

    • by Sperbels (1008585)

      It is a game, the iportant thing is that everyone is playing by the same rules.

      No it's not. There are a limited number of each letter. If one letter becomes easier play, and there's only one of that letter, then the person who drew it gets an unfair advantage.

      • by AvitarX (172628)

        OMG, unfair advantage in a game of chance. This is awful!

        • by Sperbels (1008585)
          Don't be a shithead. There's an element of chance and an element of skill. You know this but you're just being a smart ass.
      • by chrismcb (983081)

        It is a game, the iportant thing is that everyone is playing by the same rules.

        No it's not. There are a limited number of each letter. If one letter becomes easier play, and there's only one of that letter, then the person who drew it gets an unfair advantage.

        Are you saying the person who draws the limited character is now playing by a different set of rules?

    • by pclminion (145572) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:59PM (#42607725)
      The problem is when the values are WAY off. Then the outcome of the game strongly depends on the letters drawn by the player and much less so on the knowledge of the player. For instance, if all letters were worth 1, but E was worth 10, then it would be purely a game of who draws the most E's, as it is simple to come up with words including that letter.
      • by Sarten-X (1102295)
        Those E's would be worth many points, but be effectively useless. The best Scrabble players can control their opponent's options. An expert would easily limit the E-playing options, until you're left with a rack full of tiles you can't play, and have to start exchanging tiles hoping for anything but an E.
        • An expert would easily limit the E-playing options

          I understand the point you are making...but easily limit options for E? I am not sure if that is possible at all, much less easy.

          • One can limit the e-playing options by ruling that no batteries or AC adapters are allowed.
          • Re:It doesn't matter (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Sarten-X (1102295) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:30PM (#42610787) Homepage

            Blocking open Ds will eliminate a lot of past-tense words. Blocking other open Es will require the opponent to have both Es for the many "ee" words. No, it's not possible to completely and reliably lock out opponents, but experts can make each turn very difficult. Most competitive players will keep track on their score sheet of which tiles have been played, giving them a clear picture of what options the opponent has. Some will even keep track in their head, accurately. It's not terribly hard to turn that list of options into a defensive strategy.

    • In poker, you have the same chance of getting a 2 and King, but the king is more powerful. On a GO board not every playable square is equally strong. Why should scrabble make it so the letter composition of your word is neutral? some letters can be more valuable than others. One can account for this in strategy. makes the game richer not off kilter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:13PM (#42607093)

    This was brought up during an NPR interview the earlier this week and I agreed with the mentioned counterpoint. While it makes logical sense for a rework of the scoring system, it's effectively flattening it and removing some of the strategy around the unpredictability of the game.

    Regardless, Mattel has already gone on record (I believe) stating it will keep the scoring as is.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I agree. Nerfing the high point letters in scrabble would be like nerfing home runs in baseball. Sure they have an outsized impact on the game relative to their frequency (home runs are more common than triples), but the key point is that a game should be interesting not that things should strictly be rewarded in proportion of their difficulty.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:04PM (#42608593) Homepage

      There are three ways to play Scrabble.

      First, there's the novice's strategy. Pull letters from the back, make a word on the rack, and figure out where it can fit. At this level, the game is purely a contest to see who has the biggest vocabulary.

      For intermediate players, recognizing words scrambled on the rack is easier, and perhaps even memorizing common anagrams is a viable means for improvement. Multiple options are planned, and bonuses (including making multiple words) figure into the decision.

      Experts use the letters more as a means to control the board, under the assumption that their opponent has perfect tiles to use opportunities open to them. The game is less about words, and more about controlling what options the other player has available. A low-scoring word may be the best option if it means that future plays will be better. The whole playable dictionary is memorized, and anagrams are recognized naturally. This is not to say that words are unimportant, but rather that the game is more of strategy than chance for experts.

      Whether a particular letter actually matches its distribution means practically nothing to the really competitive players. The score total of each play, though, is something these players have spent years refining.

      Source: One of my in-laws is one of the top 5 Scrabble players in his state. I know exactly how poorly I play... and I had a cheat sheet and help.

  • by doug141 (863552) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:16PM (#42607141)
    is Upwords. Scrabble can get adversarial with the rules on challenging a word. Upwords lets you challenge a word without fear of losing your turn. Also, you can play just fine with a more limited vocabulary due to the nature of play. If you are playing with kids or just want a more amicable game, try it.
    • My parents play scrabble a lot and here's their house rule. You can challenge a word, but if you're wrong, you lose a turn. If you're right, the other player has to withdraw the word and loses his turn. They usually have a challenge dictionary they bust out for the game.

    • by mattack2 (1165421)

      Though I've never actually played the physical version of this game, I've heard of it, and was wondering a while ago if there were an iOS version of this game.

      I just searched, and there is a free (ad supported) and a paid version. Unfortunately it's not by Zynga (so doesn't share the same people you play with).

      https://itunes.apple.com/US/app/id588252565?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D4# [apple.com]

      I haven't even TRIED this app yet, but the reviews look good.

      I have no affiliation with it.

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:18PM (#42607173)

    Many games have these, 'bonus' and 'penalty', and Scrabble appears to be one of them.

    It is part of the game and Mattel has no reason to change their rules.

  • It's a game (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:19PM (#42607185) Journal

    If you don't like it, go get yourself some wood putty and a sharpie and make the letters whatever value you damned well please.

  • by snarfies (115214) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:25PM (#42607283) Homepage

    What is that, some kind of ripoff of Words With Friends?

    • by N0Man74 (1620447)

      When Christmas shopping, I saw a "Words with Friends" board game. I turned to my girlfriend and said, "It's like the board game Scrabble, but online, and then taken offline and made into a board game."

      • The board is actually different between the two. Not to say it's not a ripoff, but there are some differences.
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        When Christmas shopping, I saw a "Words with Friends" board game. I turned to my girlfriend and said, "It's like the board game Scrabble, but online, and then taken offline and made into a board game."

        WWF has different letter scores and different positions for the double/triple letter/word score blocks.

        To novice players, it's not a huge deal. To expert players, it is because a lot of strategy involves the correct placment, and knowing where every bonus is and point value of letters is critical to getting hi

      • Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game
  • This is SERIOUS people! This topic should be next in line with 'are we eating too much garlic as a people' :)
    • by Sperbels (1008585)
      Sorry, is this the wrong kind of nerd news story? If only slashdot had some kind of system where the users could decide what stories to show.
  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:33PM (#42607385) Homepage Journal

    Then it seems like you eliminate possible strategies. What's wrong with leaving a bit of strategy to the game where decisions you make are based by biases the rules create?

  • We need to redefine 'music' as those 3 notes. Oh wait, stop allowing all those crazy bullshit words in Scrabble in the first place. Qi? Really?

  • It's just a proposal, not a requirement.

    Even Joshua Lewis, inventor of the new system believes the traditional valuations can make the game more exciting.

    "You're really lucky if you pick an X because it's over-valued and unlucky if you pick a V. So if they were to re-do the values of the tiles that would reduce the level of luck.

    "That might be desirable in tournaments but it might not be as good in casual play where you want the less skilled players to have a shot periodically at beating the more highly skilled players."

    Source: The "British Media" [bbc.co.uk]

    • That's BS. I'm not the greatest but I have also never been beaten by a shitty Scrabble player. All it does is make it impossible to determine whether my dad is better than me without tracking our games, playing a statistically significant number of them, controlling for conditions, etc. :P
  • by stuckinarut (891702) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:46PM (#42607563)
    Original Joshua Lewis (the researcher) blog posting: Rethinking the value of Scrabble tiles [useost.com]

    I've developed an open source package called Valett for determining letter valuations in word games based on statistical analyses of corpora. In addition to calculating the frequency of each letter in a corpus, Valett calculates the frequency by word length and the incoming and outgoing entropy for each letter's transition probabilities. One can then weight these properties of the corpus based on the structure of the game and arrive at a suggested value for each letter..

  • by sootman (158191) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:48PM (#42607587) Homepage Journal

    News flash: EVERY OTHER GAME has scores that are roughly, but not exactly, aligned with their probability. It's part if the game. Baskets in basketball have 3 values: 1, 2, and 3 points, for the entire court and all circumstances. A dartboard has dozens of scores possible with nearly NO relation to the probability of hitting one. It's what makes the game what it is and it's what leads to different strategies.

    • by brkello (642429)

      I have to say "so?" to your post as well. Darts is about accuracy, not probability. If you want to make Scrabble as fair as possible, you will need to adjust the probability as you adjust the allowable dictionary.

      For example, if you changed a dart board so that the area of the place that doubles your points is smaller than the area where you can triple your points, then you probably want to adjust the points to come in line with that.

      So as rules for a game change, considerations should be made for how you

  • Give them random values! Simply have a list of all of the letters, roll some die, write the numbers down next to the letters, and badabing badaboom.
  • by MDMurphy (208495) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @03:55PM (#42607679)

    I can see the point made by people wanting to change the scoring. The initial letter/point associations were made based on the number of tiles in the bag and the frequency of use at the time. The "official" rules have changed by virtue of the allowable words. With new acceptable words added the letter frequency changed as well.
    If new words are added (or subtracted ) , to keep the game the same, then eventually the letter scoring would also need to change if the desire was to keep the game from changing. Changes were made for non-English versions, with different distribution of letters and point values:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrabble_letter_distributions [wikipedia.org]

    So if English has changed since 1938 it's not outrageous to suggest a new distribution/scoring mix. Desire to keep the game "the same" is also understandable, but that would require using a 1938 dictionary and not allowing new words. ( Nope, can't used "quark" )

    • by Convector (897502)

      Quark may still be allowed. It also refers to a type of fresh cheese [wikipedia.org]. However, it might be considered a German word, in which case it's still invalid. Also I have no idea when it was first produced, but likely before 1938.

      • by MDMurphy (208495)

        I was thinking the subatomic particle. I should have gone with transistor, but wanted to use my "Q"

    • by chihowa (366380)

      So if English has changed since 1938 it's not outrageous to suggest a new distribution/scoring mix. Desire to keep the game "the same" is also understandable, but that would require using a 1938 dictionary and not allowing new words.

      It's not even about the actual English language changing. Have you ever seen an official Scrabble dictionary? Utter crap. It's a huge mixture of real English words and a random collection of exceptions to the excluded words (some, but not all, abbreviations, proper nouns, foreign words, nonsense words, misspelled words, etc). The best way to play is with a single real English (or whatever language you're playing with) dictionary.

  • news flash: Play the game with your own rules. I have been doing that with risk for 2 decades now. Most everyone that has tried my ruleset likes it a LOT better than the stock rules.

    • let us be the judge... :-)

    • Where are these rules? :-) One of my favorite Risk games was Risk II on the PC.

      Basic Risk rules are flawed for sure, even if all you consider is the value of retaining certain "continents" per round.
    • My favorite rule is blank replacement. If you have the letter a blank was played as, you get to swap it on the board and take the blank into your rack.
      • by chihowa (366380)

        That's a pretty decent rule. It's balanced to the point where you wouldn't always want to make the trade. I assume you can only do this on your turn. Does it cost a turn to take it?

        • You can only do it on your turn. We don't charge a turn for doing it. What's nice is it prevents the butt-whipping that can occur when one player manages to draw both the blanks during a game (I generally don't play a blank unless I can get 40+ points on the play).
  • His methodology could be enhanced. Letters C and V should be bumped up as well since the fact that they cannot be made into 2 letter words often makes them less useful and harder to play.
    • His methodology could be enhanced. Letters C and V should be bumped up as well since the fact that they cannot be made into 2 letter words often makes them less useful and harder to play.

      I've been saying that for years. Really, it comes down to the two-letter words. I've noticed that Words with Friends uses a different scoring, perhaps in an attempt to fix the perceived problem.

  • by Jack9 (11421) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:16PM (#42607943)

    A perfectly balanced game is not a game. It's a function.
    There's little value in making scrabble more abstract. Good on Mattel.

  • by RazorSharp (1418697) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @04:42PM (#42608283)

    It would be wise for Mattel to change the values because then Scrabble enthusiasts everywhere would have a reason to buy another Scrabble board/chips. It would make for a nice cash grab and they have this research as a nifty excuse for doing so. My parents play Scrabble a lot (they're retired) and their set is at least thirty years old -- it's been around as long as I can remember. Even if they didn't upgrade, someone in the family would be quick to get one for them as a x-mas/b-day present.

  • by jfengel (409917) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:08PM (#42608639) Homepage Journal

    The guy who developed the game tinkered with the ratio from the get-go: he put in too few "S" tiles to reduce one obvious tactic (playing a word across another by adding an S to it and making it plural, like taking COP and playing SKATE such that you get the points for both COPS and SKATE).

    The corpus is all well and good, but real points are scored on Scrabble strategy. Two-letter words are absolutely crucial in Scrabble, since they let you easily double-count each tile you lay down. If you have APE on the field, and I lay down TIN next to it, I can count not just TIN but also AN, PI, and EN.

    This is made even more profitable by the addition of (bogus, at least to me) words like QI and ZA (a way of spelling "chi" as in Chinese medicine and a slang word for "pizza" that they somehow decided was mainstream enough). If you leave me [triple letter score]AT on the field, and I have Q and I, I get to count SIXTY POINTS for that Q (plus the I and the AT). (QAT is also pretty damn bogus.)

    You can tweak the words according to the corpus, but all it will do to real Scrabble players is to tweak the game, not fundamentally alter it. It's not really a game of practical vocabulary, and never has been, not if you're planning to score well. It's a game of tactics (generally well understood) and an official dictionary with words that often bear only a dim connection to reality.

    • by BLT2112 (1372873)

      This is made even more profitable by the addition of (bogus, at least to me) words like QI and ZA (a way of spelling "chi" as in Chinese medicine and a slang word for "pizza" that they somehow decided was mainstream enough). [...] (QAT is also pretty damn bogus.) [...] It's a game of tactics (generally well understood) and an official dictionary with words that often bear only a dim connection to reality.

      I loved Scrabble until I started playing against people who used words that I had not only seen before, but that offended my inner dictionary. Someday they'll put out a dictionary with only the top N used words or something so I can enjoy it again.

  • This is a way for them to get everyone to re-buy scrabble. Now you have scrabble for each region. U.S.A scrabble, French scrabble, etc.

    Beyond that, you can conduct this analysis every few years...so you can have U.S.A. scrabble 2013 and sell more editions.

    Whoever is in control of these companies should be fired and bring me on.

  • That's not how one should measure the value of letters. Here's a more serious approach:

    1) Get a large sample of games by running a scrabble playing program against itself.
    2) Assume each letter has a latent fair-point value, model the score differential as as a function of the difference of the sum of the fair-point value of the letters received by each side.
    3) Fit fair point values with MCMC

  • by cats (316481)

    Just introduce new words to rebalance.
    I propose kwyjibo.

  • It could get as ugly as when the WWE tried to ban the flying dropkick.

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