What's great about Scrabble is that it takes an everyday thing like language -- so banal we barely even think about it -- and turns it into a game mechanic. So we've got this alphabet but, in English, we use certain letters more than others. Boom, mechanic! Widely-used letters can be worth only a few points, whereas letters we rarely use can be worth more.
All of which lends itself to some serious strategy. I'm not just talking about that heart-breaking moment when you're staring at the letters U-A-R-T-E-R and someone else pulls the last Q from the bag. Between point values, number of tiles, and special rules -- triple letter score, double word score, use all your letters and get an extra fifty points -- Scrabble makes something as simple as spelling into a complex ordeal. If you're me, that ordeal usually involves your opponent tapping on his watch as you take fifteen minutes deciding to make P-U-P-P-Y.
Someone should really invent a game where you can take all the time you want to form words, and a little voice tells you how much you rock just for spelling. Oh wait, they already did!
Scrabble has been on my mind lately thanks to the recently-released, word-dork heaven known as Bookworm Adventures. Greater powers than I have hailed its awesome powers but one of the things that makes the game so cool (okay, the word "cool" is probably a logical impossibility in a column about Scrabble) is that it combines the mechanics of language with the mechanics of video games.
Spelling and RPG-style combat, together at last? It sounds absurd, but that's Bookworm Adventures, and it works like a charm. Just think about it. Like in Scrabble, longer words are better, but instead of points on a score pad now your SAT vocabulary earns you hit points against enemies. It's like a spelling bee with knives ... seriously, there are knives.
So the next time your Aunt Mae pulls out the Scrabble board, don't yawn an over-exaggerated yawn and pretend to fall asleep in her apple pie. Yes, it's dorky. But remember, you're not really forming words, you're eating away at the health hearts of your loved ones. And that's good, old-fashioned family fun.
Bonnie Ruberg is a writer, researcher, and all around fangirl with a big crush on games. Find more of her work at Terra Nova, Gamasutra, or her blog, Heroine Sheik. She can be reached at .