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TUAW Review: Scrabble for iPhone


Hasbro's Scrabble is a classic board game, and Electronic Arts made the crossword game one of the first releases for the iPhone / iPod touch platform. Although the game has been available since July, I decided to wait to review it until some of the early bugs were squashed and new features were added. Since Scrabble is a holiday favorite for families, it's the perfect time for a review of the game.

The original board game is played with 100 small hardwood tiles, most of which have a letter of the alphabet and a point value printed on them. The playing board is a 15 by 15 grid with some squares marked as double or triple letters or words. The object, to those few people who have never played the game, is to create words from a rack of letters randomly assigned to you.

Points are assigned per word based on the individual point values of the tiles and whether a letter or word overlays a colored multiplier square. After the first word has been placed on the board, subsequent words must touch another word in crossword puzzle fashion.

The iPhone game, available in the App Store (click opens iTunes) for US$4.99, follows the rules of the board game to the letter (no pun intended).

When the app is launched, players are directed to a settings screen that provides a choice of Quick Play, Multiplayer mode (requires multiple players on the same Wi-Fi network), custom play (playing against the computer, against others in "pass and play mode", or solo), options for music and sound effects, and statistics on your play.

Most players, given the amount of time many people have to play games, are going to want to select the Quick Play mode against the iPhone. Believe it or not, the iPhone is a formidable opponent when you're playing Scrabble! In my first ten games, I won only one game without using the "Best Word" assistance that is built into the game.

The graphics in this game are excellent. The board is true to the Scrabble Crossword Game and the pieces look amazingly realistic. If you select a fake word like KWYJIBO or otherwise break any of the other rules of the game, you are properly chastised (and the Scrabble police will also block you from using profanity or ethnic slurs, so don't bother trying).

I hate to say this, but the music in this game sounds like the soundtrack to an adult movie -- not that I'd know what that sounds like... It gets kind of annoying after a very short time, so fortunately there is an option to turn off the music. Unfortunately, you can't substitute your iTunes music for the soundtrack -- the double-press of the home button to call up the mini-Music controls works as it does in other apps, but as soon as you close it Scrabble mutes your song playback.

Scrabble provides an aid in those cases where you can't think of a good word to put on the board -- it's called Best Word, and it uses the built-in word dictionary and the logic used by your computer opponent to determine the highest point value word from a particular rack of tiles. You only get to use the Best Word assistance four times during a normal game, but it can often make the difference between winning and losing against the computer opponent.

Are there any annoyances with Scrabble? Well, it does suck the batteries down if you're playing in multiplayer mode for any length of time. The tiles can sometimes be hard to "grab" with your finger to move into place. Finally, it would be good to have an onboard copy of the Scrabble dictionary to check some of the words that are provided by the game. Not that I think my iPhone is cheating, but some of its word choices seem to be questionable.

What's your favorite board game for the iPhone? Let us know in the comments section. Be sure to check out the gallery below for dazzling color screenshots of this game.

Gallery: Scrabble for iPhone | 10 Photos

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