The tournament metagame for Scrabble has been rewritten

June 13, 2016 - 10:06am
Image from Wall Street Journal Image from Wall Street Journal

When I was young, I was encouraged to play a lot of Scrabble to practice new words and develop a richer, deeper vocabulary. The kind of practice that would help a young man to grow into reading and writing. Of course my adult years are occupied with reporting the board gaming world - so that's certainly come full circle. It's truly a wonderful game! Among my growing years and time spent with this hobby, I have always been vaguely aware of how intensely competitive the game of Scrabble could be. Turns out it is a proud sport in many parts of the world, and pleasantly so in cultures where English isn't a primary language. That's where this article from The Wall Street Journal comes in. Posted last month, it is a truly captivating piece about how the world of competitive Scrabble has been turned upside down by a strategy of using short words instead of long ones. The premier of this meta-shattering strategy is due to 2015's World Champion, Wellington Jighere, who hails from Nigeria. He has stunned a meta long ruled by seven to eight letter words by instead using shorter words, ideally four or five letters long. Commonly longer words have been seen as advantageous, securing more than two score multipliers while racking in big points. However, this style has it's risks...
Risk one: Every extra letter on the board is another opening for an opponent to land their own seven-letter blockbuster. Risk two: Every letter played gets replaced by a random tile from the bag. A bad draw can—and often does—leave players stuck for several turns without vowels or decent letter combinations.
Jighere's short word strategy fights both of these risks by securing multipliers without compromising positioning for an opponent, while also saving valuable letters to save future turns and maintain scoring momentum. The brilliant man and his team dominated the championships last year to the abundant applause from his country and the fascination of the gaming world. It's very fun to know a classic and weathered game such as Scrabble still has room within it's competitive sphere to be impressively tilted by new strategies. I highly encourage anyone interested in Scrabble or gaming strategy to read the rest of the article over at The Wall Street Journal. A brilliantly written and remarkable read!

Indiana native and IU alumnus, majoring in Writing and a minor in Philosophy. Trained in Graphic Design and succumbed to a lifelong obsession with game development.
You can also find me on Twitter and BoardgameGeek, and can email me directly at mikeoflore@gmail.com.