Created by Electronic Arts / Rated 4+ / 1-4 Players / iPhone + iPod Touch / 7.0 MB / $9.99
Review written by Tim Harding

ScrabbleLet me start by saying that I’m a big Scrabble fan. I own four versions of the Scrabble board game including the useful Scrabble Folio Edition for trips to Starbucks with my wife. I guess I should say ‘formerly useful’ because the iPhone version renders it useless.

We’re all familiar with classic Scrabble rules and gameplay, but how often would you want to play an hour-long Scrabble game on your phone? Fortunately, EA Mobile recognized that a mobile phone version of the game needed other options, quicker ones due to the nature of the platform. There are plenty of ways to play, no matter the situation. Want single player? Sure thing, you can play against the Computer with 3 modes of difficulty or play alone and set up those Triple Word Scores without a pesky opponent to steal them away. Have friends? No problem, the game supports 2-4 players with its “Pass ‘n Play” mode. When you’re done with your turn, a “Next Player” screen appears for the following player to bypass so that no one sees an opponent’s tiles.

But how about those quicker modes I mentioned? Of course the classic mode still stands, but it’s the inclusion of 75-Point, 150-Point, 8-Round, and 12-Round matches that really make this game shine. While reviewing the game, I happened to be at Starbucks with my wife and a couple friends and we thoroughly enjoyed a 75-Point match that took under 10 minutes to play. We even had a rematch while walking through the mall. The only gripe I have with these gameplay modes is the lack of additional customization. I don’t see why they couldn’t have allowed the player to choose the point limit or number of rounds themselves. Another tiny omission is not being able to pick a tile to see who goes first. Typically all players pick a tile and whoever has the tile with the highest point value goes first. This omission makes short games like the 75-Point game seem a bit unfair as the first player gets an automatic Double Word Score.

ScrabbleMy biggest fear was that it would be difficult to see the entire board on the iPhone screen. Fortunately, the graphics are very sharp and vibrant on the iPhone’s generous screen. There are also some little animations when you hit special squares, nothing elaborate, but enough to make you feel good about your word choice. The game also has a nice graphical intro, but unfortunately you have to watch the whole thing every time you enter the application since it’s really a loading screen for the game. It’s not terribly long, but it would be nice to jump right into a game instead of waiting 10-15 seconds. The sound and music work well too, nothing annoying or overbearing, but you’d probably rather listen to your own music. I would too if that were an option. I’m really shocked that you can’t play your own music during the game, an especially frustrating omission when you consider that many free apps and demos include this feature. If you’re playing with others, chances are you won’t have the sound on anyway, so it’s not such a huge issue there.

As far as controls go, the game works just as it should. The normal view will show the entire board, but zooming can be performed in a number of ways. Multi-touch zooming is supported and works fine, but the simpler way to zoom is to simply double-tap the screen where you’d like to zoom in and double-tap again to zoom out. Panning while zoomed in also works quite well. In addition, placing a tile (by dragging it from your rack onto the board) will cause the screen to zoom right into that area. You can also rearrange your tiles manually (dragging) or randomly with the ‘Shuffle’ button or by actually shaking the iPhone.

One controversial addition is the ‘Best Word’ button. Pressing this will show you the best possible move you can make on your turn. I don’t mind this option so much except that there’s nothing optional about it. There’s no way to turn off ‘Best Word’ which means nothing prevents someone from using it (aside from a verbal agreement). You are limited to a maximum of four Best Words in a game which are indicated by hearts above your score (think of Link’s life meter), but I fear that the temptation might be too great for someone that’s struggling to make up ground.

ScrabbleSo, clearly you can see I think this is a great game of Scrabble, but what’s missing? Well, aside from the few problems already mentioned, my biggest problem is the fact that there’s no ‘score preview’. What I mean by that is, once you’ve placed your tiles there’s nothing telling you how many points that move will be worth unless you commit to playing them (and even then multiple words are added separately making it difficult to know how much that ‘turn’ was worth). This is a big problem in my opinion. I find that once people find a suitable place to go, they don’t want to figure out how many points the move will get them, so they just go with it instead of looking for a more valuable spot. Even if you were willing to add the points up yourself, this makes each turn take longer than it needs to. Hopefully an update fixes this omission.

The game also suffers from a couple menu issues similar to the ones Ray mentioned in his Tetris review. First, the main menu has room for seven entries, but only the middle five slots are used. Guess what? There are two more menu items that are below which require scrolling to access. This is baffling since there’s actually room for the two additional menu items, but they just aren’t used. The other problem comes in the Custom Play menu. When setting up the game, I really thought there was something wrong with the touch screen, but it turns out it was just the interface. See, next to each option there’s an icon of a rotating arrow inside a circle. To me this says, “Touch me and you’ll change this option to something else!” Unfortunately, it’s really saying, “Ignore me because I do nothing!” Instead you’ll need to actually touch the words to change the options. This seems trivial, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tapped and tapped on the options and they just don’t change!

In the end, I think we’ve got ourselves a real winner. Is it worth $10? I think so if you’re a Scrabble fan, or if you’re just looking for a fun multiplayer game to enjoy that doesn’t require an internet connection or a second iPhone. While there are a few things that could be tweaked a bit, there are no real major flaws that would prevent me from recommending this game. It’s an all-around fun game with plenty of options, a slick presentation, and unending replayability.

Version Reviewed: 1.0.26

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