This week, NPR wrote about how the French Scrabble tournament had been won by Nigel Richards, a New Zealander who doesn’t speak any French, but who spent a few weeks studying a French dictionary. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an extremely impressive learning curve for Mr. Richards — one that I suspect classifies him as a sooper-genius. But otherwise I was utterly unshocked by the news.
You see, I learned a lot about Scrabble several years ago when I read an intriguing book about the game called Word Freak (2001), which talked about the culture of tournament-level Scrabble. What struck me most was how unlike casual play this tournament play was. Players obsessively memorized two-letter words, then three-letter words. They studied the Scrabble Dictionary to mind their Qs and Zs. 538.com famously described the results of high-level Scrabble play as looking like it’s “played in Martian”.
And that’s much of why I don’t think Scrabble is a good design.
Last quarter I played a good number of new games and had good success with them. As usual, this is my ratings of these games, which means it’s personal opinion rather than an overall assessment of whether they’re good (or not).
Eldritch Horror (2013). Although it’s only advertised as being “inspired” by Arkham Horror (1987, 2005), Eldritch Horror is pretty much a revision of the cooperative classic. Just like in the original, you have gates opening up and spewing monsters onto the board while investigators stock up on spells and items — while working to stop the Doom Track from dropping to zero and freeing the Great Old One.
With that said, this is a really well-polished revision that looks at Arkham Horror systems like monsters, gates, and money and figures out how to simplify them through abstraction and redevelopment. Much as with Caverna, I think that digging through the systemic changes is a great lesson in game design (which is why I did just that in my last article). The best change is probably in Eldritch Horror’s victory conditions. Each Great Old One has different conditions that must be met to defeat it, as revealed on special Mystery Cards. This makes every game very different; even if you play against the same Great Old One, different mysteries can come up in different orders.
Much as with Arkham Horror, the biggest problem is length. Maybe it’s shorter than the famously long Arkham Horror … but it’s still quite long. Our game took just under four hours, including teach. I’d been hoping the revision would shorten things a bit more than that! Continue reading →