Scrabble Overturn (1989)

16 Feb

One of the things I like to focus on when I’m out looking for old boardgames at thrift stores and flea markets are variants. Now, I’m not talking direct reprints like the 2000+ editions of Monopoly or the My Little Pony version of Chutes & Ladders that Hasbro is coming out with this year (seriously, they are showing it at the New York Toy Fair right now!). The variants I’m most interested in are those that take a tried and true game formula, and change it in a meaningful way.  In recent years, some of the new classic Euro-style game have gotten this treatment…but the resulting game doesn’t resemble the original all that much (Cardcassonne, Ticket to Ride Card Game, Ra the Dice Game etc.). That’s not to say the variants are bad games, but the relation to the parent game is tenuous at best.

 Scrabble is a game that has had its fair share of variants over the years. There are dozens of card games, dice games, and other variants in game play that have all used the Scrabble name over the years. One of the more interesting variants I’ve come across is Scrabble Overturn. The basic game play similar to the Scrabble we know and love. There are many changes in scoring that take this game in a unique direction.

IMG_1881We start by looking at the board. Exciting, isn’t it? The first thing to note, beyond the lack of bonus squares, is that the board is only 13×13 as compared to the 15×15 regular Scrabble board. This means that the board bunches up really quickly. Fortunately  they have reduced the number of tiles in the bag from 100 to 80. This keeps games from taking too long, but as you will see – it does affect the game in unfortunate ways. The rest of setup is basically the same. You grab a tile holder, and 7 tiles.

IMG_1883Did I say tiles? I meant cylinders. And yes, the above picture was MY opening draw. The cylinders are plastic / PVC tubes with the same letters printed in 4 different colors on 4 different…sides? Each player controls one of the colors. By playing words to the table, control of the letters on the board are constantly changing. Now, you see why it’s called Overturn. Let’s take a look how it works out in action.

IMG_1884Purple starts the game with AWARE. What’s his score? 0. Yes, he gets no points for this word, at this time at least. Scoring works this way in game: Tiles without a number on them are worth 1 point, all tiles with numbers on them are worth that amount of points. HOWEVER, if you do not make a word (or set of words) worth at least 12 points…you get NOTHING for the turn. Most scoring in the game is done at the end of game. Getting points during the game is rather difficult, but makes a big difference (as you will see in a bit). Also, using all 7 tiles (aka. a “bingo”) is worth 25 points…down from 50 in vanilla Scrabble.

IMG_1885So green comes along, and plays CATS. He added the C,T, and S to the board, and used the first A in AWARE. Now purple has lost control of the A. Again, no points for green, as CATS is only worth 6. In the interest of time, I’m going to show an actual in-game scoring move.. now!

IMG_1888It’s Purple’s second turn, and he decides to make the word HARE. Now, let’s take a look at the fallout. HARE itself is a 6 point word. Purple played the H, R, and E. So, HA, ORE (yes, purple forgot to spin the O when I took this picture…it was fixed eventually), and BE were also made for a grand total of 17 points. 17 points may not sound like much, especially in a game like Scrabble where 250-300 point scores are fairly normal. In Scrabble Overturn, it’s monster (as I found out in this game). The game plays out like this until either all the tiles are used, or nobody is able to make a legal play. This second aspect seems to be a much more likely outcome than in regular Scrabble because of the smaller board.

IMG_1890So here we have the board at the end of the game. Looks pretty confusing, doesn’t it? Well, I think it does, and the scoring at this point bears this confusion out. Players now have to figure out what words he or she still controls on the board.  Some words are easier to find than others.

IMG_1891DOOM! That bad boy got me a tasty 6 points. This is the easy stuff, let’s look at a more confusing example.

IMG_1892FINED has two different colors, so nobody get points for it, right? Wrong! FINE IS a word, and therefore gets Purple 6 points. So now players have to look at every spot on the board where they have letters, and see if any of them are complete words (or at least two letters…no I or A allowed). To be polite, let’s just say this takes a while.

Scrabble Overturn is an interesting idea in theory. It’s not as much about making big scoring words as much as it is trying to hide your words from the other players. Unfortunately, there are several aspects to this game which make it falter as a good game in its own right. The cylinders are neat, but they are slick, so it’s tough to spin them once they are placed on the board.  Next, they messed with the letter distribution. This means that the “tougher” letters (Q, Z, X) are much harder to use because the ratio of those to vowels and more common letters is much higher…oh, no blanks either. Strategically, S becomes insanely powerful in this game. Especially near the end of the game. All you have to do is use an S, and you can yoink an entire word from someone else with just one letter. And if it was a 12+ point word…you’ll get those points as well!

Oh yeah, in case you are wondering… I got a total of 16 points. Remember, Purple got 17 points on the second turn of the game! Purple ended with 50. The other two players ended tied with 24 points.

I’m not really sure what I want to write about next time. I’ve been doing some work on my collection, and my shelf of strange/obscure games I want to explore for this blog has about 70 games on it, and I’m only about halfway through my organizing!


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