Any family with a Scrabble tradition has doubtless developed their own set of house rules, particularly if that household includes children requiring modifications. House rules can make play more interesting and lively, place an emphasis on learning rather than competition, or simply be used to speed the game up. Below, are some common house rules I've heard about or used at home. Each rule adds its own twist to the game. I welcome you to try them!
Eternal Bonus Squares: I was raised on this one. What was my disappointment when I found out at a friend's house that the rules killed the efficacy of the bonus square once it was covered! By deeming them “eternal, " meaning they remain in force and count every time the word is added to, each move becomes more rewarding than the first. Scores soar into the hundreds. Egos inflate. The skillful player must try to make words that can't be added to, at least when covering a bonus square.
Blank Tile Substitution: This rule keeps the blank tiles in constant circulation. For instance, if someone uses a blank on the board in place of a T, and you later wind up with a T on your rack, you can substitute the real letter and re-use the blank. This is really nice toward the end of the game when everyone is down to the nubs, letter-wise.
Allowable Dictionary Use/Broadening the Word Base: To give the game more educational significance, we've sometimes allowed players to browse the dictionary when it wasn't their turns. This rule is especially helpful for children or beginners, whose vocabulary base may still be limited. If playing against more seasoned opponents, the use of a dictionary, along with offering free challenges, can even the playing field. When my sister and I were learning German we purchased a German Scrabble set and mixed it in with the English letters. Words from either language were allowed. Since letters have varying degrees of usage in different languages the point value and letter distribution will vary among foreign sets. This made our game even more interesting. Scrabble sets can be purchased on the internet in many different languages.
Free Trades: Allowing free trades of the following combinations reduces the element of luck, and can make the game more fun. Two pair Three of the same letter Six vowels Six consonants
Of course, the blank tile can not be used to substitute for any letter in a trade. Y can be used as a vowel or a consonant, to the player's advantage. Only one trade is allowed per turn, although your tiles may be rejected if it restores one of the above conditions to your rack.
Take Two: This last suggestion isn't so much a house rule, but an alternative game which can be played using Scrabble tiles. The number of players is unlimited, and can be practiced alone, or played in a large group. The more players, the faster the game will go. To play, turn all the tiles face down in the middle of the table. Each player draws seven tiles, turning them over in front of him or her. Laying letters in words across and down, players attempt to connect all their letters. The first player to do so calls out, “Take two!" and everyone draws two more tiles. The game continues until the tiles run out. The winner is the first player to use all his of her tiles. The value of unused tiles is counted and a negative score is recorded. (The winner scores a perfect zero. ) This game may be played in successive rounds if a longer version is desired.
Emma Snow works a pragmatic puzzler at the Puzzle Place http://www.puzzle-place.net and Chess Strategies http://www.chess-strategies.net leading puzzle portals.