Alien Scrabble

Over the Easter weekend I went to stay with my girlfriend’s very nice family on the rugged south coast of this rather big country. And every evening the Scrabble board was produced, and hands rubbed together in anticipation of some word-laying.


Although, being Sweden, this was not Scrabble but “Alfapet”, as Scrabble in this country was known in the past. The board is the same, the tiles are the same (except for the Swedish characters of course, and different points and distributions), and the rules are the same.

Except that they aren’t. No sir, the rules are NOT the same, which I discovered to my dismay.

You see, the company in which I sat was playing a version of Alfapet from the 70s that used non-standard rules. The rule in question which caused hackles to rise was the one concerning the connection of words. In my rules (and by “mine” I mean the internationally accepted rules of Scrabble) you may lay a word in parallel to another word as long as all the little words you make along the way are real words.

But not in the game played by my hosts. No sir, in their version each new word MUST “link in” with an existing word. You cannot, for example, lay down an “S” to turn CAR into CARS and then continue with a new word from that S. See the example here:


The first example was not allowed by my hosts; the second was fine.

The worst thing was that the entire family proceeded to explain why their rules were actually NOT a variation and were in fact the proper and logical way to play the game, despite being more complicated and not the same as the internationally accepted rules of the game.

I could not even get them to admit that their rules were a local variation. Oh no, I was simply wrong. And Alfapet was NOT a version of Scrabble (which it actually was when it was introduced to Sweden) but another game entirely which can quite happily have its own rules.

Now I have no trouble playing a variation on a game, but I find it difficult to swallow a lot of complicated reasons why one variant is any “better” or “more logical” than any another, especially when the supposedly “more logical” version has MORE rules and not less.

Still, I played anyway and was of course blown out of the water, even by the family matriarch, the 90-year old grandmother who, I am sure, could trounce me at Scrabble no matter what rules we were using.

And that, despite all the confusion, arguing and slamming shut of dictionaries, was strangely satisfying.

/ paddy


14 thoughts on “Alien Scrabble

  1. That rule bites. How many times hasn’t the “s”-move saved the board by giving a way out in an otherwise impossible constellation of words, all pointing down or right.

  2. charlotteotter: However it IS Swedish scrabble with different rules, so we’ll see how it goes.

    Alex: But that’s the point – they do not recognise any international rules because it is “not the same game”.

    ullis: Yes, exactly. And why do YOU play the correct rules when everybody else from Sweden seems to play the bizarre 70s version?

    Glen: No it isn’t.

  3. Oj. Är ni fortfarande tillsammans? Eller höll sig flickvännen lite neutral? Eller kan du stå över sånt?
    Viktiga grejer det där… (dock, märk väl, sagt av världens sämsta förlorare, blev sur när jag förlorade räkna-ko-leken på väg till Paris, uj uj).
    Hoppas att du är mer tolerant än jag!
    Låter lite jobbigt annars…

  4. Karin: I don’t really want a girlfriend who keeps “neutral” in a dispute. No, she got stuck into the argument along with the rest of us, tooth and nail. Which is great – it would be a bad relationship indeed if an argument over a board game could damage it!

  5. Paddy
    I think i prefer the Swedish rules – I mean 44 points for Ka?
    you jammy (and very good at scrabulous) bastard!

  6. Well I don’t. ;) I only play scrabble on internet and they have the new rules. I think. That rule seems silly and I don’t recongnize it from any of my games.

  7. Good thing you never played with my family (ten kids, two parents). Not sure who made up our style – I suspect my father, whom we finally discovered, years later, kept a dictionary hidden in the bathroom; no wonder he knew an ai was a 3-toed sloth. The standard ‘rule’ let you continue to place tiles on the board as long as you were making words, e.g. if your word tiles created a partial word on another line (which NORMALLY would disqualify your word) you just put more tiles on that line to complete the word … and so on. Did I get a shock when I went out into the real world where people actually read the rules on the box lid and followed them? Yes. So, where was the box lid at your girlfriend’s family’s house?

  8. ullis: No, all online scrabble uses the official international rules. Which this isn’t.

    OR Melling: Not that’s just strange. And there was a box lid but no instructions, which had mysteriously been “lost”. Hmmm.

  9. In some older versions of Alfapet (the long-time Swedish name for Scrabble) – especially from the 1970s when it became very popular – you were not allowed to hook onto a word. You had to use an already played tile to form a new word. Knowledge of English Scrabble was non-existent in Sweden so everybody (like myself) thought this silly rule was perfectly okay. Since the late 1980s the game had the look of the Mattel version of the game and uses the same rules. The Swedish Scrabble Society has a page with all the known versions of the game.

    In the early 1990s the Swedish licensee Alga lost its right to sell Alfapet in Sweden and Mattel took back the license. Unfortunately enough, Mattel missed to check that Alga owned the rights to the Swedish brand name Alfapet. Since then we have a situation in Sweden with two similar games: the new Alfapet game owned by Alga, which differs enough from (Swedish) Scrabble owned by Mattel. Almost all Swedes still think that this Alfapet game is the same as it used to be, but with “new and improved” rules. The Swedish Scrabble Society arranges tournaments and try to inform the public, but it’s hard to get the message through. English-Swedish dictionaries still translate the trademark name Scrabble with Alfapet.

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