By Michael Hartley
If you have a bunch of Scrabble tiles, and two to six players, try a game of Snabble. Also called Snatch Scrabble, this game tests your annagramming skills, but is a much faster game than Scrabble - and it doesn't need a board! In Scrabble you can wait ages for an opponent to decide on his or her move. In snatch scrabble, there's no waiting, everyone's making words all at the same time - and from the same set of tiles!
Here's how to play. First, get your scrabble tiles and spread them out on the tabletop or floor. All the tiles should be face down.
Players take turns to expose a tile. Everyone's looking intently at the exposed letters. As soon as someone sees a word they can make, they call it out and take those tiles. If six people are all looking at the tiles at the same time, it pays to shout your word quickly! For example, if the tiles showing were H, T and P, and someone turned up an A, you could quickly call out "HAT" and take the letters and form the word. If I called out "TAP" a split second later, it would be too bad for me, you'd get your word because you called it out first.
Once you've made your word, it's not at all safe. Anyone can combine the exposed letters in the middle with the letters in your word to make a new (longer) word. So, if I called out "PATH", I would take the P from the middle, and the A, T, H from your HAT, and the word would be mine.
Just waiting for an R, or G, or P, or D, or...
There's a couple of restrictions on that. Words must be at least three letters long. You can't steal someone's word by just adding an S on the end, so if I have TOP you can't steal it by making TOPS. You could steal it by making make STOP or SPOT or even POTS though. You can't steal a word just by adding D or ED onto a verb. Also, you can't steal two words at once and merge them into a longer word (but feel free to relax this rule!). When you steal a word, you must use all the letters in the word (plus at least one tile from the middle), and you can't split up stolen words into more than one word.
You are allowed to "steal" your own words and build on them. I wonder what the game would be like if you couldn't? It might be a lot more interesting as people see short but easy-to-steal words and stay silent, hoping to form a bigger word, wondering if someone else will use up the tiles before they do. Hmm... I must get some Snabble players together and try this variant!
Optional Rule : If someone says a word that turns out not to be a real word (or they can't say what it means), they must take one of the words they already have and return the tiles, face down, to the middle. I didn't use this rule with my kids, I thought it was better to let them be bold to say words that they weren't sure were words, or weren't sure how to spell. This way, their vocabulary would be expanded through a bit of trial and error.
The game ends when all the tiles have been exposed, and nobody can think of any more words to make or build on. There are several ways you could score the game (of course, you should decide in advance which scoring method you'll use). You could just count words, or just count tiles, or count up the scrabble point values of the tiles.
While this game can be played with only two players (hey, you could even play it solitaire!) it works better with more. Four or five is probably the ideal number of players.
If you have a larger group, the players don't have to be too evenly matched. That's because if one player starts to win, the others tend to gang up on them and concentrate hard on how to steal the winner's words. In a smaller group, the more skillful annagrammer or the one with the biggest vocabulary tends to win, and the game is less fun for everyone else.
If you have a group of players who are very unevenly matched, Snabble won't work so well as I described it above. When I introduced the game to my kids (aged 11 and 6) we made a rule - nobody could steal words from the six year old, and I couldn't steal words from anyone. It made for a slower-paced game than "standard" Snabble, but it became a game everyone could enjoy, and that's what games are supposed to be. I recommend, if you're playing Snabble with your kids, that you make a similar rule.
Here's a short video of some highlights of a Snabble game I played with the kids, so you can get an idea of the rules.
Try it out!