Scrabble is a Board Game! (Crossword Game, Tile-Based Game…)

Top view of pile of letter tiles on board of Scrabble game
Vvoe / Shutterstock.com

Scrabble, the good old family favorite has had a spotlight shone on it. The question being asked is whether or not Scrabble is a board game. When I was first asked the question, it felt natural to say yes, but then I started to wonder if the game truly does fit in with the definition of the term “board game”. As usual, I absolutely had to have the answer, and so I set about with my investigations.

According to the definition of the term “board game” in the Oxford English Dictionary, Scrabble is a board game. Besides being a board game, Scrabble is also considered a crossword game (as specified in the Hasbro official website). Furthermore, given that Scrabble uses tiles, it’s also a tile-based game.  

As stated in lexico.com (which is powered by Oxford), a board game is “any game played on a board, especially one that involves the movement of pieces on the board, such as chess or checkers”

Of course, saying that Scrabble is a board game based on these reasons was not enough for me. Therefore, I had to do a bit more digging for answers to satisfy my curiosity. Read on the learn more about what I found out. 

The Classification of Board Games According to Wikipedia

While the Oxford English Dictionary has a fairly fixed definition of the term “board game”, I found that other sources had something different to say. While researching the history of board games to get some sort of understanding of how the first board games were ever classified as such, I discovered that Wikipedia defines Scrabble quite differently to the Oxford English Dictionary. 

As a result, it seems as if the answer to my question was found hidden in the actual history of board games itself, instead of in the history of Scrabble as I had initially believed. 

Wikipedia logo visible on display screen
II.studio / Shutterstock.com

Wikipedia states that:

Board games are traditionally a subset of tabletop games that involve counters or pieces moved or placed on a pre-marked surface or “board”, according to a set of rules… Some games are based on pure strategy, but many contain an element of chance; and some are purely chance, with no element of skill.

Games usually have a goal that a player aims to achieve. Early board games represented a battle between two armies, and most modern board games are still based on defeating opponents in terms of counters, winning position, or accrual of points.”

Wikipedia – Board Game

* Breaking Down the Definition of a Board Game

To determine if Scrabble fits into the definition of a board game according to Wikipedia’s definition (after all, we often turn to Wikipedia for information on a plethora of subjects); I decided to break the definition down into segments and see how the game fit into each (or didn’t fit at all).

Below are snippets of the definition of a board game and a brief explanation as to how Scrabble does indeed fit into each:

“tabletop game”

Yup, as it turns out, Scrabble is, in fact, a tabletop game. Tabletop games are very clearly defined as “a game played on a flat surface, such as a board game or card game”. The very first point of the definition leans towards Scrabble being a board game. 

“involve counters or pieces”

While Scrabble does not involve counters (the player actually doesn’t follow a particular route on the board), it does involve pieces. The pieces are the lettered tiles that are included in the game. There are 100 pieces in Scrabble, each of which has a letter of the alphabet printed on it (except for the blank tiles, of course).

Scrabble game - bag with tiles
Idiltoffolo / Shutterstock.com

“counters or pieces moved or placed on a pre-marked surface or board”

Here’s another way that Scrabble proves itself to be a board game according to the definition. While there are no pieces of counters moved on the board, the lettered tiles are, in fact, placed on a pre-marked surface, which just happens to be the Scrabble board. The pre-marked areas can involve additional points being scored too. 

“according to a set of rules”

Just like any game, Scrabble comes with a set of rules that determine how the pieces are used by players on the board. This one seemed an easy one! Phew!

“Some games are based on pure strategy, but many contain an element of chance; and some are purely chance, with no element of skill”

If you take a look at the gameplay of Scrabble, it fits really nicely into the very first part of this statement. Scrabble involves a lot of strategy, but it also has an element of chance. Every time that a player draws lettered tiles from the tile bag, chance is involved. The player cannot select the tiles (and letters of the alphabet) personally. Instead, they just pull out their allotted number of tiles at random. And that presents an element of chance into the game. 

The rest of the game is mostly based on pure skill. Players need to be able to spell, they must have a big vocab, and they also need a variety of other skills such as quick-thinking, confidence, the ability to spot an opportunity, and so on.

“Usually have a goal that a player aims to achieve”.

There is a definite goal for each player in the game of Scrabble. The main goal is for a player to score as many points as possible by forming words on the game board by placing lettered tiles down. 

 “Based on defeating opponents in terms of counters, winning position, or accrual of points”

At first, you might think that there is no counter or winning-position win in a game of Scrabble, but if you take a look at the gameplay and, of course, the rules of scrabble, it is the accrual of points that helps a player defeat his/her opponent. 

The Many Classifications of Board Games

Board games in a toy store
Massimo Todaro / Shutterstock.com

While scrounging around for information, I discovered that there is a dedicated field of research that actually takes a deeper look at games. This field of research is ludology. I also found that contemporary games such as Scrabble have had a lot less scrutiny than say older board games such as Chess. That was just a point of interest that made me think. 

I then moved on with my investigations and went on to discover that, nowadays, there are so many classifications of boards to choose from. This just wasn’t the case when board games first became a “thing”. I decided to do a little research into this, and I found that board games are classified in a variety of ways. So much is taken into account that there is often an overlap, resulting in one game fitting into several category classifications. 

There are many board game classifications, but I found that Scrabble has the ability to fit into the following 2 categories:

  • Tile-based games (this one was an easy one to guess)
  • Crossword games (another easy one to guess)

According to this information, Scrabble is, in fact, a type of board game. Oh, the excitement! It’s comforting to know that the game that has been one of my favorite board games for all of my life can, in fact, be considered an official board game!

In closing

When it comes down to whether or not Scrabble is a board game, I think it is safe to say that it is. Why this is a question that people like to argue about will never be clear to me. What I believe is that Scrabble is a word game that is educational and fun. Where and how it is classified and what type of game it is, is really of little consequence to me in the end. 

That said, I am still happy to announce that I can now confidently argue that Scrabble is a board game, regardless of what anybody else has to say about it!