- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

Scrabble has been a favorite in my household for decades. The word-building board game is not only a fun family social event, but also a great way to teach children about letters and spelling.

Now downsized into a handy Nintendo DS version, Scrabble (Electronics Arts, $29.99) will have the entire clan increasing their word proficiency and improving their ability to quickly identify letter combinations.

The virtual version allows easy, on-the-go Scrabble matches without the worry of losing any tiles. The DS is held sideways to play, with the stylus easily dragging tiles onto the miniature board. Tap on the board to zoom in.

From one to four players can take part in the action, passing the DS back and forth, using a wireless download play or with all players having their own DS and card. There are three ways to play: Classic, using the familiar rules; Speed Scrabble; and Scrabble Slam, the most intriguing variation.

In Slam, players build upon the same single word using lettered cards. The first to play all of their cards on the ever-changing tableau of four-letter words wins. For example, hope becomes hops, pops, pope, poke, and so forth. You do not need to wait for a turn, play as fast as you can. It’s a swift, strategic game that will satisfy the casual gamer.

Speed Scrabble plays like Classic, with the addition of a timer to keep the pace moving. If time runs out and you still have tiles left, watch the points dissolve away.

Scrabble for the DS offers plenty of little additions that could be considered — heaven forbid — educational. When first signing in, training modes offer chances to practice while players can keep track of their progress and proficiency.

The training mode includes three word-building games. Through Vocabulary, a player can increase his word knowledge base. In Pattern Recognition, simply make as many words out of the tiles as possible, and, most challenging, Score Strategy tests a player’s ability to make a word using double- and triple-letter score tiles.

Keeping arguments over what is and isn’t an word to a minimum, options for spell-a-word and a quick definition pop up on the left-side screen with help from a very robust dictionary. Additionally, the game will not accept an invalid letter combination. A player can consult a handy “two-letter-word list” when he has a brain freeze.

Scrabble fanatics will appreciate the Skill Tracker, which keeps an eye on progress through rank, graphs and raw stats.

Although I miss opening the actual Scrabble box and catching a whiff of those varnished wooden tiles and the tacit dread of holding the “Z” at the end of the game, this DS version makes for a compact, very satisfying way to play the legendary board game.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.