Here's what's actually happening. Mattel, which owns the rights to Scrabble outside of North America, is introducing a game this summer called Scrabble Trickster. The game will include cards that allow players to spell words backward, use proper nouns, and steal letters from opponents, among other nontraditional moves. The game will not be available in North America, where rival toy company Hasbro owns Scrabble. Hasbro, I'm told, has no plans for a similar variation.
Trickster will enter a pantheon of Scrabble spinoffs. A round of Scrabble Sentence Cube Game, anyone? No? How about Scrabble Overturn? Or Super Scrabble? Or Scrabble Up? These games were all attempts to get a public that loves something classic to buy something else that resembles the classic—or at least includes its name—and they all pretty much failed.
So how did this latest games marketing gimmick turn into a global foofaraw? A combination of deceptive corporate shilling and media incompetence. The news of the game, I'm told, first appeared as four lines in a toy industry trade magazine. Then the British media started calling Mattel, and the company appears to have done nothing to disabuse gullible reporters of the idea that a Major Change is occurring. In the Daily Mail, a Mattel spokesman implied that the rules of the game had officially been changed. Mattel would still sell a Scrabble with the "old rules," but this new and improved game would help "level the playing field" between "experienced players with a vast vocabulary" and "players with a love of celebrity or football." Reporters didn't bother calling the Mattel executive in London who oversees competitive Scrabble play outside North America. In the United States and Canada, reporters mostly didn't even make the distinction between Mattel and Hasbro, the game's dueling corporate overlords.
And all is right with the world once again.