Games That Don’t Suck: Scramble With Friends
Today’s game that doesn’t suck is the latest offering from that evil empire known as Zynga (makers of the Chess With Friends, Words With Friends and Hanging With Friends games). It’s called Scramble With Friends (iTunes: $2.99 – Universal) or (FREE – with ads). At its heart, just as Words With Friends is a Scrabble rip-off and Hanging With Friends is a Hangman clone, Scramble with Friends appears to be more or less a Boggle rip-off, but a nice one, with some fun social gameplay. Basically you get a grid of letters and try to create as many words as you can in two minutes by dragging your fingers across connecting tiles. The longer the word, the more points, and point values go up in each of three successive rounds.
So yes, the gameplay is simple, but what makes Scramble With Friends fun, just like the other Zynga games, is the ability to challenge your friends (or complete strangers if you have no friends) to matches and hopefully make yourself feel superior to them. Like all Zynga games the graphical polish to the games is top-notch (as far as a game like this goes) and the sound effects are nice too. As with the other “With Friends” games, you can either sign in with an e-mail address, or via a Facebook account. The Facebook signup makes it easy to see which of your friends are already playing Scramble With Friends and invite them to play, but it isn’t necessary.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Zynga game if they didn’t try to squeeze more money out of you, and Scramble With Friends has a somewhat annoying token system going for it that originally had me so pissed I was about to list it as a game that DID suck until they quickly released an update which, while not ideal, certainly is an improvement. Basically, in order to play a game, you need to use “a token”. You are given 15 free tokens at the start of the game, and these tokens regenerate for free over time (1 token every 10 minutes in the PAID version, and 1 token every 20 minutes in the free version). Originally even the paid version took 20 minutes to regenerate tokens, and you had less of them. This seemed like a real money grab for a somewhat expensive game by puzzle-standards ($2.99), and I while could understand gouging the users of the FREE version, when I buy an App, I feel I should be able to play it, no matter what. I don’t (usually) mind if a developer charges extra for power-ups, extra levels, etc, but the core ability to PLAY the game should be included in that price. Other Zynga titles allow you to use real money to buy tokens or coins to help you win against your friends or in the case of Hanging With Friends, buy character customizations, but they are never necesary in order to simply PLAY the game.
In the case of Scramble With Friends, each game costs you ONE token, and that token allows you to choose one of THREE special powerups that can help you increase your score. The first is a time freeze, which as you might suspect, gives you a few extra seconds on your clock to try to find words. The next is a board flip, which does not rearrange the tiles, but it DOES rearrange how you look at the board which, surprisingly, makes a big difference sometimes. The third power-up is basically the cheating power-up, and I never use it because I am a purist (likewise I never use the hints in Hanging With Friends because I am the perfect human being). This power-up shows you three decent words you’ve missed, and I personally feel that it’s cheating, but whatever, some of you weaker-minded people might need to rely on that crutch. For each game, you are allowed to use up to TWO of these power-ups – the first is free, the next costs you another one of your tokens, potentially making each game cost TWO tokens to play. This is still not “real” money, but it DOES mean that if you are as insanely popular as I am and have many games going at once, you will find yourself running out of tokens as you can really play about 20 games in a row (each game is two minutes, and allowing for token regeneration during those games) if you do not use any additional power-ups. If you DO want to use both time freeze and the board rotation, then you are down to about 10 games.
This limiting system will probably only annoy you if you have many concurrent games going at the same time, and honestly, even 10 games means I will have been playing Scramble with Friends for over 20 minutes, and odds are there’s something else I should be doing, so in a way it serves as a built-in “Don’t be a loser” alarm, but still, the idea of not being able to start a new game with someone on a game I have paid for is annoying.
Still, I must recommend this game, and while you can certainly feel free to give the free version a spin, my recommendation alone should be enough to have you rushing to the app store as we speak. BTW, my username is “Dr Macenstein“.