Scrabulous Reborn as Wordscraper (Sort Of)

Josh Catone

Just two days after Hasbro’s law suit and DMCA take down notice forced the super-popular Scrabble clone application Scrabulous off Facebook, the game’s creators Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla are back with a new application called Wordscraper. With the absence of Scrabulous, the official Scrabble application from Hasbro has enjoyed a surge in users — up from 10,000 or so a couple of days ago (daily active) to 62,000 today. Wordscraper, meanwhile, has about 3,500 users as I write this.

The Agarwallas are clearly hoping that Wordscraper will become the preferred home of Scrabulous refugees. If Scrabulous hadn’t been such a high profile application on Facebook — in many circles it was really treated as the flagship app for the site’s platform — this wouldn’t be such a big story.

We’ve advocated a couple of times on this blog that in order to save Scrabulous, the Agarwalla brothers should take the same approach as Roger Nesbitt, who saved his Boggle clone app by changing the rules, the name, and the look very slightly. The Agarwallas have essentially done that with Wordscraper — though the changes aren’t necessarily so slight.

Wordscraper is a basic Scrabble-like crossword puzzle game but the board is created randomly and includes not just double and triple letter and word scoring tiles, but quadruple and quintuple scoring tiles as well — often times too many of them. My first word in my first game of Wordscraper, which would have been no more than 12 points in Scrabble, racked up 192 points on Wordscraper because if fell on three triple letter score tiles and a couple of quadruple word scores. Maybe a little excessive.

Wordscraper also allows users to create their own game boards by laying down bonus letter and word score tiles wherever they want. Theoretically that means you could create a game that is identical to Scrabble. There are some problems, though:

  1. It’s ugly! In order not to infringe on Hasbro’s game board design trademarks, the Agarwalla brothers opted to create a board with circle letter tiles. The result, however, is that the board looks like a field of polka dots and starts to swim if you look at it for more than few minutes. Thankfully, the main page of Wordscraper bears a note saying, “The first thing that we change will be the look/feel.”
  2. Scoring is hidden. Like Scrabulous, the game still automatically tallies your would-be score as you place letter tiles on the board, but because of the ill-advised round tiles, none of the individual letter scores are shown. For a Scrabble addict like me (I own about 5 versions of the game), that’s fine because I already know what each letter is worth, but for anyone else that might get annoying. The game seems to still use normal Scrabble scoring.
  3. You can’t save board designs. If you touch on a board design you like, either randomly generated or user created, you can’t save it. If you want to play with that board again you have two options: re-create it by hand, or navigate to the game again and click the “Start a similar game link.” Wordscraper smartly gives users the option of promoting their boards to friends via a public link, but a way to save boards you like to a gallery or share them in the game would be smart. Our guess: the most popular boards would be Scrabble clones. That might end up being an issue, but (and I am not a lawyer), I think that since they’d be user created the DMCA would offer a bit of protection to the Agarwalla’s in that case.