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As a child, I played Scrabble with my grandmother. At the end of each game, she would tally the total score (i.e. both players' combined), and consider the game a good one if the total was high, a worse game it was lower.

  • Is that a common way to determine whether a game of Scrabble is good? Is it the common way?
  • Are there any other common ways to determine a good game? (Perhaps — and, as a novice player, I'm just guessing — number of bingos, number n-ple-word squares covered by tiles, how many times the expensive tiles were used (across and down or just once), how many tiles were left unused at the end, how many squares were used along the edges of the board, vel sim.)

Either of those may depend on the level of play, in which case I'd like to know answers both for the novice level I played her at and for more advanced levels.

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@closers - After editing, and in light of the answers provided, I don't agree that this is "primarily opinion-based". Please feel free to raise this on meta if you feel strongly, so we can discuss the boundary in more detail. –  ire_and_curses Feb 28 at 21:34

3 Answers 3

The quality of a game is not determined by the height or depth of the total score. A great example is a soccer match where the total score is 25 goals. Obviously, one or both teams did not know how to play defense very well. Does 25 goals indicate that the game was good? Not necessarily.

Let's examine a three games where we got a total score of 25.

  • One team scores 25 points and the other scores 0
  • One team scores 12 points in a row, and then the other scores 13 in a row
  • One team scores 13 points and the other scores 12, but the scores are interwoven

If we judge on total score, all three games are of equal quality. Obviously the first game is not a quality game, because one team was stomped and the other was not given a challenge. What are some other ways to measure quality? Let's try these metrics:

  • Closeness of the scores of each player at the end of the game
  • Closeness of the scores of each player throughout the game
  • The strategy and/or tactics of each player

A strategy of saving useful tiles may lead to a lower beginning score, but a large payoff at the end. A more aggressive strategy of grabbing points when you can may nab you the win, but you may be surpassed by a more patient player. My conclusion is that the quality of a game is based on closeness of the final score and the strategies each player employed to get there.

A commentator asked that I provide ideas on measuring good strategy. I can only provide a lower bound, as well as some additional notes.

  • A player who mulligans his hand repeatedly until losing, or simply concedes every game as soon as it starts, has employed the absolute worst strategy
  • A perfect players employs the absolute best strategy

All strategies in between are subjectively good or bad. Often in Chess, strategy employed in a game is reviewed by panels of experts. Books are written about good strategy in Scrabble. The strategy of a professional Scrabble player is probably good. The quality of a game between a guy and his grandmother may be undeterminable if neither player possesses expert knowledge on good Scrabble strategy, and a panel of experts is not available.

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I always thought a good game was one that was fun!

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All of those suggestions you proffer for judging the quality of a game are excellent ones. Remarkably, an extremely accurate mechanism for weighting them all appropriately, so as to correctly assess the total quality of a game, has already been invented.

Surprisingly, this mechanism ha been around since the game's inception, and is in fact a fundamental component of the game.

It is called the score.

Yes, just go back to your grandmother's knee and accept her worldly wisdom. By definition, the quality of each participant's play has already been judged, weighted by defensive and offensive maneuvers, and use of board bonuses and bingoes, and calculated to be their score on each play. Adding them up is in fact the way to judge the quality of a game.

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Very well expressed, but still missing a point. Two experts playing defensively will have a much lower combined score than two novices who don't know/care what opportunities they open up for the opponent; would you really say the latter was a better game? –  TimLymington Feb 28 at 10:54
@TimLymington: Absolutely! A key difference between an expert and a novice is the ability to score even with bad letters and a closed board. Watching that process is a thing of beauty itself. –  Pieter Geerkens Feb 28 at 13:02

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