Classic Family Games: Boggle
Key Designers: Bill Cooke , Alan Turoff
Publisher: Parker Brothers (1972)
Suggested Players: 2 – 6
Suggested Ages: 8 and Up
How to Play Play Boggle
RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE-RATTLE-Rattle-Rattle-Rattle-Rattle. CLACK! Three minutes of silence.
The starting sounds of a round of Boggle are burned into my brain. Sixteen letter cubes smashing around inside a plastic dome make a wonderful racket — especially when contrasted to the three minutes of fierce silence that follows, as the players furiously scribble down every word they can find in the resulting grid.
For those of you who have never played Boggle, or need a refresher, the game comes with 16 dice, each with a single letter (saving the word game trope Qu) on a side. The cubes rest in a square tray containing 16 slots, four per row. One player places a plastic dome over the tray and shakes the cubes like crazy before placing the tray down again. Players then have exactly three minutes to write down as many words of three or more letters as they can find on the board.
When you create words in Boggle, you can only string together adjoining letters. A cube can adjoin vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, but each letter must touch the one before and the one after it to count. No letter cube can be used twice in the same word either.
Once the three minutes are up, players compare words. If any two or more players wrote down the exact same word, that word is crossed out. Players get to score any word only they wrote down that round. The longer the word, the more points it scores. Boggle games can end after one round, 50 points, 100 points, or at whatever threshold the players choose.
That’s it. Boggle’s never going to win a prize for World’s Most Complex Game, but that’s the beauty of it. There is an innate human drive to find patterns, to place our minds and our world in order. Boggle appeals to the hunger for the patterns we all crave.
Boggle is truly a fun game for the whole family. Even younger members can play once they learn to read and this game can serve as a family memory that stretches across many, many years and family gaherings.
From the time we are infants, we search for patterns. Without the ability to perceive patterns, we cannot learn, and therefore cannot survive. For those three boggling minutes of word-finding goodness, players are constantly reinforced by finding new words, new patterns, on the board in front of them. Well, except when the occasional really horrid board shakes out. Then players spend those three minutes wondering what words you can create from a Qu, a J, a K, and four Ls.
So, Boggle reinforces the pattern-hungry hamster in us all. But it’s also one of the best brainy beatdown games of all time. Unlike with many classic word games, Boggle provides little luck with which players can mentally shield themselves and their abilities. In Scrabble, for instance, players draw letter tiles. Sometimes their draws are better than their opponent's.
But Boggle presents all players with the same letters, in the same arrangement. It’s up to each player and his or her lexical might to make something of those letters in three short minutes. When the timer runs out and the word dust clears, it’s often brutally obvious where each player stands in the verbal dexterity prize ring.
To Play Hard or Not to Play Hard?
As with a game like chess, this spare-no-ego aspect of Boggle makes it hard to play much with friends or family who are not similar in skill levels (unless you can chill out a bit and not play your best when it’s expedient not to do so). Just ask my in-laws. We played Boggle together. Once. But, again, as with chess, the gloves off approach can make Boggle tremendously fun and competitive for those with similar skills.
Fellow game designer, Mike Selinker, and I once played in a two-player Boggle tournament at Entros, a gamer’s restaurant in Seattle that has since closed — and a place that would take a whole other essay to describe. There was our team, another team made up of a couple of friends and fellow puzzle-heads (including Time’s Up! designer Peter Sarrett), and everyone else. The entire tournament came down to the word QUININE. Mike and I both found that most excellent word on the board. Our foes did not. Game and tournament over. For a word nerd facing a truly worthy set of opponents, that was awesome.
Online Boggle and Other Versions
This brings up another point in Boggle’s favor: Its simplicity can be played in a variety of ways — most notably, in recent years, online. Online Boggle affords thousands of players the opportunity to go on the Internet and battle away. Boggle Jr., a simplified version of the game, allowing children just learning to read entrée to the word game realm.
These options are terrific for some, but when it comes to Boggle-philes, there is really only one pressing question: Boggle or Big Boggle? Big Boggle, first published in 1979, is a version of the game where, instead of having a four by four grid of 16 letters to work with, players have a five by five grid of 25 letters. This enlarged grid massively increases the number of words players can make on a given board, so much so that only words with four or more letters are scored. Even with that restriction, the number of words skilled players can create with Big Boggle, well, boggles the mind.
Because of this amplitude, some players prefer Big Boggle to the more compact original. I, however, fall firmly in the camp of preferring Boggle. It can be great fun rampaging around with a verbal Uzi, spitting out words left and right, but when it comes to scoring there are just so many words on most Big Boggle boards, it becomes relatively unlikely two players will hit on the same ones. This leads to less skill and interactivity than in the original. But if you want to demonstrate your vocabulary and chew on an overload of letters, Big Boggle’s the way to go.
At its heart, Boggle is a game of verbal virtuosity and pattern recognition that rewards all who play it. Even if you don’t win a game of Boggle, you can still take pleasure in getting a new score or finding your biggest word ever. And, if all else fails, you can always enjoy that sound.
Did You Play Boggle While You Were Growing Up?
© 2018 Teeuwynn Woodruff