Dicing with death
Whether you’re mulling over Col Mustard committing murder in the library with a candlestick or are determined to win at Monopoly this Christmas, Matthew Dennison advises how to win at board games
MINOR mishaps are a Christmas stock in trade: the figure of Joseph who has apparently abandoned the crib; the strings of fairy lights that, like varicose veins, refuse to untangle; the Aga that grinds unspectacularly to a standstill; the godparent’s cheque that disappears among the paper recycling.
Many families add to that mix a yearly row over which words are or aren’t permissible in Scrabble and a fruitless hunt for the missing Monopoly die or the lead piping from the Cluedo set, yet, as a nation, according to last year’s sales figures, we’re every bit as keen on board games as we ever were. And Christmas is our favourite time of the year to play them.
This year, as you dust down the sets of Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble — a little dog-eared at the corners, their cardboard boxes marked by tell-tale wine-glass RINGS—COUNTRY LIFE offers a few clues on improving your skills. Nothing will prevent Grandpa’s groans; children may still prefer a hand of Racing Demon and an in-law is almost certain to question your version of the rules, but the sweetness of victory may just lay to rest the annual regret that you didn’t abandon the whole idea in favour of a boxset of Dad’s Army.
Travel, and a familiarity with almost anything foreign, are key to winning at Scrabble. Authorities have claimed that the highest number of points that can be scored on a first go is 128 with muzjiks, a word for Russian peasants. Retsina, the name for resin-flavoured Greek wine, has seven permissible anagrams (stainer, retinas, anestri, nastier, ratines, retains and antsier) and, at seven letters, offers a 50-point bonus, although the highest-scoring word in Scrabble history is caziques, referring to West Indian chiefs, which scored 392 points.
Despite its usefulness, the letter S features on only four Scrabble counters: astute players are advised to use their S counters judiciously. The addition of the suffix -ish to a number of words may well get you out of a temporary hole and, at moments of dire need, the answer could be to resort to words from which other players simply can’t profit, including ‘my’ and ‘that’. After all, it is Christmas.
The rule change in 2010 to permit the use of proper nouns has significantly changed the face of Scrabble—for those who accept this new decision. Pop-group and rapstar names, with their occasional preponderance of letters such as X and Z, offer an advantage to reluctant teenage players (which probably compensates for the fact that they