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

Country Life Every Week - - The Four Seasons -

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

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