Bananagrams vs. Scrabble Apple: Fruit From the Vault
At the beginning of this year, I wrote a three part article by the name of ‘Game Night’, which chronicled your adventures in getting together a bunch of people to play games. In that article, I made a passing reference to this article, which, I found, did not really exist. Early in 2009 (So long ago) I wrote a bunch of articles for Guilt Free Games, then submitted them all at once. Somehow, this fruit-filled-fight was shoved off the counter top by a number of other entrees. The article isn’t as timely… but when I’m in a store that sells games, I still see many people puzzling over these two oddities. I’m guessing that if this article came out in the world of CyberPunk 2020, it would still be relevant.
In 2006, a company by the name of Bananagrams International was formed to bring the world a damn fine alternative to Travel Scrabble. Bananagrams is a fun fast-paced tile-based word-game that can be played anywhere out of its fashionable, kind of goofy banana case. Incapable of suing Bananagrams, Parker Brothers attacked back with Scrabble Apple. At first, I thought this seemed like a not-so-clever way for Parker Brothers to steal Bananagram’s audience, but recently I received a copy of Scrabble Apple and was surprised to find that there was a different rules set inside. Time for a food fight!
The most obvious similarity between both games is their appealing packaging. Bananagrams spills its tiles out its center like a microwaved banana-shaped bag with a stem-like strap. Scrabble Apple’s bag is red apple shaped with a green felt leaves that was mysteriously difficult to get the tiles out of when I first opened it. Both bags are great at throwing at people and are zipped so they don’t explode in a cacophony of tiles. Bananagrams has a very slight edge here because it’s long shape can probably hide in a few more places like a purse or in the pocket of the back seat of a car.
Bananagrams has a set of basic plastic tiles with letters on them. There’s nothing special going on, they’re just functional. Scrabble Apple opted for Upwards style stackable tiles. I assume they did it to use less plastic and make their tiles ‘pop’ more, because stacking tiles has nothing to do with Scrabble Apple. I know… I had to read the rules multiple times to make sure of this. The Scrabble tiles are also harder to flip over, but lighter, so more capable of accidentally flipping something you didn’t intend. There’s also a small serial number on the back of the tiles. I don’t expect anyone I play with to cheat by memorizing the hard to see numbers on the back of each tile, but they can. Oh, and I once had the misfortune of playing Scrabble Apple on a white table. It didn’t take very long for us to realize that we could see through the thin plastic and tell which letter was which. Too many little oversights are frustrating; Bananagrams wins by not doing anything fancy.
In Bananagrams, players flip over a number of tiles at the beginning of the game and design their personal crossword puzzle out of them. When a player has used all their tiles, they yell “Peel!” and everyone flips a new tile to add to their crossword puzzle pizza. When there are no more tiles to peel, and someone finishes their puzzle, that person yells “Bananas!”. Everyone then checks the completed puzzle for accuracy, and if all the words are okay, that player wins.
In Scrabble Apple, players take turns flipping one tile at a time. Whenever a player can make a three or more letter word, they call out that word, take the tiles and set that word in front of them. At any time, a player can steal a word from another player by building upon that player’s word with tiles from the communal pool. For example: the letters ‘I’, ‘N’ and ‘P’ are flipped over. I say “Nip”, and spell that word out in front of me. The next letter flipped over is an ‘S’, and one of my opponents say “Spin”, rearranging my letters and adding the “S”. That player couldn’t have just added an “S” to the end of my word to spell “Nips” because the rules say you can’t just add an “S” on the end to steal words. Thank God. Each letter has a certain point value and some are a different color for double-word score, and at the end we all add up our points to determine who the winner is.
There are merits to both of these games. Bananagrams can be a little more frantic, while allowing players to play at their own speed. Scrabble Apple is a touch more pensive, and has that sudden revelation moment and the mystery of what tile will pop up next. There’s also a little social confusion whenever playing Scrabble Apple; Who is flipping over the tiles and how fast the tiles are being flipped is not discussed in the rules. But this does have the side effect of getting the players to talk among themselves a little more. It’s hard to call a clear winner among the two sets of rules, since they will appeal to different types of players. I prefer the Bananagrams rush of making my own puzzle as fast as possible, but am more than happy to switch to the on/off staccato play style of Scrabble Apple.
Number of Players
Bananagrams makes a fine two player game, but gets stronger the more people you add. Officially the game supports 2-8 players, but I’ve been to more than one party where two copies of Bananagrams was opened for a super-sized game and had a blast. It makes sense, too, since each player is making their own crossword puzzle, they’re playing against themselves more than any other player. Even in a sixteen player game, you only really have to pay attention to your corner of the table. The people at Bananagrams International seem to have figured this out and now have Jumbo Bananagrams with twice the tiles for more players.
In Scrabble Apple, the players need to gather around the person who is flipping tiles, and on all the different words that each player has already constructed. It’s for 2-4 players, and I’d be hesitant to open another bag and add more people. I’d assume a seven player game would mostly consist of 3 people aggressively playing, 2 people defensively playing and 2 people barely involved in the game while making fun of themselves for not having any words in front of them. The low number of players does have its charm. As I hinted in ‘game play’, Scrabble Apple may lead to more conversation, since the players are interacting with each other. Just don’t expect to stop a party with Scrabble Apple unless you have multiple groups playing individual games… and even then, not so much.
Alternative Ways to Play
So you have a bag full of tiles, and you’ve played the main game a bit, and want a little spice. There must be a myriad of fun little side games you can play! Maybe, but you’re gonna have to invent them yourself. Banagrams’ ideas for interesting mini-games consist of taking the original rules and throwing some of them away. You know, for people who hate to be confined by rules and want to play games where the same thing happens more often. That’s right, Steve, I’m making fun of YOU!* Scrabble Apple isn’t any better. It’s only alternative game suggestion is that for a quick game, the players should agree on a time, and when that time comes the game is over and add up your points. Thanks. Here’s a freebie idea from me. For a longer game, the players should agree on a specific number of games that should be played to make a ‘match’. The first person to get the ‘match’ wins. You’re welcome.
As you may have noticed, my bias has been toward Bananagrams throughout this article. It’s not that Scrabble Apple is a bad game – it’s fun too – but Bananagrams got the whole “addictive party game” angle covered. But, you know what? We’re talking about a couple of portable travel games. The games are fine additions to any casual game collection, and they’re cheap enough that you can buy both. At large parties pull out Bananagrams, and when you’re with a couple of word grinders pull out Scrabble Apple. Either way, you’ll have a good time, and isn’t that the point?
*I actually don’t know anyone by the name of Steve. If your name is Steve, I would apologize, but I find it rather suspicious.