Scroubabble, L’Association

A Beaty family Christmas eve tradition is too drink eggnog and play a board game as a family. Dating back about thirty years, one caveat is that each year's game has to be brand new — we never repeat a game. This has led to the play of some seriously lousy board games over the years (there really aren't thirty good games on the market), although it also meant that my family were early adopters of Trivial Pursuit, for what that's worth.

This year I didn't travel home for the holidays, but my wife and I still had to play a board game on Christmas Eve. Fortunately for us, this year L'Association released their first board game: Scroubabble. This is a professionally produced variant of Scott McCloud's famous Five Card Nancy, and is something that you and your loved ones can play at your next family gathering.

The concept is pretty simple. Using a board that looks lawyer-letter-similar to a Scrabble board (though slightly larger to accommodate the larger tiles), players draw seven tiles and place them to form comic strips. The next player must then come up with a strip that intersects with one of the previous ones. Well, you've probably played Scrabble, you know how it goes.

Unlike Scrabble, the tiles have no numbers on them, making scoring more difficult. The rules printed on the side of the box aren't much help on this front. They suggest that if you go through one of the big O spaces (for OuBaPo), you should get some sort of bonus. We used some as double tile, some as double strip, some as triple. Of course, as we drank more eggnog, we'd usually forget which was which. This could be a problem.

But it shouldn't be. In some ways, Scroubabble is like ulimate frisbee—there are no refs, so the players have to agree to keep things going and live in the spirit of the game. For instance, in Scrabble a word is rejected if it is, well, not an actual word. But what would constitute and actual strip? Well, that's up to the players, who can chuck a strip off it's crap. Mostly though, you'll be thrilled when someone can make a great strip.

One of the challenges is that the tiles (panels) are by five different artists: Jean-Christophe Menu, Etienne Lecroart, Jochen Gerner, Killoffer, and Lewis Trondheim. They're not evenly distributed either. I didn't count, but there seems to be more Lecroart than anyone else, and there is definitely fewer Gerners than anyone else (too bad, his pieces fit so nicely into a lot of strips—they're like vowels in Scrabble). Some of the panels are wordy, a few are mute (very easy to play). Some have short ripostes (easy to tack onto an existing strip), while others play a lot like Qs. My favorites, essentially blanks, are a couple of pieces by Gerner that use captions like "nine months later" that can go literally anywhere. Using one of Gerner's pieces I was able to bridge to existing strips to create one fifteen-panel strip across three different triple word spaces. And I still lost.

There's not much to knock about Scroubabble. There are some slangy phrases that caused us some problems (I learned the French word for fescue!). My wife found Killoffer's lettering almost indecipherable (I'm used to it, but it is hard to read at that size). Otherwise, though, this is a fun game. The two-color pieces are well produced, and the whole thing looks like something you would find at Toys 'R Us, if they stocked interesting games.

In all honesty, we didn't think we'd much like this game, and I played it out of a sense of obligation. In the end, however, it was actually, genuinely fun. If you're looking for an unusual post-Christmas gift for a comic book fan that you forgot about, check out this game.

Editor's Note: This item is also spelled "ScrOuBabble" and "ScrOUBAbble" at various sources, which gave me a headache, so I compromised by going with the one that's probably the most wrong. I blame bad schooling.

Bart's suggested comic strip above: pieces by Menu, Lecroart, Gerner, Killoffer, and then Trondheim.