Scrabble and Monopoly: A webOS/PalmOS Shootout | webOS Nation

Scrabble and Monopoly: A webOS/PalmOS Shootout 35

by Jonathan I Ezor#IM Fri, 15 Jan 2010 2:21 pm EST

Among the new 3D games for the Palm Pre that hit the App Catalog last week were two old favorites from my PalmOS days: Monopoly and Scrabble. Having spent countless hours playing Handmark Monopoly and Niggle (the freeware game that evolved into Handmark's Scrabble, which I installed for this test), including currently via Classic, thought it would be fun to compare the webOS versions to their PalmOS predecessors. My take? It's a split decision.



This one really isn't a contest. Handmark's Scrabble (and its predecessor Niggle, which can still be found for download online) are perfectly serviceable versions of the traditional board game, including a choice of dictionaries (I use the Official Scrabble Players' Dictionary), adjustable AI levels, suggested words, trades and pass-and-play with a human opponent. (The Handmark version added optional definitions as well as infrared play, useful when all PalmOS devices had IR ports, but no longer helpful for Classic.) They were both also fairly fast, although the AI's turn could take awhile at higher levels and with lower-quality PalmOS hardware.

The issue with Niggle/Scrabble for PalmOS is the interface.

A non-resizable full board is onscreen at all times, with the player having to tap a letter and then the space to place it. Because of the screen size (320x320 max resolution), the different scoring spaces are colored but not labeled, requiring players to call up a board legend from the drop-down menu to remember that dark blue is a Triple Letter Score, while light blue was a Double Letter Score. Finally, with smaller screens (such as that in Classic), tapping the exact space one wants becomes a real hurdle, which is why I haven't much played Niggle since getting my Pre.

By contrast, EA Mobile's Scrabble for webOS, while having essentially the same features as Niggle (for now it neither offers definitions nor wireless multiplayer), and only checking words after they are played rather than allowing lookups during the turn, takes full advantage of the screen and computing power of the Pre.

EA Mobile Scrabble

The display is clearer, with larger tiles and initials on the colored scoring spaces (DW, DL, TL etc.), and a few animations and sound options for enhancement. The biggest difference, though, is the ability to zoom into the board during a turn. The game automatically zooms with the first placed tile, and players can doubletap to zoom in and out to focus on other board locations. It makes both placement and word planning immensely easier, greatly improving the playability of the game. The zoom feature, coupled with the display sharpness and responsiveness of the program, give the webOS version of Scrabble the easy win.


Like Scrabble, the PalmOS version of Monopoly shows a flat board, with limited optional animation (dice, tokens, spaces being passed).

It's a full-featured version, with house rule choices and up to four AI or human players, trades and auctions, and with the speed pushed to maximum and animations off, a single game against three AIs can be completed in literally five minutes with some lucky rolls. The best feature of Handmark's Monopoly for PalmOS is the Game Summary screen, which shows all four players, their money on hand, and every property they own, making it easy to plan trades and other strategy.

The worst part is the truly brain-dead AIs, which will make the stupidest trades between themselves (e.g. giving away Boardwalk to a player with Park Place for $300); even though they can also be manipulated to benefit the human player, doing so takes a lot of the fun out of the game. Overall, though, the PalmOS version of Monopoly is a fun and quick diversion.

From a technical perspective, the webOS edition of Monopoly is a tour-de-force. Great sounds, 3D environment, automatic pausing when the card is minimized or closed, accelerometer-driven dice "shaking," multiple saved games, cute animated playing pieces, a choice of virtual "rooms" in which the game is being held, and multiple zoom and rotation features to get a closer view of the board. The AIs are also somewhat more intelligent, and there are selectable difficulty levels for them. It has the same house rule options as the PalmOS version, allowing players to choose their own familiar schemes for Free Parking, auctions, etc. On a purely visual basis, it's the clear superior.

Where it falls short of the PalmOS version, though, is in pure playability. First, games against the AI take much longer, because the cute animations cannot be disabled; the racecar rolls and iron steams through every turn. More seriously, there is no game summary screen, and while three of the board sides can be seen easily during play (ownership of properties is indicated by small thin colored shapes next to purchased spaces), the status/message bar completely obscures the top side (even when it is minimized) so that it is impossible to see ownership indicators at a glance. The only way to view those spaces is to doubletap on them, which zooms into the tapped block of properties (but hides any of the others until the player slides or zooms out and in to them). (Interestingly, the screenshot from EA Mobile's iPhone version suggests that the top row is more visible there than on the Pre.) Even when proposing trades, one can see only one opponent's properties at a time, making multilateral or successive trades much harder. Add tiny, hard-to-tap buttons at the bottom of the screen for player control and some odd changes from the standard Monopoly board ($100 rather than $75 for luxury tax; no choice of 10% as an Income Tax payment), and the lack of an option of entering human players' names (all are known only by their token), and Monopoly for webOS actually falls short of the PalmOS version in fun.

Of course, the webOS games are both first versions, and EA Mobile will hopefully continue to enhance and improve them (Internet-based multiplayer will be welcome, especially if it can work across platforms). Even as they are now, and even with the issues with Monopoly in particular, they are still fine choices for fans of the classic games on which they are based, especially those who don't own the older versions or run Classic. For those that do, though, the combination of Monopoly for PalmOS within Classic, and Scrabble for webOS, offers the best of both worlds.


Largely faithful translations of games to webOS


webOS Monopoly hurt by interface issues