Scramble With Friends on iPhone: The next game to earn an SNL skit?

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Scramble With Friends iPhoneWhen Alec Baldwin appeared on Saturday Night Live as Captain My Name Doesn't Matter of the American Airlines flight he was kicked off of while playing Words With Friends (WWF), we were as surprised as everyone else. The mobile social phenomenon has been name-dropped by celebrities before, but to inspire a last-minute sketch on the most revered hour in comedy is, well, special. The question was then, however, would any social game reach that peak of pop culture relevance, of ubiquity, again?

Scramble With Friends, the fourth game in the With Friends franchise, just might. After an early look at what could easily be the next big word game, courtesy of Scramble With Friends GM Ya-Bing Chu, it's easy to see millions hooked on this gem. If the title sounds vaguely familiar, that's because this is a revival of a Facebook game Zynga shut down in 2011. And apparently, all it needed was what Chu calls the "With Friends magic."

Once players load up either the ad-supported free version or the paid version sans ads, they'll feel right at home. The lobby is nearly identical to previous releases from the McKinney, Tex.-based Zynga With Friends studio. And actually, not much has changed in the method of finding folks to play with nor has the general mode of exchange between friends. This game, like all With Friends games, fits that blow for blow, I'll-take-my-turn-when-I-damn-well-please approach like a glove. What's different is how those blows are delivered.

Scramble With Friends presents players with a 4 by 4 grid of letter tiles, in no particular order, that sport the familiar WWF scoring that was so meticulously devised. Then, you're given a short amount of time to find as many words as possible in the jumble by stringing letters together with your finger. Your score for each complete word is tallied by each letter's designated amount of points. Once the round is over, it's your friend's turn to retort.
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You can use this downtime to chat with your friend in the familiar interface brought about by WWF. However, once your friend returns with his score (and his own licking of trash talk), it's on to Round 2. This is where things get interesting, as complete matches of Scramble With Friends consist of three rounds: Classic Play, Double Down and Triple Crown. The first round is very basic, while the second and third rounds contain letter tiles that pack double and triple letter and word scores, respectively. "So, the score is increasing every round, and you have a chance to catch up even if you're behind," Chu explains. "That adds a little bit of depth to the gameplay."

Scramble With Friends iPhone 2To add some strategy to the competition, there are three power-ups players can use each round that will help in their pursuit of wordily domination. The first, Freeze, stops clock and covers the game board in ice, allowing players to find as many words as they can while time is stopped. Next up is Inspiration, a power that basically reveals up to three words a round for those who are stuck. The final power-up is Scramble, which turns the game board on its axis five times per round to reveal new words.

Of course, each round costs a play token, which refresh every 20 minutes, but using a second power-up in each round also costs a token. (The first is free.) We're told this is to introduce more strategy to the play, but there's no need to sugarcoat it. This is a game in which this writer could easily see himself forking up a few bucks for extra play tokens. What's brilliant about Scramble With Friends is that it packs both the turn-based play and those ah-ha moments of WWF, but throws in this speed-driven play hook that's appealing on a whole different level. According to Chu, the game's benefit is two-fold.

"This actually is really neat. It helps me practice for one game while I'm playing another," Chu admits, referring to WWF. "This really works well with our players just because this game helps you socialize, but it also helps train your brain at the same time." While Zynga With Friends' previous release, Hanging With Friends, was a clever application of hangman to the With Friends formula, it just didn't have the same stickiness as its predecessor.

But there's something about Scramble With Friends that just screams "One more round!" The Baldwins might want to stay away from this one. Scramble With Friends launches today for iPhone and iPod Touch, with iPad and Android releases in the works.

Click here to download Scramble With Friends on iPhone Now >

Are you psyched to get your With Friends fix from a new game? Do you think Scramble With Friends could reach the celebrity status of its big brother? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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