Games People Play: Scattergories vs. Last Word

12 May

Games People Play is a series where I attempt to make the world a better place by encouraging more game playing.

I recently had the opportunity to play a new game called Last Word, which is basically a variation on the neo-classic game Scattergories. Read on to understand the differences (highly nuanced) and to find out which is the superior game.

Scattergories vs. Last Word

Game play: Scattergories is an old favorite. You get a category card with 12 generic categories, such as “Vegetables,” “Countries,” or “Things You Throw Away,” and you roll a 20-sided die to determine the letter for the round. Then each player or team tries to come up with one item per category that begins with the appropriate letter. Points are awarded for unique answers (I actually do mean unique in that sentence; points are only awarded for words that start with the correct letter, fit in the category, and were not named by any other player or team).

Last Word is a newer game that borrows the basic category/letter system, but mixes it up a bit. During each round, only one category (cleverly renamed “subject” by the makers of Last Word) is in play. All players shout out as many possible answers for that category and the selected letter as they can think of, and whomever calls out the last correct answer before the randomized timer goes off wins the point (because they got the last word…get it?)

Variations: In both games, there are plenty of possible variations. In Scattergories, you can award double points for alliteration (e.g. “Chubby Checker” for an entertainer starting with C). Last Word has even fewer rules and less structure, so it can be adapted for most situations – the subject and letter cards could easily be re-purposed as a drinking game, for example.

Fussiness: The makers of both games are counting on you to be kind of lazy. You could play either of these games without the equipment provided (and, in fact, people do!), but you’d have to come up with your own categories (also, your own letters). Scattergories requires paper, and both games require a timer (the standard play for Last Word requires a special randomized timer, and though that may prevent “cheating by stalling” [see “How to cheat” below], I don’t think it’s critical). Last Word has a board that players advance game pieces along, but that’s totally superfluous.

I’m pretty sure that employees from Milton Bradley and Hasbro get their “ideas” by hanging out at 12-year-old girls’ slumber parties and riding along on family road trips. Then they make a million dollars* by putting it in a box with an instruction sheet.

This game is fun for: Both games are fun for word nerds. Last Word is definitely more verbal, fast-paced and competitive; while Scattergories can be a little more low-key (but still super fun). Scattergories might be more satisfying since you can feel a sense of completion if you find an answer for every category in the round; whereas Last Word has an infinite quality to it – you feel like you can always think of more answers.

Risk of making someone feel bad: Low. In both games, players may sometimes find their mind goes blank, but who really cares?

How to cheat: You can make up words in either game, and if you sound really sure of yourself, maybe no one will question you.  In Last Word, it’s to your advantage to not immediately say every word you can think of; a true strategist might save up words to say in the split second after another player says a word. I don’t know if this is cheating or not, actually. Maybe it should just be called “winning.”

Benefits of playing: Scattergories might improve your mental dexterity. Last Word might help you win more arguments.

Upgrades: Well, Scattergories was a TV show for awhile, so that was a kind of upgrade. As far as I know, Dick Clark has never hosted a game of Last Word.

Verdict: I can’t pick a winner. You could buy either one and use it to play the other version as well. Pick the one with the box you like best.

*Not fact-checked.

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