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Scrabble Upwords Board Game Rules

Scrabble Upwords Board Game Rules
How to Play | My Thoughts | Final Verdict | Comments

How to Play

The game begins with every player drawing a tile at random. Whoever draws the tile closest to A gets to play first. Each player then draws seven tiles for their hand.

On a players’ turn they play as many tiles as they would like to either add a word to the board or alter a word already played to the board. The first player must play their first word so at least one tile is in one of the four center spaces. Except for the first player, all other tiles played must be connected to one of the words already played to the gameboard. Tiles can only be played in one horizontal or vertical line (not diagonally).  Words played must be from left to right or downward.

Scrabble Upwords Gameplay
The game begins with the first player playing the word “son”. The player gets six points (3 tiles * 2 points each).

In order to alter words, tiles can be played on top of one another. A stack of letter tiles may not be higher than five tiles high though. You cannot stack the exact letter on top of itself (you can’t play an “A” tile on an “A”tile). When changing a word, you must keep at least one of the original letters. If the letters you add to the board alter words already played to the board, the resulting words must all be legal words.

Scrabble Upwords Gameplay
The second player decides to play the word lyric. The player covers up the “n” on son with a “y”. Since one of the tiles is on the second level the player only receives one point for each tile. The player would receive six points from “lyric” and four points from “soy”.

No player is allowed to only add letters to the end of a word to make the word plural. You are allowed to make a word that is already on the gameboard plural by attaching a word to the end of it that makes it plural. For example if “apple” is already on the board, a player can play the word “sweet” at the end of the word which would make “apple”, “apples”.

The following words can’t be played.

  • Words that are always capitalized.
  • Words requiring a hyphen.
  • Words requiring an apostrophe.
  • Abbreviations and symbols.
  • Prefixes and suffixes that are not words themselves.
  • Foreign words not appearing in the dictionary.

If a player thinks a word that was played is misspelled, is not actually a word, or is an illegal word; a player is allowed to look it up in the dictionary. If it is determined to not be a correct word, it is removed from the board and the player who played the word is allowed another opportunity to play a word.

If a player either can’t play a word or doesn’t want to, they can either skip their turn or they can exchange one of their tiles for a random tile. If a player chooses to exchange a tile, they lose their turn.

After each word that is played, tiles are scored. A player collects points for every word they added and/or altered during their turn. Points are scored as follows:

  • If all of the tiles are on the first level (not on top of any other tiles), the player receives two points for every tile.
  • If at least one of the tiles scored by the player is on level 2-5, the player receives one point for every tile. The player scores one point for every tile in a stack. For example a stack that is five tiles high is worth five points.
  • If a player uses all seven tiles during a turn, they receive 20 bonus points.
  • If a player gets two or more words, letters/stacks that are used by multiple words are scored for each word. For example if a two high stack tile is used by two words the player gets two points from the stack from one word and another two points from the other word.
  • If a player uses a “Qu” tile and all of the tiles are on the first level, the player receives two bonus points.

Before the next player starts their turn, the current player draws enough tiles so they have a total of seven tiles. If the draw pile runs out of tiles, players no longer have to draw tiles at the end of their turn. Play proceeds with each player adding words to the gameboard. The game ends if one of the following occur.

  • One player plays their last tile and there are no other tiles to draw remaining.
  • No player is able to add a word to the board with the tiles they currently hold and there are no other tiles to draw.
  • All of the players pass their turn consecutively.

Once the game ends, each player loses five points for every tile that they still have on their rack. After penalties are accessed, whoever has the most points is the winner.

Scrabble Upwords Gameplay
The picture above is of the gameboard after the game was completed.

My Thoughts

Scrabble Upwords or Upwords (as it was originally called) was a game created back in 1981. Over the years it has had quite a few different iterations with slight differences made to the game over the years. The copy that I played was the 2008 Scrabble edition. It appears that the only main difference between my version and the original is that my version has a 10X10 board while the original game had an 8X8 board. I am glad that I played on the 10X10 board since I thought that was a even a little too small.

As I have mentioned in other reviews, I am not a huge fan of words games. I don’t hate them but they aren’t my favorite genre either. I had never played Upwords before so I didn’t know what to expect. The game obviously must have fans or there wouldn’t be so many versions of the game. Its’ current Board Game Geek rating is not particularly encouraging though. After having played the game I wouldn’t call Scrabble Upwords great but it isn’t bad either.

Recently I reviewed the game Nab-It. Looking at the basic rules, both games are very similar. Nab-It is really a re-imagining of Upwords since Upwords is quite a bit older. You play tiles in order to build words. In both games you are able to stack tiles in order to form new words. My biggest complaint with Nab-It was that I did not like the scoring system in the game. Nab-It rewarded players too much for stealing other players’ words instead of building your own words. Building words on the bottom layer was also not encouraged since you rarely score points for them.

What I really liked about Scrabble Upwords is that it fixes this problem. Unlike Nab-It, it is actually better to build your own words on the bottom row since you get two points per tile instead of one. Every tile you play is more valuable on the lowest level. Later in the game you really don’t have much of a choice though since most of the lowest level has already been taken. You then need to adjust your strategy and start altering words in order to take advantage of large stacks which can get you a lot of points.

Scrabble Upwords doesn’t have a ton of strategy to it, but having a good strategy does help out. Unlike Scrabble, you can win Scrabble Upwords even if you don’t have the strongest vocabulary. A strong vocabulary really helps but you can win by making good strategic placements of your tiles. In Scrabble you get the most points by using the harder to use letters, creating longer words, and utilizing bonuses around the board. In Scrabble Upwords you make the most points by strategically placing tiles. Scrabble Upwords is kind of like Scrabble mixed with a light strategy game.

I had fun playing the game but the game does have some problems.

The biggest problem I had with the rules of the game is the penalty at the end of the game. I agree that there should a a penalty for not using all your tiles at the end of the game, but it is way too harsh. Instead of five points for each tile I think it should have been two points. With five points per tile, the outcome of the game is too reliant on who uses all of their tiles first. Anyone who has a lot of tiles remaining at the end of the game has no chance at winning the game unless they were way ahead before the penalties.

The penalty is too harsh since the number of tiles you have at the end of the game is usually not all your fault. Having a lot of tiles at the end of the game could just be bad luck. For example you could play a lot of tiles early in the game when you have to replenish your hand. Then you could end up not playing as many tiles once the draw pile runs out of tiles. Therefore you are punished for not playing a lot of tiles at the end of the game while you receive no benefit for playing a lot of tiles early in the game. That seems kind of unfair in my opinion.

As it turns out the penalty didn’t have an impact on the game I played. The player who got rid of all of their tiles was in first place so the penalty didn’t change the ultimate winner. Before the penalty points were applied though the game was very close. I believe all of the players were within around 10 points. With the game being that close, I can imagine the penalty at the end of the game having an affect on the final winner a lot more than it should.

Like most tile based game, the luck of the draw will be a determining factor in who ultimately wins the game. If you draw good tiles you have a better chance at winning than someone who draws bad tiles. At one point in the game I played one player only had consonants while another player only had vowels. It is pretty hard to make long words in either situation. In normal Scrabble this is somewhat offset by the fact that harder to use letters are worth more points. In Scrabble Upwords this is not the case since every letter is worth the same number of points. I don’t think an “E” and “Z” should be worth the same number of points.  I am guessing that the game did this to make the game easier to score, but the game should have had a small bonus if you played one the harder letter tiles.The components of Scrabble Upwords are pretty good. I wish the letters were engraved so they would last even if the paint chipped off but otherwise the tiles and gameboard are made of solid plastic. One thing I really appreciate is that the gameboard/box is more compact than other versions of Upwords. The original versions of Upwords are quite large with a big box to go with it. The Scrabble Upwords box is actually quite small which is nice for people who already have quite a few board games.The tradeoff though is that the gameboard and tiles are smaller which might make them a little harder to read for people with poor eyesight.

Final Verdict

Overall I had fun playing Scrabble Upwords. It is probably one of the better word games I have played. The game has a good balance between utilizing your vocabulary while also playing tiles strategically. The penalty at the end of the game and the reliance on luck when pulling tiles stops the game from being great though. I would still consider it to be an above average word game.

If you like word games and have never played Scrabble Upwords, I think you will enjoy it and you should pick it up. If word games aren’t your cup of tea though, you should probably pass on Scrabble Upwords.


Friday 26th of May 2023

Upwords is brilliant with kids and non-native English speakers to help build vocabulary. It really helps to teach the patterns of how words are formed and the focus on altering words rather than vocabulary and anagrams makes it easier for different ages to compete. Rather than penalising wrong plays, you can encourage exploration and trying again to get stuff right - younger kids go for what they think *sounds* like it should be a word, then get excited to look it up and find out they guessed right.

But unfortunately I think all editions of the game have serious weaknesses with tile distribution. Older 8x8 versions only have oddities like only having one C tile. Newer editions fix that, but still inherit only having one J, Qu, V, X and Z from Scrabble. Unlike Scrabble, there are no blank (wildcard) tiles, so this is surprisingly limiting. It's literally impossible to play many of the most common Z-words younger kids know, like DIZZY, FIZZY, FUZZY, SNAZZY, DAZZLE, GUZZLE, PUZZLE, BUZZER and PIZZA..

I suppose it's worse in British English, as we already don't use Z in words like cosy, laser, realise and organise, but it bothers me enough that when I've suggested Upwords for classroom use, I even considered buying a couple of extra tiles to help reinforce these spelling patterns! (A couple more Hs wouldn't go amiss either).

Rick Neilson

Friday 7th of May 2021

Upwards is a daily game in our house and we interpret the rules to say that you can create whatever legal word you can make. Our one disagreement is with the rule about the S. The rules say that it is illegal to simply add an S to make a word plural. Does this mean that it is legal to fill a gap between two words to make both of them plural? I say it is legal. My partner disagrees. Who do you think is right?

Eric Mortensen

Friday 7th of May 2021

There have been several versions of Upwords created over the years so the rules might be slightly different depending on which version of the game that you end up playing.

For the version I played (the one shown in the picture at the top of the post) you can't add a s to a word just to make it plural, but you can add a s to a word if it is then used in another word. Your question is interesting as it kind of falls inbetween the two rules. You aren't forming a new word by placing the s, but you are also connecting two words together. I honestly can see the case for it being legal and illegal. I personally would allow it as think it counts as adding another word to the s.

Lisa McCormick

Sunday 16th of August 2015

Are you allowed to make the same word using the same letter in a stack of letters that is separated by different letters? For instance if I were to spell PUFFS on the board and then my partner were to add a C and make it CUFFS, and then I would add a D and make it DUFFS, could my partner then add another C and make the word once again CUFFS? I believe that you are still technically adding the same same letter on top of the same letter, whether it be separated by different letters or not, but my partner believes that it is allowed because you are not stacking the same letter directly on the same letter. Personally I don't understand why you would be allowed to obtain the same points from the same word in the exact location where it was before because that doesn't make much sense. But my partner thinks that it's a strategy and that if you get the chance you should take it. I believe it's cheating and should not be allowed because the previous word is still in play, (meaning you can obtain points from it when you stack letters). You technically are still stacking the same letter on the same letter, just because there are letters in between doesn't mean that it isn't cheating. But our opinions are colliding and we would like a third one to help us settle this agreement. If you know of any rules that may help or even if your personal opinion would be helpful, we'd love to hear it. Thanks!

Eric Mortensen

Monday 17th of August 2015

Thank you for your comment.

I haven't played Upwords in quite a while so other players may know better than I do. With the edition of the game that I have I don't think there are any explicit rules that say that you can't change a word back to a word that was previously played. I could see interpreting the rule the way you did though.

The last time I played the game I think we allowed players to change words back by just changing back one of the letters. I am no expert on the game though so I may be wrong.

This rule is kind of in the grey area in my opinion. I don't think the rules technically forbid a player from doing it but at the same time it is kind of against the spirit of the game so I can see both sides of the debate.

I am sorry that I couldn't be of more help.