A more awesome way to play Bananagrams

Update: my friend Cole was at the same game night and he also wrote about this variation.

My friends and I discovered a new ruleset for playing Bananagrams1 which I think makes the game super awesome. We're a bunch of tactical boardgame-lovers, and these altered rules make (I think) the game much more fun for boardgame players. First, the rules2:

  1. Players start with 5 tiles each.
  2. When a player uses all of their letters in a single connected component, that player says 'peel'. When a peel occurs, all other ("non-peeling") players give one tile of their choice to the peeling player, and take one tile from the supply. The peeling player receives tiles from non-peeling players, but takes nothing from the supply.
  3. As in the original, players can rearrange the tiles in front of them at any time. When a peel occurs, you may choose to give up a tile which is already in a connected component, or not.
  4. The game ends when a peel is called but there are not enough letters in the supply for everyone.
  5. The player who has the largest single connected component at the end of the game wins.
  6. No dumping is allowed.

There's a detailed example later on, with images, that shows one play-through of the game with these new rules. We've tried this variation with 4 and 8 players: it works beautifully in the 4-player case, and for 8-players, split the players into two "peel groups". When a peel happens, only the players in the peeling player's group give them tiles. This prevents too much confusion from 7 people all trying to give tiles at once. The supply can remain shared between the two groups. These rules should work for 3- to 8-player games (split into two peel groups at 6 players); we have yet to work out a good solution for two players, since the total circulating (not in the supply) tiles will not increase in that case.

Here's a more detailed example, with images, of a play-through of Bananagrams using our custom rules:

In this example game, Alice starts out strong with the first "peel". Bob and Charlie each give Alice one tile of their choice, and then each take one tile from the supply in the center. The players continue to rearrange their tiles and say "peel" until the supply runs out of tiles. In the sixth image, Charlie says "peel" but there is only one tile left in the supply, and both Alice and Bob would need a tile. Thus, the game ends. In normal Bananagrams, Charlie would be the winner, since he peeled last, but in our version, Bob wins, since his "crossword" is the largest. (Bob has 10, Charlie has 7, and Alice has 8.) Note that the tiles which the players haven't been able to incorporate (U,Z,P) don't count toward the winning score.

This variation has some nice properties that we enjoy which are lacking in the original ruleset. First, the gameplay becomes much slower. This gives it a nice "cerebral" feel. The game no longer feels frantic or rushed, but still with a sense of urgency. Second, these rules make the game more self-balancing. Peeling is required to win the game--it's the only way to increase the number of tiles in front of you, and thus to build the largest connected component--but peeling also slows you down, since you now need to incorporate several new tiles from the other players. When a peel happens, other players are also given a chance to replace one of their tiles with a possibly-better one from the supply. Finally, these rules separate the game-end condition from the win condition. The game ends when the supply runs out, but the person who peeled last is not necessarily the person who wins. This makes the winner less arbitrary, as progress you make during the game--collecting more tiles to make a larger crossword--now significantly influences your chance of winning.

It's also interesting to note that the difficult-to-use tiles (e.g. 'Q', 'X') don't necessarily always stay in limbo. In our games, they often get incorporated into components and are then not easily given up when peeling. I hope you'll find this variation on Bananagrams to be just as much fun as we have--if you try out this ruleset, let me know what you think!

  1. The author and his friends are, of course, in no way affiliated with Bananagrams the company.

  2. What to do in corner cases: when two players peel at the same time, it counts as two separate peels. Don’t forget to incorporate the tile you received from someone else’s peel before you say ‘peel’ yourself. A draw may be broken at the end of the game by declaring the player who has the least number of non-connected tiles the winner. When the last ‘peel’ happens, the game stops immediately: no more rearrangements can be made, and no tiles are transferred or taken from the supply.


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