Thanks to Danielle Perron for introducing me to this marvelous game in 2019, and thanks to Gabrielle Perron for urging me to purchase our own copy this year!

Bananagrams is a word game that can be quickly summarized as “Real-time Scrabble without a board or points”. Its 144 letter tiles come in a banana-shaped pouch that looks adorable. The official way to play Bananagrams is simple enough (click here for the official rules). However, what I would like to discuss in this post is a variant I discovered by accident that I simply like to call: Collaborative Bananagrams. Here is a 40 seconds video demonstration of the game being played:

Rules of Collaborative Bananagrams

Collaborative Bananagrams is very similar to Banana Solitaire, one of the four official variants included in the Bananagrams rules. Here are the adapted rules:

  1. Unzip the Banana bag, grab a handful of tiles (~21) and place them face-up on the table.

  2. Use all the tiles to make a crossword. I call this the core (example).

  3. Pass the Banana bag to the person on your left.

  4. The person draws 1 tile and tries to make it fit in the crossword. They may rearrange any part of the crossword as they see fit. Note:

    • They may ask for help. They may also ask for people not to help.
  5. When the player placed a tile successfully, they pass the bag to the person on their left. And so on.

The goal of the game is to empty the Banana bag within a pre-defined amount of time. In my experience, 1 hour is a good initial target.

Here are some additional twists I like to add in this variant to the usual Bananagrams rules:

  • All languages are accepted, as long as you don’t use the internet for word suggestions. Notes:
    • you may use the internet to verify someone else’s word
    • you are not allowed to use abbreviations, acronyms or proper nouns
  • You are allowed to draw a tile from the Banana bag before it reaches you so you can think about your next move (I call that a “buffered move”). You cannot play out of turn by default, but you can be flexible depending on the mood of who you’re currently playing with.
  • A player may choose to skip their turn at any time.
  • Spectators who watch the game without playing are the ultimate judges to determine if a word is legal or not.
  • When someone spots a mistake on the board, it becomes everyone’s top priority to solve this error before normal play resumes.

And don’t forget:

  • All tiles on the crossword must be connected. You cannot have two independent crosswords on the table at any point.

Why I care about Collaborative Bananagrams

As I have said earlier in this post, I discovered Collaborative Banagrams by accident. We had had the Bananagrams game in the office for some time, and when I had players to play with, we played it the official way. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t anyone interested in playing most of the time. The fact that Bananagrams is by default a competitive game also seemed to rub people the wrong way (“Why would I play when I already know I will lose?")

I started playing Banana Solitaire to pass the time at lunchtime, and that seemed to get people’s attention. Slowly but surely, day by day, people would look at me and make comments, asking what game I was playing. I told them the truth: “I’m playing a crossword game, the goal is to finish the bag as fast as possible.” At that point, I was already playing it in bilingual mode, simply because that made it more fun for me.

Little by little, people started to join in. Someone dared to use a Spanish word, so I made the rules even more inclusive: use any language you know. Soon came the first Italian word, then the first Greek, the first Mandarin, the first Latin. The flood gates were open!

For weeks, every day I was at the office, I would rush to the cafeteria at lunch to prepare the core using a handful of tiles and wait for someone (anyone!) to jump in. I learned that people are more likely to jump in if you play by yourself for a while instead of asking them to make a move right away. It seems to make them feel more at ease when they can see the game in action and see what it’s about. I would also post pictures on Slack (in our #office channel) to thank anyone who took the time to participate me, along with the picture of our game. This was great at creating memories and visibility:

After two months, we finally got our first win! 😁

We did it, within 54 minutes! 2023-05-16

It was incredible! We high-fived each other all around the table. People were cheering. We were genuinely psyched to have finally done it. Through teamwork, practice, and with determination, we pulled of what we initially thought was impossible.

My next highlight came the following week when I opened Slack while I was working from home and realized people played a game of Collaborative Bananagrams by themselves, pictures and all! Someone took it upon themselves to start a game, and they pulled it off. It was a great day for me.

From this point on, I saw that Collaborative Bananagrams could be more than a game. For me, it is a tool that has the potential to rewire relationships at the office. During gameplay, I like use every opportunity I can to high five someone and make them feel valued. I see it in people’s eyes: they derive meaning from pulling of a complex move in front of everyone and getting rewarded for it.

So there you have it: Collaborative Bananagrams! Feel free to try this concept at home or at your workplace and let me know what you think! I am still in the process of discovering the many ways Collaborative Bananagrams can be used to foster positive, fearless relationships in my current workplace, but I must say so far that I am quite happy with the initial results. 😃