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Throw Scrabble Strategy Out The Door In WWF

A couple weeks ago I finally got to installing Words with Friends (WWF) on my iPhone while stuck at one of those counter tables facing a wall at a Smashburger with some co-workers.

Can I get a window, please?

Anyway, I’ve dabbled in competitive Scrabble and am one of those guys that studies word lists on occasion so it was natural and inevitable I’d give WWF a try. I hadn’t played much of the game since Hasbro kicked Scrabulous off of Facebook and replaced it with a heaping, steaming pile of crap version instead. (Hasbro’s official Scrabble version *and* the new Scrabulous, Lexulous)

While WWF is far closer to Scrabble than Lexulous became (Lexulous has 8-tile racks), the strategy is far different because of one simple change that many casual players may not even recognize and I want to share a few tips about it. :-)

The Secret is the Hotspots

So, how do we put this? Well, one of the most important Scrabble strategies is rack management, and the same applies in WWF. If you’re forming words with “good letters” and leaving yourself “bad letters,” you’ll lose quickly in either sport. What’s changed is what those good and bad letters are.

In Scrabble, a 7-letter play (AKA bingo) nets you a +50 point bonus. In WWF, however, it’s only +35. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal as you’d guess it would only lead to lower overall scores for both players, but it’s another difference that’s key here.

The hotspot arrangement on a WWF board is vastly different than on a Scrabble board.

Let’s take a look at each of them:

Scrabble Board

The Scrabble board has an X arrangement of hotspots.

WWF Board

The WWF board has a diamond arrangement of hotspots.

Take a few minutes and study the two boards. You’ll notice that:

  • …in Scrabble, it’s impossible to hit a TL and TW in the same play.
  • …in Scrabble, extending to a TL does not set up a TW play.
  • …in Scrabble, the TL boxes are much further apart.
  • …in Scrabble, the TW are at the corners of the board, encouraging more spread.

Some may see the differences as minor, but if you’ve played both you’re no doubt realizing that a WWF board gets closed far faster and more often than a Scrabble board. By close, I mean that parallel plays make it harder to find places to lay down a word.

So, what does this all mean?

Your Rack Is Too Big

Sorry, Dolly. 7-letter plays are dead in WWF. In Scrabble, the occasional “bad letter” drop was fine if you thought you could lay down a bingo on the next turn. So, perhaps your rack was SATIREX. Your best play would most likely be dropping the X, hopefully on a hotspot, and using just about any letter you got back to go for a 7-letter play with a +50 point bonus!

Not so in WWF. You’ll find the board is more closed. I’ve personally had countless bingo’s I simply could not put down. At first, I would be angry at the board and think my opponent lucky. Not anymore. It’s the norm, not the exception. Get used to it!

That’s not to say you shouldn’t look for bingo plays, it just means you shouldn’t be holding out for them, and by far you never, ever want to find yourself with a rack of “good letters” that all amount to 1 and 2 point tiles! You simply can’t score enough points to stay in the game against a good player.

A Nice Rack

A nice rack in WWF is a mix of what in Scrabble you’d dub as good and bad letters. You want some bad letters because they have higher point values and since you’re not going for bingo’s like you do in Scrabble, you need to maximize your points in a typical play. Here were some ideal racks in Scrabble (you’ll find the infamous bingo stems in many of them):

  • TISNEBA
  • RITSAEN
  • AELNISH

The good letters are the ones that make connecting words easy and appear often. Remember, you get that +50 point bonus for bingo’s and since Scrabble words, on average, score less than in WWF, it’s often the difference between winning and losing.

In WWF, though, here are what ideal racks tend to look like:

  • HKAISEB
  • XEEEERI (can you guess why?)
  • AMREHVI

The difference is that in the Scrabble racks you’re mentally putting together longer words. (All three racks have at least one 7-letter bingo.) In the WWF racks, you have a mixture of some hard-to-use letters, but they’re 4+ points each.

Take HKAISEB for example. There is not a single word over 5 letters in this, but you’d likely do massive damage in WWF with words such as BIKES, HIKES, BAKES, SHEIK, BEAKS, or SHAKE. The reason is that the BHK are each 4+ points and you can easily combine them. Drop a B on a TL hotspot and the whole word on a TW and you’re already at about 40 points!

Simple Rack Management

So, as I’ve laid out, the key to WWF is to keep a mix of big scoring tiles with good connecting letters like AEISRT. Now what?

Well, what I like to do is deal with two-letter pairs. If I have one of the pair, I tend to wait for connections later. For example, C can be a hard letter to use. It often starts words, but within a word you generally only see it paired with -H and -K if not an -E. So, if I have an H and some choices, I tend to hold it so I can pair it with a -C or -G. (Take a minute and think of all the words you know that have, but don’t start with an H, and also have no C. Not easy. Now add C to make CH and think again.)

In fact, this is a great way to manage your rack physically when looking for a play. Pair letter combinations together and words magically appear. Given the rack KIOICJT you might feel a bit down, but the simple rearrangement into CKIOIJT instantly makes JOCK, TICK, and TOCK appear. By combining into CK, you’ve turned your 7-letter rack into a 6-sound rack and it’s obviously much easier to work with.

In any given play, limit your distribution of the letters. Don’t make plays like EAR that eliminate your connecting letters for low scores, it’s a double whammy. Correspondingly, don’t drop multiple high-point tiles on empty spots unless there’s a TW play included. You might as well throw the tiles away than give them up for practically nothing. The average player knows to lay down XI as a parallel play with X on a DL or TL and score 50 or 60 points with just 2 tiles, so if you’re playing AXES and the X is not on a hotspot you’re doing it wrong if you only get 11 points for it!

With your rack combination of high-point and good connecting letters, simply stay focused on the hotspots, lay down your big-point letters on em, connect the other letters around them and watch the fireworks. :-)

Hope you enjoyed this blog. But, hey, while we’re here, want to play some WWF? You can find me @ ZaBlanc.

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John Blanco

John Blanco is a freelance iOS developer in Denver, CO. He's been developing mobile apps for 12 years, starting during the medieval days of Java ME, making him the ultimate hipster mobile engineer. Follow him on Twitter!

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