How to win at “Words With Friends”

27 Feb

When I got my smart phone a few months ago, one of the first apps I downloaded was Words With Friends, a great game that has all of the fun of Scrabble without the watching paint dry boredom that comes from waiting for your opponent to play.  I was hooked after my first game, and now Words is a big part of my online day.  I’m playing against high school classmates, college buddies, and people on both coasts.

One of the reasons I like Words With Friends so much is because I’m good at it.  I am not a boastful person by nature, so let’s just say that I do alright in my games.  Words doesn’t have a stats feature (which the nerd in me would really love) but I would modestly guess that I win over 80% of my games.  And trust me – it is definitely NOT because I’m playing against a bunch of idiots.  While a big chunk of WWF success comes down to luck – having the right letter(s) at the right time – the majority of wins and losses comes down to the skill of the player.

Here are my 10 ways to win at Words With Friends:

1.  Learn the list of accepted two-letter words.  Sure, it would be great to know a bunch of obscure words that use all seven tiles, but actual chances to play them do not appear very often.  However, there is always a place to play a two letter word – sometimes resulting in big points.  Do I know what QI, WO, AA, OE and other accepted two-letter words mean?  Heck no.  But I do know that they are a great way to score more points, use up letters at the end of a game, and get rid of J, Q, X, and Z…

2.  Know different ways to play J, Q, X, and Z.  When I first started playing Scrabble, I hated getting J, Q, X, and Z and fixated on getting rid of them as soon as humanly possible.  Now, I love getting those letters – and will often sit on them waiting for just the right moment.  Again, this is where knowledge of the two-letter words comes into play as JO, QI, AX/EX/XI/OX/XU, and ZA are lifesavers – and potentially game changers if…

3.  Use high point letters on double and triple point spaces.  This should be obvious by now, but let’s be clear:  you want to win.  To win, you must outscore your opponent.  To do so, you must score take advantage of the double and triple point squares on the board.  When it is my turn, I first scan the board for places to play where I can potentially get a bunch of points looking at (in order):  Triple Word (TW), Triple Letter (TL), Double Word (DW), and Double Letter (DL).  Then I’ll look at my letters and see what fits.

4.  Try to create (at least) two words per turn.  This is a key strategy.  By itself, the word DEAD isn’t going to get you a lot of points, but when you are able to position it so that it creates ZONED and EQUATED, that is a much different story.  Some of my friends are masters of what I call “parallel words”, where they play a word parallel to another word, creating a bunch of two (or three) letter words.  For example:  APART is on the board.  They play IDEA with the I directly below the P.  That one word (IDEA) is actually five (PI, AD, RE, TA, and IDEA).  Assuming at least one of those letters is a double or triple, and you’re going to rack up the points.  Clearly, the easiest way to create two words is by using an S to make a word plural…

5.  Never play an S for less than 10 points.  Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing somebody waste a perfectly good S on a word that only gets 11 points.  The letter S (as well as the blank tiles) are rare and valuable.  If playing that S doesn’t earn you (at least) an additional 10 points, save it for later.

6.  Don’t settle for single digit scores.  With the exception of the first word and the last few rounds after the letters run out, you should be able to score more than 10 points per round at least 95% of the time – even with really bad letters.  If you’re stuck with all vowels, find a X, Z, or Q and see if you can get a quick 11 points.  (Along the same lines – don’t ever waste a turn swapping tiles.  Aside from the chance that you will redraw the same garbage later on, you also forfeit an opportunity to score.)

7.  Sometimes, playing one or two letters is better than playing five or six.  My wife sometimes gets frustrated when we play traditional Scrabble.  She will play several five or six letter words demonstrating her brains and vocabulary.  Meanwhile, I’ll play a few two or three letter words and win by a comfortable margin.  The same thing applies in Words With Friends.  I’ve scored 62 points off of one letter (a very well placed Q) and have scored 11 off of a six letter word.  The object is to score the most points – not play the most letters.  Points are more important than showing off your expansive vocabulary of six letter words.

8.  There is no penalty for trying.  I will freely admit to tapping Submit on something is more of a blind guess than an actual word I could define or use in a sentence.  As a matter of fact, I do it fairly often.  I’d wager your opponent does it, and you should too.  There are more than 173,000 words on the list of accepted Words, and what clears that list can be surprising.  I was not shocked that my first name (Dave) is not allowed , but I did not expect a certain four letter profanity beginning with “S” to go through.  Every so often, you’ll stumble on something that works.

9.  Sometimes the best offense is a good defense.  While you would like to score big points on each and every turn, it is equally important to avoid leaving your opponent with easy chances at bigger points on their turn.  What do I mean?  Let’s say you have a good word to play, but it would set your opponent for a very easy triple word opportunity.  Is it worth it?  It might be best to wait and let your opponent set you up for that triple word.  The toughest (and most frustrating) games I play are the ones where every word I play sets my opponent up for an even better play.

10.  Learn from your whoopings.  Make no mistake from this post:  I lose.  Often*.  And I have some friends who do not just beat me by a few measly points – they take me behind the wood shed and whip me three ways from Sunday.  We’re talking 50 point blowouts.  (You know who you are, Mark Eltiste).  Those loses frustrate and infuriate me, but I learn from every one of them.  In fact, a good portion of these tips come from getting my as…er…hat handed to me.

*And with these tips (and much deserved dose of karmic payback for boasting) I expect to lose a whole lot more in the coming weeks.

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15 Responses to “How to win at “Words With Friends””

  1. Jeff March 30, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    and how is Scramble With Friends going for you?

    • Feit Can Write March 30, 2012 at 9:07 am #

      Poorly. I’ve played twice and have been completed dominated both times.

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