What's worse than losing a game to a stranger?
Losing to a friend, of course.
And while hit Facebook and portable game Words with Friends beautifully streamlines the process of challenging your pals to Scrabble-style wordplay, it doesn't go too far to make the pain of losing any more bearable. So tip the odds in your favor: check out these key tips to improve your Words with Friends performance.
1. Remember: it's not Scrabble
Words with Friends looks a lot like Scrabble and plays a lot like Scrabble, but there are a slew of important differences that aren't necessarily obvious. Most importantly, Words with Friends is designed to be more exciting than Scrabble, offering more chances for big-scoring, game-changing plays -- and a little more focus on randomness, too.
Take the J. In Scrabble, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found, the J is as much of a hinderance as a help. While it offers the chance of a high-scoring play, you risk being stuck with it at the end of the game.
But in Words with Friends, it's worth ten points versus Scrabble's eight. Carnegie found that two-point boost to be more than enough to turn J into a major asset. In total, 12 Words with Friends tiles are valued higher than their Scrabble counterparts; only two are scored lower. So make those exotic letters count.
2. Work the bonuses
And the best way to do that is to drop them on multiplier squares. Although a Words with Friends' board doesn't have more bonus squares than Scrabble's, it is set up to let you hit more of them in one go. On a Words with Friends board, you can hit a triple-word and two triple-letter bonuses with a single six-letter word. Do that with a high-scoring letter or two, and you're well on the way to dominating your opponent.
3. Save the S and don't dump the D
Tempting as it is to tack on an S or a D to add another letter to a word you're playing, consider what it'll really gain you. If it's not going to hit a double-word score or similar bonus, you might do well to play the word without the extra letter.
Why's that? Both the S and D are great "get-out-of-jail-free" letters for those moments when you just can't find anything good to play. Hold them back until you can make more than just a point or two.
4. Learn the words
Even though Words with Friends lets you trial-and-error your way through placing your words, there's still no substitute for a large vocabulary. And we don't just mean the two- and three-letter words so often useful for big plays.
Here's a list of the one hundred most probable seven-letter Scrabble words. Although the Words with Friends dictionary and letter distributions vary slightly, getting a handle on these crowd-pleasers will stand you in good stead.
5. Be defensive...but not too much
Before you play that big-scoring word you've been painstakingly assembling, take the time to think a move or two ahead. Are you leaving a tempting vowel open next to a big bonus tile? Are you just asking to be zapped with a cheap "ZO" or "QI?" Playing a good game doesn't always mean playing high-scoring words at every opportunity.
But don't get obsessive about it. As Scrabble pro Laurie Cohen told Yahoo! Games last year, higher level Scrabble players like to keep the board open for maximum scoring potential. Be careful not to shut yourself out.
6. Play your smarter friends
Handing out beatdown after beatdown is good for the ego, but it's seriously bad for your game. If you want to improve, play stiffer competition. Seek out the best players on your friends list, and focus your attention on learning from their play. Where are they strongest? What weaknesses of yours do they exploit? What are their tricks? Understand why you lose, and you'll understand what you need to do to win.