A new smartphone is worth 1,000 ‘Words with Friends’

Published 7:40 am Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I have to admit that until this past weekend, most of what I knew about “Words With Friends” was based on the news story that actor Alec Baldwin was removed from a plane because he refused to quit playing the game on his phone.
For those who don’t know, “Words With Friends,” is a game that can be played on mobile devices — including tablets and smartphones — and is similar to Scrabble. Players get seven tiles and have to come up with the highest scoring word they can, by taking advantage of special squares (such as “double letter” or “triple word”) and higher-point tiles (for rare letters like “J” and “Q”).
Saturday, I bought a new Android-based phone, which replaces my old standby BlackBerry brand that I have used for the past four years. My younger sister has an Android tablet at home, and I decided to start playing my first “Words With Friends” game with her on Saturday. Like me, she has a degree in English and is pretty intelligent, so I figured it would be a fun and competitive game.
While “Words With Friends” is similar to Scrabble, there are a few differences, and they’re significant ones if you ask me. First, obviously, there is no time limit. If you play a word, your friend can play their next word anytime they wish, even if it’s several hours or even days later. If your competitor hasn’t played their word in a while, you can send them a “nudge” message to remind them it’s their turn. And obviously, since there’s no way of seeing what your opponent is doing, it’s very possible they may be using a dictionary or website to figure out their best word.
The other main difference is that the game doesn’t penalize you for playing a word that’s…well, not a word. As Scrabble players know, other competitors can “challenge” a play if they don’t think it’s an acceptable word. If the word isn’t acceptable, then the player has to pick up those tiles and doesn’t get any points for their turn — if it is acceptable, the player who challenged it loses their turn.
There’s no “challenge” in “Words With Friends.” Instead, if you play a word that’s not accepted, the game will simply say “That’s not a word,” and you can pick up your tiles and try a different combination. No penalty, no lost turn, nothing. If you want to see if “QZVKJBF” is a word, it will let you. (Just in case you’re wondering, it’s not a word.)
While playing my sister, I got stuck on a turn and decided to see if “JUN” was a word. I figured it would mean, “The word that sometimes replaces ‘June’ on calendars.” It turned out that it was a word and I got a mammoth score because it was on a triple word space. Later, I looked it up. It’s actually a type of North Korean currency. (Of course, if my sister had asked, I would have said that I knew it was a North Korean coin the whole time!) However, had I been playing Scrabble, I would have never risked that play out of fear it would be challenged.
I definitely had fun and will play her again, even though the game’s not perfect. It’s just cool to know that even though my sister is hundreds of miles away, we can still play a board game together like we’re little kids again.

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