After playing thousands of games, I'm convinced Scrabble blows Words With Friends out of the water for 3 clear reasons

mark abadi scrabble

  • Words With Friends is one of the most popular mobile games
    ever, and is very similar to the game that inspired it, Scrabble.
  • I’m a nationally ranked tournament Scrabble player, and I can
    safely say playing Scrabble is way more satisfying than playing
    Words With Friends.
  • I prefer Scrabble because it rewards skill over luck, is fairer
    for both players, and its dictionary won’t cause as many headaches
    as the one Words With Friends uses.

Words With Friends is one of the most popular mobile games of
all time, with around
13 million users
playing the word game each month.

Anyone who’s played Words With Friends knows it bears a strong
resemblance to Scrabble,
the timeless board game that debuted in 1938.

But take a closer look and you’ll see that there are several
differences between the two games, from the types of words they
allow to the strategies required to win.

I’m especially attuned to these differences. I’ve been playing
in Scrabble tournaments across the country since I was 16 years
old. I’ve played in two
North American Scrabble Championships
, and my official ranking
places me among the top players in New York City.

I’ve also logged more than 1,000 games in Words With Friends,
and although the mobile game has a few advantages to Scrabble’s
mobile app — it’s sleeker, has a bigger user base, and has
addictive mini-games and challenges on the side — I can safely
say that when it comes to the gameplay itself, Scrabble is the
superior game by a longshot.

Here’s why.

The Words With Friends dictionary is maddeningly inconsistent

One difference between Scrabble and Words With Friends that
isn’t obvious at first sight is the two dictionaries the games
use. 

Because the Scrabble dictionary is copyrighted by Hasbro, the
developers of Words With Friends sourced its words from a
public-domain word list called ENABLE, along with a few of its own
additions to the dictionary.

Unfortunately, there are some frustrating inconsistencies with
the Words With Friends list. It allows you to play “dongle,” for
example, but not the plural “dongles.” You’re free to play “vape,”
but not “vapes,” “vaped,” or “vaping.” The game allows you to play
certain acronyms like “BFF” or “TFW,” but not others like “LOL” and
“OMG.”

Any word game is free to use whichever dictionary it chooses,
however the inconsistencies in the Words With Friends list make it
too unpredictable of a game to enjoy fully.

There’s no 50-point bonus for using all your letters

In Scrabble, if you play a word that uses all seven of your
tiles, you earn a 50-point bonus.
That play is called a bingo
, and for expert Scrabble players,
it’s normal to get two or three bingos every game. 

Bingos are the key to a sky-high Scrabble score, and Scrabble
strategy is built around maximizing your chances of playing
one.

In Words With Friends, on the other hand, using all of your
letters earns you a 35-point bonus — that’s 15 fewer
points. 

It may not seem like a huge difference, but the smaller bonus
takes much of the fun out of what should be the most exciting play
in the game. In many cases, playing a bingo in Words With Friends
is actually the wrong thing to do, either because you can get more
points by playing a shorter word, or because the bingo would open
up several dangerous spots for your opponent to score even more
than you did.

Scrabble got it right by awarding more bonus points. Seven- and
eight-letter words are considerably harder to find in a scrambled
pool of letters than four-letter words, and the extra brainpower
and skill required should be rewarded with extra points.

And the design of the board leads to a huge imbalance in scoring

Look at a Scrabble board and a Words With Friends board side by
side and you’ll notice that the premium squares — the double- and
triple-word scores and the double- and triple-letter scores — are
laid out differently. Take a look below:

scrabble words with friends

The board layout in Words With Friends is far from just a
cosmetic departure from Scrabble: It has a dramatic effect on how
the game is played.

In Scrabble, the placement of those premium squares is such that
no matter where on the board you play, you open up scoring
opportunities for your opponent. You’ll see what I mean in the
example below:

scrabble

In this example, I can play ZEBRA on my opening move for 52
points, which is a great way to start the game. But it also opens
the door for my opponent to come back with big scores.

The double-word scores above and below the Z ensure that my
opponent will score 28 or more points if they can manage to string
together a five-letter word like BLITZ or ZONED. There are also
double-word scores above and below the E, so if my opponent can
come up with a seven letter word with E in the middle, like ABSENCE
or FIREMAN, they’d hit both of those squares at once for close to
50 points. 

Lastly, the center space on the Scrabble board — which the
first word of the game is required to touch — is located seven
spaces away from a triple-word score. In the above example, an
eight-letter word starting or ending with A would hit a triple-word
score for a massive amount of points. Because of the location of
the triple-word scores, no matter what word the first player makes,
they will always open up a high-scoring lane for their
opponent.

In the book “Word
Freak
,” author Stefan Fatsis wrote how Scrabble inventor Alfred
Butts labored for countless hours to find the perfect board layout
that would guarantee fairness for both players throughout the
game.

“The distances and location of the premium squares are just
right,”
Fatsis wrote
. “The game is a carefully choreographed pas de
deux, a delicate balance between risk and reward.”

Unfortunately, that fairness doesn’t exist in Words With
Friends. Here’s what a typical first move looks like in Words With
Friends:

words with friends

With this board design, there’s no triple-word score that’s
accessible after the first turn, and the double-word scores are
spaced just far enough apart that my opponent can’t hit both of
them in one turn. That greatly diminishes the number of
high-scoring opportunities my opponent will have simply because
they had the misfortune of going second.

But the real damage comes later in the game, as the words expand
outward toward the edges of the board. Look at this hotspot on the
board that’s only possible in Words With Friends:

wwf

You’ll notice that in the top left corner, it’s possible to play
a word that hits both a triple-word score and a triple-letter
score. Using that R, a simple word like PARK or CARVE can easily
score 60 or more points without creating a comparable opportunity
for my opponent. Even if they used all of their letters, they still
wouldn’t reach the nearest triple-word score, which is eight spaces
away: 

scrab

Similarly, the placement of the premium squares also opens the
door for absurdly-scoring moves like the one below. Although DOOZIE
is a nice find, on a Scrabble board, it would only be worth 72
points, instead of the inflated 105 it scores here:

words with friends

Those little tweaks to the board design completely throw off the
balance of the game, as very often, the final score comes down
simply to whichever player can reach those corner premium squares
first. That creates an incentive for both players to play
conservatively by playing short, clunky words that block off
certain sections of the board, like in the example below:

IMG_52314D93D762 1

What results is a less enjoyable playing experience, as the
danger of opening scoring lanes for your opponent is far more
serious in Words With Friends, and the outcome is much more
luck-dependent than Scrabble.

Although there’s a time and a place for everything, if you’re
looking for the game that has the better balance of luck and skill,
I’d stick with the classic.

SEE ALSO: I’m
a nationally ranked Scrabble player, and these are the 7 biggest
mistakes I see inexperienced players make


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After playing thousands of games, I'm convinced Scrabble blows Words With Friends out of the water for 3 clear reasons