I imagine it should come as no surprise that as someone who likes to string words together for fun (and hopefully profit someday) likes to play Scrabble. Words are kind of becoming my stock and trade between my day job, my hobbies and my side endeavors. Hacking those words up into letters isn’t too far a stretch, nor is moving those letters around in a strategically advantageous manner. It’s exactly like writing in that respect on a more granular scale.
I didn’t get a chance to learn Scrabble early. Scrabble is something I picked up on recently within the past two years or so. In my youth I asked to be taught how to play, but was met with sighs from both parents and a negative response. Only years later did I learn that there was a reason for this. Mom always kicked Dad’s ass in Scrabble; dad was a sore loser after many defeats and wanted no part of it. They both used to love it until Mom’s domination over the playing field pushed him off of it.
But, with the advent of social media, Scrabble became available on Facebook. And there, I started playing a few friends. It came in a small, trickling stream at first. But, eventually, my mother found out you could play online and we started playing. At first, Mom and I wrestled. Mom was (and is) a good player. I can see why she beats my father regularly – not because dad doesn’t have an extensive vocabulary (he’s the only person in the house fluent in more than one language, which means he’s pretty good on words to draw from) but because he’s trying too hard to make words with what he has on the rack than placing a smaller number of tiles more effectively. Well, that and the fact that he’s impatient. But, he’s getting better.
After a while though, I learned how Mom worked out her moves in Scrabble. My win percentage versus her went up, and soon my sister was accusing me of cheating against Mom (sadly, the electronic divide allows much room for cheating). At the time I was using the built-in tool, ‘teacher’, to learn better strategy. It can give an edge, but it’s an edge given to all sides in Facebook Scrabble, so I didn’t really think of it as cheating, and I welcomed them to use it. After a series of victories over my mother, Mom stopped playing against me unless we were in larger games. Whether or not this is because she likes family inclusion or wanted to at least not come in last I’ll never know – but debate amongst family is lively.
After a time, an imitator to Scrabble appeared: Words With Friends. It has the same basic gameplay elements with only a few differences. Particularly, the scoring of certain tiles differs, and there are more opportunities for overlapping strategic tiles (resulting in higher scoring games). There are also no tools built in. So long as you’re not going to Scrabble cheat sites, it makes for fair games. I presume most people I play with – all people I know for the most part – play honorably. Since WWF (hah!) has a free app for Droid and iPhone platforms alike, my availability of friends to play against is larger. It also has no built in tools like ‘Teacher’, which presumably leads to more balanced gameplay, provided both opponents stay off of cheat sites. For these reasons, WWF gets more time spent on it. I do pretty well here too. I hate to sound like a douchebag, but Scrabble/WWF is one of the few things I’m actually good at. However this does not translate to me winning all the time. In fact, I welcome more skilled opponents. They teach me different strategies and tactics to play more effectively. I learn from my mistakes. And oh boy, do I make mistakes sometimes.
All of this of course is a long way ’round manner of introducing a breakdown of strategies/player types.
Snap into a tile set, brother!
So, I’m going to endeavor to label a couple of archetypes/behaviors when it comes to players. I doubt you’d find anyone who fits exactly into these categories as people who have only a single play style quickly find themselves getting beat up on. However, they are core Scrabble/WWF behaviors. Insofar as I can tell, here’s what you usually end up with:
The Plotter is only concerned with one thing: what happens after I play this next word? Taking their time, Plotters seek not so much to advance their point total, so much as to deny an advantageous play for their opponent while simultaneously leaving as many options open for themselves. These are long term strategy players who count how many S’s are on the board, and are thinking about if the players has high scoring tiles. They are incredibly proactive. Each tile is placed with the goal of making sure that TWS and TLS squares are as isolated and hard to use as possible, then making sure that DWS and DLS tiles are equally improbable after that. Plotters are also prone to take their time in placing letters. While this works out well for plotters online (where games are untimed in most cases), though playing in the flesh with an three-minute timer nearby can be nerve wracking for them. However, with a mind that is focused on what the next player might try, they tend to come up with shorter words when pressed. Furthermore, Plotters can set up an enticing trap as well, in which their opponents take advantage of something, only to find that the next move undoes everything the last move did. The Plotter can be a vexing opponent to those who have an eye for maximizing gain, but can be defeated through the application of equal patience and a little luck.
This player tends to focus on a very eccentric vocabulary. It’s a strange combination of using words like Dhow, Kue, or Etoile (which spell check here informs me are not words – yet are all legal in WWF). If you’ve ever played someone who’s an Etymologist, you’ve probably shouted to them or yourself, ‘Do you even know what that word means?!’ Many players pick up a stable of very weird but very short words (Ki, Qi, Qat, Za) simply because you need to know them, but the Etymologist will beat you to death not only with their own terrifying words, but with your own words as well. Verse becomes ‘Averse’ or ‘Reverse’ or ‘Converse’ or ‘Conversed’ – and almost always over a triple or double word score that you just couldn’t quite reach when you originally placed your now traitorous word. More frustratingly, they find multiple places to turn your words against you if you’re not careful, making them very difficult to block. However, they are not completely impossible to beat either. Players who can maximize a small game find two letter words to stack up against the long strings of tiles for maximum effect, often using bonus tiles to get up to speed, or quickly find ways to pluralize the bigger of the Etymologist’s words.
The Hater tends to focus on one thing: reflexively taking what’s available before the opponent can grab it. This archetype is a subtle variant on the Plotter. They initially look alike, but, unlike the Plotter, the Hater is more reactive and has needs to be immediately met, often time without the benefit of planning anything beyond hating on the chosen square(s) that have been recently encroached on. While this sounds bad or shortsighted, it can work out for the Hater. When Haters hate (like they are wont to do) on a TWS with the word ‘Oh’ or something similarly terse or low scoring, The Hater makes a play at making sure that if his or her opponent has a great opportunity to place something devastating that they’re certainly going to have a hard time doing it without that oh-so-important square. However, in the name of blocking off what could only be a theoretical advantage to their opponents, Haters short-shrift themselves by not really scoring big points in the process since they only care about screwing the player’s next move. The best way to beat Haters is to goad them into defensive blocks while preparing a word somewhere else that you can get a lot out of without necessarily gaming on bonus tiles – usually with tightly-packed two-letter words.
Shorties are extremely frustrating. They excel at keeping words short, and condensed, making it harder to keep the words growing from the center of the board. They are particularly good at making multiple words on the board, even if they’re terse, and making sure to nickel and dime the opponent at every step. This can lead to them being just as frustrated as their opponent, but it quickly becomes a matter of bluffing their opponents into finally branching out with something big, but low scoring, or by forcing them into swapping tiles. This of course sets their opponents up to create the next logjam if the opponent isn’t careful. It’s at this point that the Shortie starts in on this tactic again. The best way to beat a shortie is to throw out a ‘C’ or a ‘V’ at them at some point. These are the ONLY two letters in the game you can’t make a two letter word out of – and shorties hate them.
The Churl is best summed up by this web comic. The Churl really shouldn’t be playing Scrabble. In fact, if you put the Churl into a timed, face-to-face game, the Churl likely can’t play. When it comes down to it, it’s unlikely that Churls have a very good or broad vocabulary. Living almost exclusively on the internet frontier, they use an internet hacking tactic: brute force exploitation. They’ll place their highest scoring letters on bonus tiles and start wailing on letters until they happen upon a word the game will accept. It’s frustrating to play this type of player because they are so hard to predict. With bonus tiles spanning the board, you find them taking ones you may not have thought of that frustratingly block your next move. It’s also very easy to mistake them for an Etymologist since the words they generate are so off the wall. They are the lowest common denominator for the most part (or at least they are in this writer’s opinion), but, regardless of how much other player types may not like them, ultimately just about every other player type will resort to this tactic if they are swamped hard enough online. Myself included. I guess that means I’m s self-loather sometimes. I can live with that.
The Explorer likes to sprawl out across the board. ‘Proper’ placement and point coup is the last thing on the explorer’s mind. While this doesn’t mean much in terms of attaining victories (unless playing another Explorer), the Explorer is good at learning. They spend a lot of time making words that are longer, but unlike the Etymologist, this player will use simpler words and without a lot of eye for future planning. They tend to put out words as they come to them. They also rarely exhibit any Shortie leanings. If the Explorer isn’t taking up space as they sprawl outward, they are usually really struggling for a word, and ultimately they like to leave options open rather than close them off. The explorer is also usually exceedingly friendly. They’re not high scorers and feel no pressure to be so. Every so often they will surprise you though, and occasionally they metamorphosize into another type of player entirely once their legs are under them.
The Squirrel is a bit of a gambler, even though their behavior doesn’t belie this. The average player won’t spot the Squirrel until end game when they realize ‘where are all of the high scoring letters?’ By then it’s too late, and that’s what makes them dangerous. It is only when you’re down to five letters on your rack and no tiles left in the bag that you realize you’re fighting the Squirrel. Because Q, J, Z and/or X aren’t on your rack… but the Squirrel, he or she has them. The Squirrels do exactly what you’d think from their name: they tuck things away for later. They keep those high scoring letters until far later in the game than most players would feel comfortable with. In addition, they know all of the crushing two-letter words to play using them, and they have been waiting to use them when they’re needed. Sure, they could have played them seven or eight turns ago, but the Squirrel is incredibly patient. They then gobble up the lead, and leave their opponents in the dust. The plotter can defeat the Squirrel if they catch on early enough, or I.D. the Squirrel before the game starts, but they’ll have a difficult time of it. However, if one can stymie the Squirrel’s easy, two-tile plays at the end of the game, it’s possible to clean up when it comes time to take penalty points.
Aberrant Player Types
Not all Scrabble/WWF players are necessarily good player types. These are the players that regardless of playing style, all players prefer to avoid. But before you judge too hard, remember: it’s more than likely that you (and this extends to this author as well) have at one point or another have done these things or engage in these behaviors. And that doesn’t make you a bad player per se. But these are things you should probably keep in check.
The Shit-Talker is common amongst all gamers, no matter their games. This is the opponent who talks trash to throw you off your game.Trash-Talkers who play each-other aren’t so much of a problem – but more often than not, Shit-Talkers are bullies as well though they may not be outside of the context of the game.
With the advent of the online play of Scrabble came the arrival of the slowpoke. The Slowpoke doesn’t take time, or count patience as a virtue. The slowpoke simply takes forever to play. If you’re dealing with someone not competitively playing, or if you yourself are a slowpoke, there isn’t a problem. But Slowpokes should probably announce that they are such a player before jumping into a game – especially in Scrabble games with more than two players. Slowpokes have a harder time in live games in which rounds are timed.
The Whiner likes to challenge plays. With online games they disparage new plays they never saw before, or question the validity of different words. I see this happen most in folks who play using different dictionaries in different platforms, though I’ve also seen it happen when someone plays something creatively that the rules accept. The whiner really shouldn’t make these objections in online games in this author’s opinions. The dictionaries used are the ones used, and if the game approves your move, it was legal. There’s more room for interpretation I suppose in a live game, where the Whiner may or may not come up with valid points as there’s no AI to ‘keep you honest.’ The Whiner may also complain ceaselessly about how he or she has nothing… all the time. Be it playing space, or appropriate tiles. It’s okay to note it in a tough game. Just don’t belabor it.
This is the player that is good. Very good. And won’t shut up about it. Endlessly. And, they remind you about it at every opportunity. A little humility and good sportsmanship goes a long way. The good news is that people who fit the Showboat profile quickly find them playing games against the AI as no one else wants to play with them any longer.
Ah. The cheater. The cheater is not really welcome at any table. Cheating is difficult in live games (so long as you keep your eyes open and have a dictionary on-hand), but online, there are innumerable cheat sites that will be more than happy to give you words to play. Fortunately, cheating isn’t always a guarantee of a win, and while big words can lead to big scores, placement can still over come it if the tiles cooperate. Cheaters generally will not reveal themselves… mostly because fair players will beat them within an inch of their life once the Cheater is outed.
How I Play (An Example)
Whenever I sit down to play, I don’t really get into zone so much as I go with what I have to work with. I like being first (who doesn’t?) when it comes to making a play, particularly if it’s Scrabble (in which the first word is double points). WWF it doesn’t matter as much, but once that first word gets laid down, my mind is on the next step. This makes me a primarily a Plotter. When I lay down a word, I think about where I want it to go and all of the ways I can place it. I make sure to keep high scoring letters out of the way of double word scores and go from there. Once the game is afoot, I’ll stick to my Plotter roots, though I imagine if you asked my opponents, they’ll tell you that I use much from the Shortie playbook as well. If you ask my mother, she’ll tell you I’m a Hater (mostly because that was my primary tactic as a new Scrabble player when we played frequently). This usually serves me well, right up until I play an Explorer. When an explorer uses big words on me to sprawl out in a direction I didn’t anticipate, it can get me but good, and then I have a lot more to make up for. However, I can use Shortie tactics against them – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
If I had to break myself down, I’m 60% plotter, 30% Shortie, 5% Hater and 5% Squirrel. I A former fellow employee has used Squirrel tactics on me frequently enough that when I play him, I’m careful to deny certain two letter layups (or make those layups as low scoring as I can) which ties into the Plotter behavior again.
However, regardless of my play style, I have discovered that I am not necessarily ‘in it to win it’ in every game, so much as I have developed a baseball-like fondness for it. A love of the game that keeps me playing even when I’m getting stomped. So, I’ll keep playing, even with the Churl, and keep my mind sharp. Until next time, happy tiles!