When you get a full rack of vowels in Words with Friends, instinct may tell you to swap some or all of them out for new letters. But that may not always be the best strategy, and it all depends on your opponent's gameplay style, what letters remain in the bag, and what the current score is, to name just a few factors.
Using the "Swap" option in a game means you lose your current turn. That alone makes it a desperate measure, especially if you're winning by a close margin. Skipping one turn may be enough for your challenger to pull ahead and stay ahead for the rest of the board. If you're currently losing, it's even a worse idea to swap without putting any points on the board.
Of course, you can use a Swap+ powerup instead, which gives you the same benefits of "Swap" — without losing a turn. Still, that means spending coins if you don't have any already or wasting powerups you do have when you don't need to.
There aren't many words that are spelled with only vowels, and the tile point values won't get you much at all. But they are important to know when hunting for hook and parallel plays on the board. Below you'll find the words and Words with Friends' definitions from its dictionary.
- EAU (4 points) residual: Uganda (international vehicle registration)
- AA (2 points) noun/residual: 1. basaltic lava forming very rough, jagged masses with a light frothy texture; 2. Alcoholics Anonymous; 3. anti-aircraft; 4. Automobile Association (in the UK and South Africa)
- AE (2 points) residual: auto-exposure
- AI (2 points) noun/residual: 1. the three-toed sloth; 2. Amnesty International; 3. artificial insemination
- OE (2 points) residual: Old English
- OI (2 points) interjection: used to attract someone's attention, especially in a rough or angry way
- EE (2 points) interjection: used to express a range of emotions including surprise, anger, disappointment, or joy, or when reacting to a remark
- IO (2 points) noun: 1. a priestess of Hera who was loved by Zeus. Trying to protect her from the jealousy of Hera, Zeus turned Io into a heifer. Hera sent a gadfly to torture the heifer, which then fled across the world and finally reached Egypt, where Zeus turned her back into human form; 2. one of the Galilean moons of Jupiter, the fifth-closest satellite to the planet, being actively volcanic and coloured red and yellow with sulphur compounds (diameter 3,630 km)
If some of those definitions look funky to you, you're not the only one who thinks so. For instance, EAU doesn't sound legit at all, but in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, it's described as "water (a transparent, tasteless, odorless liquid." To me, that makes much more sense than a possible acronym for a transportation division in another country.
In the Scrabble dictionary, AA is simply "rough, cindery lava," while AE is an adjective for "one," not an abbreviation for auto-exposure. AI matches up with only the sloth mention above, while OE is not an abbreviation but "a whirlwind off the Faeroe islands." As for OI, that's similar to the definition above, and the rest of the words are not valid in Scrabble gameplay.
Two-letter and three-letter words made from all vowels aren't the only thing you can play. While you can quickly get rid of an A and U if you see an E on the board, that's only getting rid of two letters. Look for consonants that can help you either score a decent amount or get rid of more of your tiles.
For instance, if you have a rack that contains A, E, E, I, A, E, U, look for an open R on the board. There are many words you can make from all vowels and one R letter. ARIA, AREA, AREAE, AERIE, EERIE, AURA, AURAE, AUREI, RAIA, URAEI, and UREA are just the four and five-letter words. If you play a five-letter word using a solo R on the board, you're effectively trading in four seemingly junk letters while earning a few points in the process.
In my game seen below, I see ways to get rid of three vowels on my rack with AGEE, AGUE, BEAU, EINA, LAUAN, LIEU, NUEE, RAIA, and UNAI, with the top play gaining me 13 points. Also, I can play every all-vowels word seen in the previous tip, but we'll get more into some of those later. For now, I'm just looking for a letter to attach three or four vowels to.
Honing in on that "TW" square (a triple-word score premium) next to the R in ROOTSIER, I see I can take advantage of one of those R words mentioned above — EERIE. Doing so will get rid of three vowels (E, E, I) and net me 15 points.
Aside from playing a single word with all of your vowels, you can earn more points by playing two words at the same time. When you add a letter to the beginning or end of a word already on the board while playing a word in the opposite direction, that's called a "hook."
Let's go back to the A, E, E, I, A, E, U example. Let's say someone played QUA recently on the board. You can take an A and spell AQUA, while also spelling a word perpendicular to QUA with that A tile. That means AA, AE, AI, and EAU can all be played. While you're only getting rid of two or three letters, that Q is 10 points and shouldn't be ignored. If your opponent has a better rack with higher point tiles, they could do the same thing but score even more points, so you'd block them and get a decent score in the process.
In my example game, there aren't many straight-up hooks, but there are a few. Most significantly, there's the word ER on the board right next to a "DW" square (a double-word score premium). While I can't get rid of three letters there, I can get rid of two while being able to double both words' scores.
Specifically, I can play EE vertically, with the second E hooked on ER to spell ERE. Alternatively, I could also spell AA and AE vertically instead to make ERA horizontally, but in my opinion, it would be better to get rid of two Es instead of two As or AE which would leave two Es on my rack still.
The EERIE play is 5 more points than EE/ERE, so that would be better not only points-wise but because it uses up a "TW" square so your opponent can't get access to it. There are still accessible "TW" squares on the board, but one less is better.
Hooks are the easiest way to play multiple words at once, but "parallels" can be even more beneficial depending on how you use them. You could hook onto one letter in a word and spell out something in parallel, where only one fixed letter and your new letter are touching. But it's much more advantageous to try and spell three or more words.
A great example of this would be high scoring letters like J, Q, X, and Z. Let's say you see ALFAQUIN on the board, and you still have your A, E, E, I, A, E, U rack. You can throw an I tile next to the Q to spell QI, but you can also throw down the word AI parallel to ALFAQUIN. That means you've got three words played: AI, QI, and AA. If there weren't any bonus squares under your tiles, you'd still get 15 points. Not bad.
Now if the I tile was over a double-word score square, you'd get to double both QI and AI. That's a total of 28 points for your turn, assuming the A and Q already on the board weren't blanks.
On my example board, there are no Qs, nor any of the other high-scoring letters, but there are still lots of parallel moves to play. For instance, taking that EE from earlier and throwing it beside the ER in ROOTSIER on the right side, and I've got 14 points and two vowels gone.
To get rid of even more vowels, I could play something like UNAI, parallel to DING on the left side, crossing over TREND. That get's 13 points and three vowels off my rack. Other notable ones include BEAU parallel to FEVER for 12 points, EAU parallel to POINTY for 11 points, and EE parallel to CLOVES, which gives me three words in one move (EE, FEE, ESE). Likewise, AA thrown between the NG and IE of CHANGE and ROOTSIER, respectively, will make three words (AA, NAI, GAE) for 11 points. AE and AI could also go there.
At this point, EERIE is still my highest scoring play, and it gets rid of one of the "TW" squares. However, something like UNAI gets rid of more problematic vowels such as U, a harder tile to play than E.
Swap+ powerups cost 33% more than Word Radars, so if you have a limited stock of coins, it's cheaper to use Words Radars. In the case of an all-vowels rack, it can help you find potential high-scoring plays using current letters on the board, as well as possible lengthy words that can act as a sort of "swap" while gaining points in the process.
In my example, it looks like there are a lot of possible moves on the board, but most of them are two and three-letter words. There are a few long ones, like LIEU, but you can take all that was learned above and apply that to hunting for better options. I see a lot of green spots at the end of WHEEL, so that's worth exploring.
WHEEL has 4 and 3-point letters in it, and there's that 3-point H in CHANGE, so trying to make a move there could get me some decent points. In fact, spelling WHEELIE, while only getting rid of two vowels, gets me the highest-scoring move with 21 points. In that parallel play between CHANGE and ROOTSIER, I can spell HIT and AES, so that's three words total.
Is WHEELIE the best move here? Maybe. It is the highest score, after all. But I consider 231 vs. 144 a pretty close game still, especially with 28 letters left in the Tile Bag. WHEELIE would knock me up to 252, over 100 points ahead, but the opponent could have a J, Q, X, or Z — or all of them — with a pretty open board.
If you put a two-letter word made from all vowels on a triple-word score, you'll get 6 points, not counting the points from any hooks or parallel words you play at the same time. It's not much, but it may be beneficial to use up a premium square on the board if it means blocking your opponent from using it. It's an excellent defensive play, and while you may not score a ton of points, you're at least making it harder for the other player to run away with the game.
Look at all the available premium squares on the board, particularly the triple-word and triple-letter score ones. If they're in reach for you to use, they're in range for your opponent too. And pay very close attention to parallel plays, as a J, K, Q, or Z played on a "TW" square spelling words both down and across means a lot of points. Hunt all those premiums down and see if the letters your opponent may have would put them in the lead if left open.
Looking at my board, I see the "TW" square next to the R in ROOTSIER is open. Can an X be played around there? Yes, next to the E, but it seems difficult to play a parallel move there. They could play OX/IO/EX, and that gets them 20 points, but they can't make a parallel play with an X word on the "TW" square.
However, if they have the correct letters, they can score big with vertical words like REDUX. They couldn't play ROMAJI there since I have the last I and there are no more blanks. They can't play RESIZE, RURALIZE, RAMEQUIN, or RELIQUE because of the same reason. There is also only one E left in the game, so words like RESEAUX are also off-limits for the other player.
It's still the easiest "TW" square to score big on since it's harder to spell something on that K in KILTIE, so I think blocking the other player from using the bottom "TW" square is a good move. Going back to EERIE from Tip 2 above seems like a decent play, with 15 points and three vowels gone.
I've just covered a few of the things you can do to turn a rack full of vowels to your advantage. If you can't come up with a good enough move, you can still either swap letters and lose a turn or use a Swap+ to exchange tiles without losing a turn. When you have a ton of coins and powerups racked up, the Swap+ is the obvious choice. Just hope that you don't get all vowels again.
An excellent way to predict if you'll get more vowels when swapping is by looking at the Tile Bag. Perform a calculation or two, and you could figure out the likelihood that you'll get more vowels back than consonants.
This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' special coverage on mobile gaming. Check out the whole Gaming series.