No matter which version of Words with Friends you're using on Android or iOS, you have access to built-in features such as Word Radars and Swap+ powerups. These tools are considered cheating by most die-hard word gamers, especially since not everyone can use them. But there is one feature that everyone has access to that you can feel safe using against anyone.
The feature in question is called "Tile Bag," and it has been a part of Words with Friends since as long as I can remember. This built-in tool lets you see precisely what tiles remain without revealing what letters your opponent has. If you've ever played Scrabble, you'd recognize this feature as the "Letter Distribution" list that appears on the game board itself.
When playing Scrabble, you can reference the list printed on the board to determine which letters your opponent may have and which ones you may be able to get. The same concept applies in Words with Friends, only instead of having to reference the board and your rack yourself to calculate what's left in the bag mentally, the Tile Bag tells you. It takes all the work out for you but doesn't do anything you couldn't do already just by knowing what letter tiles the game includes.
The letter distribution in Words with Friends is slightly different when compared to Scrabble. For reference, below, you'll see how many of each letter there is in bold, with each tile's point value in parentheses. While Scrabble has 100 tiles, Words with Friends has a total of 104 in each game.
- A = 9 (worth 1 point each)
- B = 2 (worth 4 points each)
- C = 2 (worth 4 points each)
- D = 5 (worth 2 points each)
- E = 13 (worth 1 point each)
- F = 2 (worth 4 points each)
- G = 3 (worth 3 points each)
- H = 4 (worth 3 points each)
- I = 8 (worth 1 point each)
- J = 1 (worth 10 points)
- K = 1 (worth 5 points)
- L = 4 (worth 2 points each)
- M = 2 (worth 4 points each)
- N = 5 (worth 2 points each)
- O = 8 (worth 1 point each)
- P = 2 (worth 4 points each)
- Q = 1 (worth 10 points)
- R = 6 (worth 1 point each)
- S = 5 (worth 1 point each)
- T = 7 (worth 1 point each)
- U = 4 (worth 2 points each)
- V = 2 (worth 5 points each)
- W = 2 (worth 4 points each)
- X = 1 (worth 8 points)
- Y = 2 (worth 3 points each)
- Z = 1 (worth 10 points)
- BLANK = 2 (worth 0 points each)
Like mentioned before, the Tile Bag is one of the features in Zynga's Words with Friends that you can access no matter which version of the game you're playing. On your iPhone or Android device, it will work in Words with Friends 2 (Android | iOS), Words with Friends Classic (Android | iOS), and Words with Friends (Android | iOS).
When you have a game open, whether it's against a friend or random opponent, the practice AI, a WordMaster, or a Lightning Round team, tap on the "More" tab in the bottom-left corner, then select "Tile Bag" from the list of options.
When the Tile Bag opens, it shows you everything that has not been played on the board yet. It also omits what is already in your current rack of letters. All the tiles that are on your opponent's existing rack are shown here as not being played yet. That means there's no way to decipher what letters they have or don't have accurately.
Another thing to point out here is that the "# letters left" directly above your rack does not correspond with the available tiles in the Tile Bag. The number shown above your rack is the total number of tiles that are left in the bag for you to draw and does not include the tiles your opponent has. So the figure above your rack will always be seven less than what the Tile Bag shows.
Seeing what tiles are left in the game when you first start a game is rather pointless since it will just show you everything that you don't have on your rack. In my opinion, using the Tile Bag isn't very helpful at all during the first half of any game. However, once you pass that halfway mark, it's a great tool. You can see if you can play a particular word later, as well as what high-value letters have yet to hit the board.
Just like in Scrabble, defense is just as important as offense in Words with Friends. The Tile Bag can help you figure out if you should leave a good move on the board open that your opponent might be able to take advantage. It can also help you decide if you should play a word that would block any potential high-scoring move the enemy may play.
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Let's say there is a triple-word (TW) score square available off of an I on the board. The Q was recently used on the board to spell QI, so the next best thing you can hope for there is XU for 51 points total or XI for 50 points, but has an X already been played? A quick look at the board says no, and the Tile Bag confirms this.
In the example screenshots above, we can see that there are 19 letters left in the bag but 26 letters in total, counting the ones on our opponent's rack. What are the chances that our opponent already has the X ready to play?
To figure this out, let's place the X as one of the letters on their rack. That leaves us with 25! (25 factorial) spots to put the other letters. With seven places for the X on the opponent's rack, we have 7*25! possible combinations. There are 26! (26 factorial) total arrangements of the letters in 26 spots, so the probability would be 7*25!/26! or a 26.9% probability that they have the X tile as one of the seven possibilities on their rack.
To replicate this formula yourself when a tile in the Tile Bag has a "1" next to it, just take the number of possible letters on the rack (R) and multiply that by the total factorial number of tiles seen in the Tile Bag minus 1 (S!), then divide your answer by the total factorial number of tiles seen in the Tile Bag (T!).
If you don't know how to calculate this with factorial numbers, copy and paste your formula in Google Search, and it will display the answer for you. In our case, we just stuck 7*25!/26! into Google, which gave us the 26.9% answer. If there were 13 tiles left in the bag and on the opponent's rack, we'd type 7*12!/13! into Google to get a 53.8% chance they have the X tile.
Of course, this all assumes they drew all seven tiles right after their last turn, which likely didn't happen. The truth is, they could have pulled the X on their very first turn and have been saving it this whole time. If you're better at math than I am, you can probably come up with some better calculations to show a more accurate probability that they do or don't have the X. (If so, share!)
Using the same board as above, what if we wanted to know the likelihood that our opponent has an H on their rack? With 26 tiles in total that we can't see, three of them are of interest to us since there are three H tiles in the Tile Bag. To do this, we'll use a slightly different formula, which can also be applied to find the answers in Example 1 above, so 7*25!/26! would look like this:
- 1-(25 choose 7)/(26 choose 7)
To explain this out a little better, you would take the total number of tiles seen in the Tile Bag minus the amount next to the letter you're interested in (S), then choose it by the number of tiles on their rack (R). Divide the answer by the total number of tiles seen in the Tile Bag (T) choose the number of tiles on their rack (R). Then take that answer and subtract it from 1.
- 1-(S choose R)/(T choose R)
If I'm not explaining this well enough, sorry, because my binomial theorem and binomial coefficient skills are rusty at best. All you need to do is use the formula above as a reference, then type that into Google to get the answer.
Back to our H scenario, there are three H tiles and 26 total tiles in the Tile Bag. We would use the formula 1-(23 choose 7)/(26 choose 7) to come up with 0.627 or a 62.7% chance they have one H on their rack already. That's a high chance, so let's say they have one H, which leaves two of them that we might be able to draw.
Using the knowledge gained above, we can calculate the probability that we will draw an H on our next turn if we think they have one on their rack. Let's say we know we want to play ZEINS for 48 points, using four letters off our rack. There are currently 19 letters left in the bag that we can draw, so our equation would be 1-(17 choose 4)/(19 choose 4) for 0.386 or a 38.6% chance that one of the letters we draw will be an H tile.
As you can see in the above screenshots, we took a chance to get the H, since 38.6% was better odds than one out of three, and we got lucky! You can also use this probability formula to determine how many letters you must play to have better odds at getting the letter you want when you draw. Playing five letters would have increased our odds to 46.8%, and six letters would have given us 54.4% at getting the H.
If math is not your strong suit, another route to take is reading your opponent. If you've played multiple games against them, you've probably developed a feel for what type of player they are. If it's your first game against them, you'll only get a small sample to judge off of, but it may be enough to determine how they like to play.
For instance, if your opponent has already played short two-letter words in parallel on the board, with a high-value tile on a premium square, such as ZA, JO, and/or QI, then it's highly possible that they will try to play XI, XU, AX, OX, etc. if they have the X and an opening on the board.
So, knowing that there's an X that could be on their rack, you should do everything in your power to make sure they get the least amount of points possible when they do get around to playing it — even if it means ruining your chances at a high-scoring word if you should actually draw the X later. If you've got a nice cushion over their score, maybe this doesn't matter, and you'll take the risk. Using the Tile Bag can help you figure out what could happen.
If your opponent tends to like to play super long words, maybe they won't care about putting a two-letter word with X on a premium space — even if it means more points. Again, it may be worth the risk to leave that part of the board open to see if you can snag the X if it's still available.
As you can see above, after taking my ZEINS turn, we see that the opponent did indeed have the X already. With a 53.8% chance of them having it already, it's not surprising, and I didn't care to block the move because my ZEINS was 48 points and almost canceled out their 51 points. I have a massive buffer in total score, so I wasn't worried about it at all.
These are just a few of the ways that you can use the Tile Bag to your advantage. Even if Words with Friends removes this feature, you'll still be able to do everything manually by looking at what's already been played on the board, what's on your rack, and what's missing out of the total 104 tiles. That's how you'd do it in a good old-fashioned Scrabble board game, though your mental calculations will have to be rough estimates if time is a factor.
This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' special coverage on mobile gaming. Check out the whole Gaming series.