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This page describes how Collins differs from OTCWL as a playing lexicon, and is part of our introduction to Collins (SOWPODS) in North America. For brevity, we will refer to the North American and International lexica, OTCWL16 and CSW15, as TWL and CSW respectively.
Fundamentally, the game does not change. It is still the same Scrabble experience, as enjoyed by many worldwide. The overall game, and the basic strategy, such as finding a good score plus rack leave, are not changed by moving from NWL to CSW. In other words, it will still feel like the same game, just one with more words. If one were handing out a sheet of tips for new players, the same sheet could be handed out for CSW as it has been for NWL. There is a far greater difference between the kitchen table and the club than there is between the two lexica.
So the differences are not in the fundamentals, but in the details. The extra words are the most noticeable, and because there are so many of them, you will use them, particularly the short ones.
After the words, the next biggest difference is the challenge rule: CSW games are generally not played to double-challenge, but with a points penalty. This is not intrinsic to the lexicon (the international WESPA rules do in fact allow double challenge, if desired), but has emerged as the de facto standard between no penalty at all (as played in Britain), and loss of a turn. In looking at the differences in more detail, we thus start with the challenge rule. The words are described in Important Collins words.
The altered challenge rule compared to the North American double-challenge rule is as follows:
So if you, say, challenge two words, the play is ruled acceptable, and the penalty is 10 points per word, the opponent gets an extra 20 points, but it is still your turn.
Note, however, that there is a subtlety. Like North American double-challenge, the rule still applies on the final move. But, unlike double-challenge, the penalty still has an effect (you cannot lose a turn if the opponent has played out because there are no more turns). So the free challenge when the opponent plays out is lost. The opponent can, therefore, still gain the penalty of 5, 10, etc., points if you challenge incorrectly, which something to keep in mind if it is a close game.
It is not yet clear whether North American CSW games will ultimately end up as penalty rather than double challenge, but the current norm is a 5 or 10 point penalty.
Generally, there will be more choices for each play. The increased number of 2-3 letter words and hooks means there are often more possibilities to make overlapping plays, or play a bingo. While in some situations increased hooks can make it harder to block the board, in other situations increased overlaps can make it easier to play without creating openings: while a high scoring open game can thus be played, this style of play is not forced upon the player, as board areas with a dense covering of words with few openings can be created. A converse with the extra choice of moves is there may be less time to think about each individual play than in NWL.
Some of the most significant sources of extra word choices are:
For more on the words, see Important Collins words.
For the same reason that there are more choices, it is also usually more feasible to be able to make a play rather than be forced to exchange. The increased number of twos and short words such as the vowel dumps above often mean that there is something, even if only a score such as 10–20 points, that can be played that is better than exchanging. This is because the play uses the same or similar tiles to what would have been exchanged.
In a NWL game, if a player bingos a couple of times quickly early in the game, their strategy is often simply to close down the board and make it difficult for the opponent to catch up. While the same block-when-ahead principle applies to CSW, because there are more words, it is often possible to create more chances to catch up again, through the increased numbers of possibilities for creating hooks, and the extra 2-letter words making it more likely that a bingo lane is available. Thus, the game is rarely “won” after just a few moves.
A converse to this is that sometimes the opponent can run away to a big score with many bingos, and you are powerless to stop them. Those who have played CSW against a computer can attest to this!
Game scores are higher, although not by as much as one might expect. A top-level player, or the computer, will average about 425 points a game in NWL against an equally matched opponent. In CSW, they will average about 450. This is approximately a 6% difference, or about 2 points more per move. Of course, in games with unequal opposition, scores can be lower or higher in either lexicon.
The challenge rule, described at the start of this page, generally means that it is harder to play and get away with nonwords (phoneys). In particular, an expert player cannot just put down anything against a novice, because the novice can still challenge without risking the loss of their turn. Therefore, for a new CSW player facing an expert, this “bluffing” aspect is not as intimidating as under double challenge. However, experience shows that the non-double-challenge rule is by no means trivial: many phoneys can and do still get played, and point penalties from lost challenges can alter the game outcome. The purpose of the penalty is to retain the stop-and-think aspect of the double challenge, but to keep the onus on the player making the move to play valid words, because if you play a phoney and it is challenged, you do still lose your turn.
There is a prevailing opinion that Collins encourages a more offensive rather than defensive playing style, favoring word finding rather than considering the strategic merits of different moves. This is because it generally seems easier to just keep scoring, with less regard for board position, or what the opponent does. However, it is not clear exactly to what extent this is really the case, compared to simply playing the same open style in NWL for the majority of the game. Given the prevailing opinion, it seems likely to be true, but little empirical or quantitative evidence has been presented. Both Collins and NWL provide rich strategical possibilities, far more than anyone can analyze completely during the course of a game.
While playing CSW is not identical to playing NWL, the game as known and loved by thousands of tournament players across North America is not fundamentally changed by playing CSW.
Please direct comments about this page to its author, Nick Ball.