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How Collins differs

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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.

How Collins differs

Fundamentally, it isn’t: it’s still the same game, 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 TWL 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 newbies, basically the same sheet could be handed out for CSW as it has been for TWL. 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. Obviously, 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 below, I thus start with the challenge rule. The words are described in Learning Collins.

Challenge Rule

The challenge rule is as follows:

 If your opponent makes a play, you challenge, and their
 play is good, instead of losing your turn, as in North
 America, instead the opponent gains points.  Typically,
 this is 5 or 10 points per word challenged.  So after you
 have made an unsuccessful challenge, it is still your
 turn.  The determination of move acceptability is done the
 usual way: the play is ruled either acceptable or not,
 regardless of the number of words challenged, and which
 individual words are good or bad is not revealed. 
 Likewise, if you challenge correctly, the rule is the same:
 the phony play is removed and the opponent loses their

So if you, say, challenge two words, the play is ruled acceptable, and the penalty is the 10-point described above, the opponent gets an extra 20 points, but it is still your turn.

Note, however, that there is a subtlety! Like double-challenge, the rule stil applies on the final move. But, unlike double-challenge, the penalty still has an effect. So the free challenge when the opponent plays out is lost. The opponent can still gain the penalty if you challenge incorrectly, which something to keep in mind if it is a close game.

More Choices

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 increased hooks can make it harder to block the board, 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.

Some of the most significant sources of extra choices are:

The 2s
the 23 extra two letter words: CH, DA, DI, EA, EE, FY, GI, GU, IO, JA, KO, KY, NY, OB, OO, OU, PO, ST, TE, UG, UR, YU, ZO. Note that the C thus now has a 2, CH, but there are still no 2s with a V.
JA and ZO, and more threes, such as EXO, JAI, ZEA, and WEX, mean there is more potential for a 50- or 60-point J, Q, X or Z play. While sometimes your opponent might get these, because there are more of them, it is more likely to even out: your opponent may get one, then you get one too.
Vowel dumps
Short words with numerous vowels have a greater variety, including such things as EUOI, AIA, AUA, and AUE.
There will be a playable bingo more often. Some high probablity sets of letters that make no words in TWL now make a playable word, such as ETAERIO, OTARINE, EROTISE, AIERIES, ORIGANE. Of course, many combinations, such as ADEILNR or ADEILNT, still make no words.
Comparatives and superlatives
CSW is more generous in allowing -er -est or -ier -iest, e.g., FOU, FIE, FAVE, GEY, QUARE, or OORIE.
More -INGS words are good. Some of the perhaps suprising omissions from TWL, such as HEALINGS, are good in CSW. But care is still required: some surprising examples, such as COSTINGS*, are still phony.

For more on the words, see Learning Collins.

Fewer exchanges

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.

Can catch up from behind

In a TWL game, if a player bingos 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 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 a few moves.

A converse to this is that sometimes the opponent can run away to a big score, and you are powerless to stop them. Those who have played CSW on the computer can attest to this!

Higher game score

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 TWL against an equally matched opponent. In CSW, they will average about 450. This is not much more than a 5% difference, or about 2 points more per move. Obviously against lower rated opposition, or on a good day, scores can be higher.

Harder to play phoneys

The challenge rule, described at the start of this page, generally means that it is harder to play and get away with phoneys. In particular, an expert player cannot just put down anything against a novice, because the novice can still challenge! Thus, for a new CSW player facing an expert, the experience may not be quite as intimidating as under double challenge. However, experience shows that the rule is by no means trivial: many phonies can and do still get played, and the point penalty 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 more onus on the player making the move to play valid words!


While playing CSW is not identical to playing TWL, 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.