How to win at Letterpress

If you are not yet addicted to Letterpress, then at least you should give it a try. I predict it will be the hottest mobile game for 2013.

Enough of the chit-chat. You can read the instructions on how to play on the Apple Appstore, the rest of this post is for the folk who know how to play but want a strategy to learn how to win. I have discovered a few home truths about winning this game since I became addicted found this game before Christmas 2012.

To illustrate, I’ll use the following sample game. Like chess, I’ll refer to the positions on the board as A1 in the bottom left hand corner through to E1 at the bottom right and E5 at the top right.

 Y O H R Y
 F K Q A N
 C T T A D
 C Z S O I
 D T E L R

Strategy 0. Use all of the remaining White tiles

This is really an underlying strategy – hence the number 0. What I mean is, if you can make a word using all of the remaining White tiles, you will probably win – or prevent yourself being beaten by a bigger margin. But usually you don’t have to think of this at the beginning of the game, but it needs to be stated first, because it overrides all of the other strategies discussed below.

Strategy 1. Lock in your tiles.

When you have your turn, don’t bother looking for the longest word. Look for the word that locks in the maximum number of tiles. You can enter a 10 letter word with letters all over the place only to find that you opponent has taken them all. Better to have played FOY using A1, A2, b1 and locking in the Y than to have played ANHYDRITES carelessly so as to not lock in any letters. But of course, given that there are two A’s, two Y’s, two D’s, and three T’s on the board, ANHYDRITES could be constructed 18 different ways. My point is that you should play your word so as to lock in the maximum number of letters. Challenge: What is the maximum number of letters you could lock in playing the word ANHYDRITES on this grid if it was the first turn? Here is what I would play:

Y O 
F K Q 
C T T A 
C Z   O 
D   L

Now this strategy may seem fairly obvious, but you have to discipline yourself to make sure you stick to the rule. If there were already letters taken by your opponent, you might be tempted to win them back rather than choosing the letters that win you locked letters. For instance, if your opponent had used the letter Y at A5, you might use it rather than the free letter Y at E5, reducing the number of letters you lock in from 3 to 0 – to which your opponent could play ANHYDRIDES and re-capture almost ALL of your letters.

Strategy 2: Work from the corners.

Since corner letters only have two neighbours, they are the easiest to lock in. Then their neighbours are next easiest and so on. The way I came across the word ANHYDRITES above was by working with the 6 letters around E5, ie the corner

  A N

Once I’d got past HANDY and RANDY and arranged them as ANHYDR, I just went looking for the other letters. As a matter of interest, I would probably rather play ANHYDRIDES, rather than ANHYDRITES, because it takes the second D in the A1 corner rather than using the less protected T at B1.

Strategy 3: Build on your strength.

Once you have locked letters, if you surround them with more locked letters then your position becomes even more powerful. In the move above, the Y at E5 is surrounded by more locked letters. Dwell on this fact for a second. It means that it is now very very hard for my opponent to capture that Y. They would first have to capture either the R on the N next to it, and to do that they would have to take one of the letters R, A or N next to them. This means that after my first turn, my opponent is at least three moves away from capturing that corner Y.

This strategy is probably the most important of all the attacking strategies.

Strategy 4: Look for compound words and extended endings.

Recall I said that I started looking at the puzzle and seeing HANDY. Now if you start playing with that, you might see that you could actually form the word HANDICRAFT, but don’t stop there. Look for extensions. HANDICRAFTS is easy, but HANDICRAFTER and HANDICRAFTERS are even longer. Sometimes, you will get the letters FUL or NESS or ING, which are useful extensions. In the case of this game, even though HANDICRAFTERS uses 14 letters, it is nowhere near as powerful as ANHYDRIDES because the best you can do is lock in one of the D’s (either one, depending which way you play. I would go for locking in the D at A1, because it is easier to build from a corner.)
Recall that ANHYDRIDES locks int three letters, and in the cae of the Y – it is doubly locked in!

Strategy 5: Attack your opponent from the flanks.

So far I have only discussed defensive strategies. Like any campaign, you have to balance attack and defence at the same time! So, while looking for letters to play, check out what your opponent has played. If they have any locked letters, you must do your best to capture at least one neighbouring piece for each locked letter. If your opponent has no locked letters, then look for places where your opponent could easily lock letters next move, and try and take from the middle of those.

Strategy 6: Gravity theory

The key to understanding gravity theory is to choose letters, not words. Then try and make words from your letters.
The idea is that some letters are more “attractive” than others. So “attractive” letters have gravity, and you want to choose letters on the spaces NEXT to the attractive letters. The more attractive letters that gather in a group, the greater “mass” they have, and hence greater gravity, and therefore attractiveness. (Remember Strategy 1.) The letters with the most gravity are the Dark Red ones – the ones that your opponent has locked, which mean that the tiles next to them will be Light Red. Next most attractive are tiles that would make one (or even better – more than one) of your tiles Dark Blue. After that, go for Light Red corner tiles, followed by White Corner tiles, then Light Red edge tiles and edge White Tiles. Next is Light Red tiles followed by White tiles. Dark Red and Blue (Light or Dark) are only used as a means of making the other letters into a word – notwithstanding Strategy 7 coming up.

The idea is, you choose the most desirable tiles on the board, and try and make a word out of them, or using as many of them as you can, keeping in mind that there are probably a couple of these tiles that you really MUST use. If you can see most of a word using these letters – check the remaining tiles to see if you can find the missing letters – but do not be distracted from trying to consume as many of the most “attractive” tiles as possible.

Strategy 7: The rules change near the end of the game – conserve White tiles.

As you get closer to the end of the game, Strategy 0 becomes more important. You must not use a White tile if that would leave the possibility of your opponent consuming all of the remaining White tiles and finishing the game. Unless of course you have 13 Dark Blue tiles already, in which case all you want to do is defend them and use up al the remaining White tiles as quickly as possible.

Strategy 8: Enjoy the game

This game is so much more strategically based than simple word games, so when I coma across an opponent that clearly knows the strategies, I revel in it and take my time with my turn. Although I have to admit that sometimesI really enjoy the really fast games, where your opponent comes back in under a minute each turn – in this case I try and match them is as fast a time. In some ways it is a pity there is not a “timed” option so that if you don’t submit in say 2 minutes, you forfeit your turn, or a random word is chosen for you.


Confession: I looked up the spelling of ANHYDRITE and found that ANHYDRIDE was also a word…

For the uninitiated, Letterpress presents the player with a 5×5 grid of 25 fairly random letters that you use to make up words. There is always at let a couple of vowels, and at least some uncommon letters, like j, z, x and q. There is not always a u to go with the q, so you quickly learn new words like qi and sheqel.

Your opponent is some other online player, picked at random, or someone you invited to play. There are no time limits on how long you take to make your move, so games can last from a few minutes to a few weeks.

About RedNectar Chris Welsh

Professional IT Instructor. All things TCP/IP, Cisco or Data Centre
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