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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 OWL2 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 OWL2. 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 below, I thus start with the challenge rule. The words are described in Important Collins words.
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 turn.
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 still 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.
It is not yet clear whether North American games will in fact end up as penalty and not double challenge, but the current norm is 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 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:
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 an OWL2 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!
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 OWL2 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.
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 phoneys 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 OWL2, 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.