Developer: Zynga With Friends Studio | Publisher: Zynga Games || Overall: 7.0/10
Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6 / LG Ally with Android 2.1 (past experience, not used in basis for review)
Reviewing a game like Words With Friends is basically just reviewing a game like Scrabble. It’s sort of pointless as long as the rules are adhered to and aren’t taken in some extreme manner. The point of reviewing Words With Friends comes with taking a look at the feature set, its ease of use, and user experience, and little to nothing with the gameplay itself.
The actual meat of the game almost has nothing to do with the actual purpose of playing the game, oddly enough. The point of Words With Friends seemingly is to play Scrabble with your friends on a pace that may take days or weeks, instead of straight through. Given the gift of technology, there is now a higher probability you will actually get to finish a full game of Scrabble. It’s a lot easier to convince your friends to play a couple minutes a day than it is to invite them over to your house to play an hour-long (or more?) board game. So, if you actually enjoy playing Scrabble, this game is right up your alley.
It would literally be impossible to talk about this game without talking about Scrabble. I’ve already mentioned it 5 times, and that’s basically what the main problem with this game is. It’s not very original, but at the same time it doesn’t really have to be. When it comes to Words With Friends, the game pretty much mirrors all of the rules – but there are no errors, since it calculates all of the points for you, easily, and tallies them up. It also makes sure that all of the words you are using are actually words you can use. Inviting random friends on your Facebook is pretty easy, and it shows you who plays and when they last played – so you can play with last week’s hookup or even your mom, and use as many provocative (yet, legal) words as you can in games with them. There is also an option to play a randomly matched player — so it’s not all that hard to find someone to play with, although random matches won’t seem to be as motivated to play with you… at least in my experience. And in the rare instance you are physically with someone who you want to play Words With Friends with, there is a local multiplayer mode where you can play and pass your phone after each turn, which is a nice, if seemingly antiquated in today’s environment, option to have.
Most of the game is rooted in convenience, when it comes down to it. You’re not getting any particular feature that is exciting or cool or helps provide some sort of meta-game experience. I honestly think some sort of score-counter between two players for games won would do a great amount of good for the game – if you play hundreds of games with one person, at least you’re going to see something from all of those matches and know who is usually winning, etc. I’m not asking for a page of statistics, but it shouldn’t be that hard to implement a counter.
The game is free, and with being free comes lots of advertisements. They’re not particularly intrusive, since they will appear typically after one to two plays. You can also upgrade to an ad-free version for 3 or 4 bucks, which might be worth it if you play a lot. Obviously, this is Zynga’s end game when it comes to Words With Friends: Making money off of ad impressions and clicks. They are pretty much painless, though you do have to actively move past them when they appear, sans any bugs that might force you to quit and restart the app (which may happen quite often).
What really inhibits this game are the random bugs you will get. I’m currently playing this on iOS, but started with the Android version. For two years, it was absolutely the most terrible piece of shit I have ever seen. It would crash over and over and when my Android finally ran out of space to keep any apps on it, out went Words With Friends until a year later when I finally got an iPhone (that had more than 512 mb to store stuff). So, why do I bring up the Android version in a review for the iOS version? Because the iOS version is not without its own bugs, either, and shows a pattern of carelessness. While the game is demonstrably more enjoyable to play when it’s stable, there are occasional random crashes, and advertisements that fail to load which produce nothing but a white screen which make you force quit the program to remedy. I have also had problems with letters being frozen and not moving onto the board. Network connectivity issues can also cripple the game temporarily – whether it is a problem with your phone’s connection or not. A company like Zynga, which relies on nothing but its games, should be squashing these bugs within weeks, not months or years. I can’t imagine they aren’t losing some sort of revenue from these bugs.
The occasional interaction with people you may or may not talk to a whole lot is probably the biggest benefit of the game. I personally enjoy playing with people I actually call my friends, because there’s some sort of interaction going on, whether or not it’s real life or meaningful. I suppose that is the main appeal of the game itself, and seeing how well you can play against them. It’s also great when there’s some random word that they make that might have some sort of inside meaning or something that is completely off-base that catches you off-guard. My most recent gaffe was playing a game in which “Krauts” was an accepted word. In another game, I played “Shit” and got a few points, as well. The rules say they don’t allow derogative words or racial slurs, so I’m not sure how they went through, but it’s still fun, nonetheless. It should also be noted that this game’s social features are actually useful and there aren’t really any stupid features like “post your word on Facebook” or some other dumb shit you might see in some other game as a cheap way to get you to advertise for them.
Words With Friends is your barebones convenience package for Scrabble. It’s an enjoyable game that you can play with your friends, but little more than that is what is going to be going on. There are no interesting game modes and no features that string together your multiple games into some sort of a career or competition with particular friends. Some might appreciate the simplicity of “just Scrabble” but there is just a little that could have gone into it that could have kept that simplicity while adding something interesting to the mix. I wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of 3-or-4 player modes implemented or inviting people to tournaments. But since this game doesn’t make a habit of adding features, that is about impossible to ever see from Zynga, who typically like to ride coattails.