Recently, Jim Biancolo alerted me to an article he posted regarding informal “house rules” for playing Letterpress. The article linked to two other similar postings by other players (Brent Simmons and Daniel Jalkut). As a fan of this great game (I’ve previously written two articles on Letterpress strategy), I want to offer my thoughts regarding these “rules.”
First off, I completely agree with two of the rules cited by the above players:
• If you win a game, let your opponent go first on a rematch. That is, allow the loser the advantage of the first move on the next game. Usually, this happens automatically in games I play, as the loser challenges the winner for a rematch.
• Don’t use any “cheater” apps or websites while playing a game. This should be obvious. There’s a reason they call these programs “cheats.” And that’s the reason you should stay away from them. After the game is over, it’s okay to look at them to potentially learn words you might have otherwise played. But not during the game.
There is one minor exception to this for me. I am still waiting for Loren to update Letterpress (as he previously informed me he was planning to do) so that you can check the validity of a word when it is your turn. As it now stands, you can only do this when it is your opponent’s turn. If you enter a valid word when it’s your turn, it plays…period.
There are many times when I want to know if a word is valid without necessarily playing it. In fact, there are times when I have no intention of ever playing a given word. I instead want to know if I need to worry about my opponent playing it. So, in such cases, I look up the word. I don’t consider this cheating.
As to the rest of the suggested rules, I generally do not agree with them. In particular:
• I wouldn’t end a game in a tie after 50 moves. Rather, I plow on until someone wins or resigns.
• I don’t consider it off-limits to play a word like STOPPED if my opponent plays a similar word of the same length, like STOPPER. I especially wouldn’t consider abiding by this when I have no idea if my opponent is doing so, as is usually the case.
Similarly, I make no effort to avoid playing a word with a prefix or suffix added to my opponent’s word. I do check to see if there is a better word I could play instead. But if I can’t find one, I would have no hesitation about playing REACTIONS, for example, after my opponent played REACTION.
More than that, I believe this is a positive part of the strategy of the game. For example, I might see that the words STOPPER, STOPPERED, STOPPERS, STOPPED and STOPS are all available. Before I would play any of those words, I try to think through the implications of my opponent playing the other words in response. Figuring out how best to play the sequence takes skill. Perhaps the best strategy will be not to play any of the words until your opponent plays one first.
Such sequences sometimes lead me to try unusual approaches. For example, there are situations where I might play ADVISE even though I know ADVISES is playable. The reason is that I see that ADVISED is also available. By playing ADVISE, if my opponent replies with ADVISES, I can come back with ADVISED. If I played ADVISES first, and my opponent played ADVISED, I would have no come back.
• Finally, I don’t try to win with the smallest possible advantage. To the contrary, I go for the largest margin of victory I can get. Once again, I view knowing how to maximize your win as part of the skill of the game. However, I do have a limit. The limit is I will not unduly prolong a game simply to up the score differential. Once it’s clear that I have the game won, I try to expedite the ending. However, if I see a game ending in about the same number of moves, and I wind up with a bigger score by using word A rather than word B, I will take word A every time.
One rule I would add to the list:
• If you give up on a game, resign. Don’t just abandon the game and leave your opponent dangling, unsure if you ever intend to play again.