Game Reviews

Scramble With Friends

Star onStar onStar onStar halfStar off
Scramble With Friends

Time was, video games were the sole domain of the socially inept. Or, as my family used to describe them, me.

Gaming meant locking yourself away in your room for days, gripping that joypad until the wee small hours with no human interaction whatsoever unless you were unlucky enough to stumble into someone on your way to the toilet.

Nowadays, you're hard pressed to find a game that doesn't want you to share the experience with everyone you've ever met, along with friends of friends and some of their other friends too.

For plenty of titles, such social interaction comes with about as much sophistication as that first awkward conversation with a hairdresser. Not so with Zynga's With Friends line-up.

Love letters

Like all games in the series, Scramble With Friends comes with the sole intent of making you share an inherently solo experience with your contacts. In fact, if friends aren't your thing, then it's likely the studio's latest word puzzler won't be either.

The idea is to find as many words in group of 16 letters, laid out in a 4x4 grid.

Doing so is a question of simply dragging your finger across each letter to spell out a word, the only provisos being that the letters in question have to be touching, and each one can be used just once in each word.

Initially, amassing a respectable score on Scramble With Friends is a simple task: the longer the word you form, the more points you rack up. There are three rounds in each contest, however, and as each one passes so the opportunity to amass a higher total ramps up.

Player pressure

Given that every encounter takes place against another human being – whether someone from your Facebook friends list or a random assignment – play is fuelled by the kind of pressure that's unique to multiplayer experiences, despite the fact that Scramble With Friends is entirely turn-based.

Meeting that pressure can be achieved in one of two ways: you can either be great at word games or you can make use of power-ups.

The first of these is free, but employing more than one requires an in-app purchase – a modest initial 69p investment will probably keep you ticking over for several games. These can prove immensely helpful, doing things like freezing the clock, offering up word suggestions, or switching the order of the letters to unearth new combinations.

Combined with the game's evolved scoring system (later rounds see multipliers applied to particular letters, Scrabble style), totals can shoot through the roof, leaving early rounds as little more than target practice.

It's a system that keeps contests tight right until the last moment, and thanks to Scramble With Friends's slick control method there's a genuine sense of satisfaction when you quickly pull off one word after another.

Come one, come all

It means the game's long-term success or failure comes down to just two factors: its dictionary, which certainly has its sketchy moments, and its match-up system.

The latter takes some getting used to.

For example, while you can challenge any of your Facebook friends without needing their permission – although you have to wait until they're next online before they can take on your score – if the app is unable to find you a random contestant there and then it'll send you away empty-handed, prompting you at a later time when it's managed to pair you up.

As such, with no practice mode or solo contest whatsoever on offer, it can be frustrating to start the game up ready to take someone on only to have to wait five to ten minutes before you can actually play the thing.

Scramble With Friends relies on you setting up numerous matches all at once, ensuring every time you return to your iPhone there's someone to take on.

While this slew of Scrambles holds up, it's hard to find a better, more addictive five-minute-filler out there, though its long-term position as the life and soul of the wordplay party is ultimately threatened by its one-dimensional nature.

Scramble With Friends

Short but sweet, Scramble With Friends is a game designed exclusively for the socially-enabled wordplay fan. That said, Zynga With Friends has delivered an addictive puzzler for those willing to engage with friends and randoms alike
Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew
With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font. He's also Pocket Gamer's resident football gaming expert and, thanks to his work on, monitors the market share of all mobile OSes on a daily basis.