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Zynga brings a little Tinder to Words with Friends

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It’s been five years, 58 billion words and 1.2 trillion points since the original Word with Friends was released, eventually becoming the top free game of all time on Apple’s App Store.

Today the Zynga game gets a sequel in New Words with Friends, a title that brings a bevy of player-inspired updates to the popular word-building game including the ability to play on your own, a built-in dictionary and Tinder-like match maker.

“This is the most significant update we’ve made to the game in its history,” said Jonathan Knight, vice president of games for Zynga. “The new features we’ve added are the most requested features by our fans.”

At the top of that list, Knight said, is the ability to play the game without an internet connection or even an opponent.

Solo play, Knight said, is designed as a way for players to practice in the game. The mode adjusts to a player’s level and even mimics the wait time between turns.

Community match is a new feature designed to make the game more social and help gamers find people to play. The mode allows you to search either anywhere or by people “nearby” and by gender. Then, as with Tinder, you simply swipe through the profile pics that pop up, right to send out an invitation to play, left to skip. Each profile features an image uploaded to the game or the Facebook profile pic. The cards also show a potential challenger’s skill level compared to you and the average points they score per a word.

While basic gameplay and the appearance of the board hasn’t changed, the in-game user interface and the things you can do before a match starts have been greatly improved.

“We’re not changing what’s core about the game,” Knight said. “We’re refreshing it around the look and feel and different ways you can make a connection.”

Once you load up the game on the iPhone, you’re greeted by a blue screen with options for community match, smart match and the Word of the Day.

The Word of the Day was designed to help players feel like they’re getting a bit of education out of playing the game, Knight said. The feature pulls from the built-in 170,000 word Words with Friends lexicon using the new dictionary feature, both of which are powered by Dictionary.com. The Word of the Day includes the definition, the ability to listen to it pronounced and how rare the word is in Words with Friends.

The main screen also shows the status of your ongoing games and whose turn it is in each. A green dot on the profile picture shows if the player is actively in the game and playing.

Swiping to the left on the screen brings you to a chart showing your total points and average word score.

Another swipe to the left brings up the game’s redesigned profile and state page. The page includes all-time playing history broken down by high score, number of games completed, average word scores. Players can also track things like longest and shortest word played, bonus tiles played per a game and of course browse their achievements.

When playing the game, there are a few new options. The biggest is the ability to tap on a lightning bolt symbol, which appears on a placed word, to see how strong the play is before you lock in your choice. This is designed to give you a sense of how poorly or how well you’re playing on a play-by-play basis.

Another major addition is the ability to look up a word in the built-in dictionary while playing the game. While you can type in a word to verify it’s a real word, you can’t browse the dictionary, making the feature a bit less useful as a tool for bolstering your innate vocabulary.

Words with Friends general manager Vaibhav Sahgal said the reason they didn’t tweak the board itself is because it’s very important to the experience and very liked.

The game board is the holy grail for users,” he said. “It's important that it continues to feel familiar.”

New Words with Friends hit iOS, Android and Facebook today. It is free, unless you want the advertising-free version on Android. A similar version will be coming to iOS at a later time.