Lingo is a boardless word game played with Scrabble tiles, for two or more players. It's like a relaxed version of Scrabble with free-flowing moves and high scores.


Equipment: Lingo requires a set of Scrabble tiles (with the two blanks removed), a flat surface about the size of a game board, and some method for keeping track of players' scores.

Start: Four tiles are chosen at random and placed into a pool shared by all players. Pool tiles are placed face up so that all players can see them. After each turn, new tiles are randomly selected to replenish the pool so that it always contains four tiles.

Moving: The opening player starts by taking any number of tiles from the pool and making a valid word. Thereafter, players take turns forming new words by taking any number of tiles from the pool and placing them adjacent to or on top of existing tiles. Words can be made forwards, backwards, upwards or downwards. No tile can be placed to cover the same letter.

All tiles placed per turn (if more than one) must form part of the same valid word. There are no other restrictions on placement; new tiles do not have to form valid words with tiles they are placed next to, but will score more points if they do.

If no new word can be made, then a single tile can be played for 0 pts. Players may not pass.

Scoring: After placing the tiles, new words formed that turn are counted to score points. Only the highest-valued word passing through each new tile along each axis (vertical and horizontal) is scored.

Word-length multiplier: The score for each new word is given by (total letter value) x (word length - 1).

For instance, the word BEAD in the following example is worth 21 pts, as (3 + 1 + 1 + 2) x (4 - 1) = 21.

Word-count multiplier: If more than one new word is formed, then the total word score is multiplied by the number of new words.

For instance, the move on the right is worth 68 pts as BEAR is worth (3 + 1 + 1 + 1) x (4 - 1) = 18, PRY is worth (3 + 1 + 4) x (3 - 1) = 16, and two new words were formed, giving (18 + 16) x 2 = 68.

There's no bonus for playing all pool tiles at once - the potential word-count multiplier is bonus enough!

The onus is on the mover to find the maximum score for each move. A move ends when its score is written down; scores cannot be adjusted upwards if a higher-scoring combination is subsequently spotted.

Winning: The game ends when there are no more tiles to play. The player with the highest score wins.

Example Game

The tiles E, T, V and Y have been randomly drawn to fill the pool.

Player 1 starts by making the word YET, then replenishes the pool. Player 1 scores 12 pts for making YET: 6x2 = 12.

Player 2 then plays O, V, E, N to score 84 pts for making the three words OVEN, YE and EN: (7x3 + 5x1 + 2x1) x 3 = 84.

Player 1 then plays H, E, W to score 126 pts for making the three words HEW, EYE and NEW: (9x2 + 6x2 + 6x2) x 3 = 126. Note that two new words pass vertically through the existing E (NEW and WE) but only the highest-valued one, which happens to run upwards, is scored.

Player 2 plays R, P, A, T to score 100 pts for making the two words REPEAT and PET: (8x5 + 5x2) x 2 = 100.

Player 1 then plays E, X, R, T to score 495 pts for making the five words EXERT, RE, HEX, OVER and AT: (12x4 + 2x1 + 13x2 + 7x3 + 2x1) x 5 = 495. Longer words such as REPEAT are good, but it's the combination of word-length and word-count multipliers that yield really big scores.

This game is still in its early stages and Player 1 already has a sizeable advantage. However, Player 2 should not despair as the lead can be wrested back with a single good move; Lingo scores are much more volatile than Scrabble scores.


Wasting a move by burning a single tile for 0 pts is the equivalent to throwing in a tile in Scrabble.

Due to the importance of making many small words each turn in order to boost the word-count multiplier, Lingo is good practice for Scrabble players who want to brush up on their two- and three-letter words.

There is no first-move equaliser as the game is reasonably balanced. The opening player gets to score first, but the opening word will only ever have a word-count multiplier of 1 and will usually open up better scoring opportunities for subsequent players.

The maximum word-count multiplier for the standard game (as described above) is 5. Such a move must use all four pool tiles to form a new valid word, and form new valid cross-words through each new tile.

It's not unusual for players to fail to spot the highest-scoring combination of words for a given move. A sporting opponent, if they are ahead on points, might like to indicate any higher-scoring words that the current mover has overlooked before their turn ends. Pointing out missed opportunites after the end of a turn is not so sporting.


For a quicker two-person game, remove half of the tiles for each letter.

Tile pools of different sizes can be used. Smaller pools tend to feel a bit restrictive, while larger pools allow mind-boggling complexity that can make it difficult to decide on the best move each turn. A good compromise can be found by allowing a larger pool (say seven) but limiting the maximum number of tiles that may be played each turn to a reasonable number (say four). This has the advantage of ensuring that at least some pool tiles survive each turn, allowing the opponent to plan ahead while the mover is thinking, but perhaps makes the game a bit too open-ended and confusing.

Instead of sharing a common pool, each player may own a secret tile pool hidden from their opponents as in Scrabble. This saves time by allowing players to plan their moves with full knowledge during the opponent's turn and encourages deeper tactics and strategies to do with letter management. However, hidden tile pools have the serious disadvantage that a bad draw (say I, I, I, U) could cripple a player for several turns while their opponent scores freely. This disadvantage may be addressed by allowing players to throw in tiles, but this would become a too-common occurence as players would then throw in every time they had a low-scoring hand.

Hexagonal Lingo works extremely well as hexagonal tiles have one more axis passing through them than square tiles, meaning that more words and bigger scores can be made with fewer tiles hence offering greater scope for play. Unfortunately, the tiles would have to be custom made as I'm not aware of any hexagonal Scrabble tile sets.

Lingo can be played with the two blanks, which act as wildcards worth 0 pts that represent a specific letter when played (as in Scrabble). However, after a few moves it can become difficult to remember what letter they represent, as neighbouring tiles do not necessarily form valid words and hence do not necessarily provide any clues.


Lingo rules copyright (c) Cameron Browne 2005.

Lingo can be played on Richard's PBeM server - check out the help file for more details. Please challenge me (camb) to a game any time.

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Site designed by Cameron Browne © 2006. Last modified 18/7/2007.