The core game (see the "During a match" section below) is a frantic cooperative effort to spell words on a game board. Playing the core game is how you earn many of the objects used in the meta game (next bullet).
The meta game (see the "In your village" section below) is an "idle game", meaning that you're supposed to set up resource generators that will passively generate income for you whether or not you're actively playing Alphabear Hustle.
Play the core game to earn objects and/or currency.
Visit your village and use the objects and/or currency to set up some passive income generation. Generally speaking you'll want to get your passive income generation as high as possible.
When you have to stop playing, that's okay! Your passive income generation will continue to work even while you're away. When you come back, you should have a lot more currency than when you stopped!
During a match
How to move and pick up / put down letters
Tap a location on the board and your avatar will move to that location.
Tap a letter to pick it up.
While carrying a letter, tap a square on the board to put it down.
If you tapped an empty square, you'll simply put the letter down in that square.
If you tapped another letter, you'll swap the letter you're currently carrying for the one you tapped.
How to score points
This is a cooperative game—if you see other bears on the board, you're all on the same team for this match!
No benefits for outdoing the other folks on your team, either. E.g., if the team scores 200 points then everyone gets the 200-point prizes, even if two players did most of the work, a third player did very little, and a fourth player didn't help at all. (Of course, the team probably would have scored even better if everyone had contributed.)
Each time a letter is picked up or put down, if a word is spelled that has never been spelled during this match, then the team gets points. Longer words are worth more points!
Words can be spelled horizontally (left-to-right only) or vertically (top-to-bottom only).
Words must be at least 2 letters in length to count for points.
Because we use the Alphabear 2 dictionary, words that have a Q with no U immediately following are not accepted, even though (unlike in Alphabear 2) you could spell them in Alphabear Hustle.
The word cannot have garbage letters before or after it. E.g., WCAT will not be accepted, but if you pick up the W then CAT will remain and be accepted.
Once a word is successfully spelled, you can pick up its tiles and move them to spell a new word. I.e., you don't have to leave the words intact until the end of the match.
This is not a crossword puzzle—as long as your horizontal word or vertical word is valid, it doesn't matter if it intersects with word(s) that are invalid. Of course, you only get points for valid words!
In your village
How to move and pick up / put down objects or bears
Tap a location in the village and your avatar will move to that location.
While standing on a bear or object, tap it again to pick it up.
You can't pick up other players' avatars if they visit your village, even though they look similar to the bears you can pick up.
While carrying a bear or object, tap a square on the board to put it down.
If you tap an empty square, you'll simply put the bear or object down in that square.
If you are carrying a usable object and tap something that it can be used on or vice versa, whatever you are carrying will be put down and the usage will occur.
If the thing you are carrying and the thing you tap can't be used on each other, you'll simply swap them and begin carrying the other thing instead.
There are two currencies: Honey and Berries.
Note to players of Alphabear 1 and 2: unlike in those games, in Alphabear Hustle honey is a currency, not an energy system.
As you play in matches, you will earn things to be used in your village—for example, a Pine Tree.
Visit your village and you'll see the Pine Tree. Spend some currency (honey or berries—the Pine Tree will say which currency is required if you tap it) to level up the Pine Tree. When leveled up, the Pine Tree will start passively generating a certain amount of honey per second or berries per second. The more you level up the Pine Tree, the better its passive income generation will be.
At some point you may run out of currency to upgrade your Pine Tree. That's okay—go play another match to earn more currency, or simply wait for your passive currency generators to generate more.
At certain breakpoints (the first being Level 25 for a Pine Tree), the Pine Tree can't be upgraded via currency anymore. Instead, you'll have to use a usable object such as a Rain Cloud (the Pine Tree will say which usable object if you tap it) to get to the next level. Pick up a Rain Cloud and use it on the Pine Tree. The Pine Tree will reach Level 26 and you'll once again be able to use currency for upgrading it.
Bears are like currency generators in that they can be leveled up. Unlike currency generators, they don't directly give you passive income. Instead, they boost the productivity of certain currency generators nearby them.
Tap a bear to see the area in which it will increase productivity. Different bears affect different areas!
Also, different bears boost different types of currency generators. Tap a bear, then look for green arrows on your currency generators to see which types of currency generators will be affected if placed in the bear's area of effect.
If needs be, move the bear or currency generator to locations where bears will have a positive effect.
These are used to level up Currency Generators or Bears when they hit the breakpoints (such as Level 25 for a Pine Tree) where currency doesn't work to level them up.
This is where you go to redeem tokens or stamps for prizes after you've collected enough of them.
Tap on the building to see how much progress you've made toward the next prize.
If you have too many objects or bears cluttering up your village and can't find a good use for them, you can "dust" them. ("Dust" as in "turn into dust", not "sprinkle with dust" or "clean by brushing off the dust".) Dusting will destroy the object or bear and give you some tokens or stamps in return.
To dust an object or bear, tap it then tap the trashcan icon.
You'll usually get a confirmation screen after tapping the trashcan icon, but don't risk it. Only tap the trashcan icon if you actually intend to dust the object or bear.
Buildings and Lonely Bear cannot be dusted. Your progress would be severely hampered if you did so.
Leveling up the village
The village has a level, too! You can see the level-up requirements in a button in the upper-right if you tap on an empty square while in the village. If you meet the level-up requirements, tap the button to level up the village!
Usually the level-up requirement will be a certain amount of passive honey per second or berries per second or both. If you don't have that yet, increase your currency generation until you do!
In the normal gameplay progression you will be trading in your village every so often for a brand new one. So go ahead and make the current village as awesome as you like, but don't get too attached to it.
There's more info here, but feel free to put off reading it for a few days while you get a handle on the rest of the game. The first time this can happen is when your village reaches Level 16, which probably won't happen in your first few days of play.