There are some boards that are designed around what I personally call a "letter starvation" gimmick. These boards are intentionally designed such that you will probably run out of letter tiles unless you play specifically to conserve letter tiles and/or play to open up more letter tiles.
Below is a screenshot of Mission 6-5, which is a simple example of letter starvation in the first few turns. This page describes how I'd think about this particular board state from a letter starvation perspective:
As you can see in the screenshot, the two O's in the top row aren't adjacent to any empty spaces, and thus will reveal no new letters if played. The M on the second row is adjacent to one empty space, and thus will reveal one new letter if played. Likewise for the T. I have several options of which word to play on my first turn:
- MOOT - If I play this, I'll use up all the current letter tiles and reveal two new letter tiles. If those two new letter tiles can't spell a word on Turn 2, it's game over after one turn! There are only about a hundred two-letter words in the game, so the chances of getting a game over after the first turn are relatively high.
- TOO - This leaves the M and reveals one new letter tile. If that one new letter tile and the M can't spell a word on Turn 2, it's again game over after one turn. Fortunately, the new letter tile will be a vowel (because the game tries to maintain a particular balance of consonants and vowels on the board) and all of the vowels can combine with M to make a two-letter word, so this is a 100% safe play. But it would be a different story if the letter left on the board was, for example, an R which only forms two-letter words with some vowels. Or the letter C would be even worse—it can form no two-letter words.
- TOM - This leaves an O and reveals two new letter tiles. I'll have to hope that between the O and the two new letter tiles there will be a spellable word. There is some risk here, but I'll have three letter tiles in which to find a two- or three-letter word, so my chances are much better than they were with MOOT.
- OM - This leaves a T and an O, and reveals one new letter tile. This is another 100% safe play because, no matter what the new letter tile is, I can always fall back to playing TO if needs be.
- OO is not a real word but, if it was, I absolutely wouldn't want to play it. It would leave the M and T and reveal no new letter tiles. M and T don't spell anything, so this would be a guaranteed game over after one turn.
As you can see from the above example, if you realize that you're in a letter starvation situation then there are often choices you can make that give you better/worse chances of surviving it.
Some places where letter starvation might occur
- Sometimes there are chokepoints where you'll be able to reveal lots of tiles in empty squares after you get through the chokepoint. Try to get through the chokepoint before getting starved out so you can reveal those tiles and use them.
- Sometimes a Lock & Key level will require you to get to the Key before you run out of letters. The Key turns the Lock Tiles into more letters, alleviating the letter shortage.
Any other tips?
- If you know that you're in a letter starvation situation, conserve letters by making short words until the threat of starvation has passed.
- If there's a chokepoint or Key that will alleviate the letter shortage, make progress toward it on every turn if possible so that you can get out of the starvation situation.