My current high score in Dots is nowhere near the global leaderboard (respect to Ben Cherry for going hard in the paint), but it’s high enough (663) to get a few requests a day for a tutorial. Writing one seems like an easy and gentle way to pop my Medium cherry, so here are 3 of my learnings to help up your score and hopefully have you racking up more dots than A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

#1: ABCD (Always Be Closing Dots)

In a perfect game, every time you touch the screen should be to close a square of dots. This is the #1 rule that most people with a score under 100 don’t realize. If you close a square of dots, it clears the entire board of dots of that color and counts them. You must connect the last dot to the first dot for it to happen. Fundamentally, this is how you get an absurd score. Connecting dots that don’t form a square or set up the next move for a square is a waste of a move and amateur. That said, here are some tips on closing:

  • You have infinite restarts. I won’t start a round unless my first move is closing a square - I just keep restarting. Tap the top left button to pause the game and bring up the restart option.
  • Big squares count and have feelings too. As long as the last dot connects to the first dot, the board is cleared. So a square of 3x3 with a dot in the center of a different color could be connected. That said, I prefer to avoid making these because they take more time to connect. Speed, not comfort.
  • 2 Squarez, but I got me a few on! If there are two or more squares on the board, how do you choose which one to close first? If there is a color with a far bigger population than the other, pick that one. If the colors have the same population, I close the square higher in position on the board. Simply: if you pick the lower square, you’re more likely to destroy the higher square when the board shifts. Plus, when the color of the higher square is removed, hopefully more dots of the color of the bottom square are dropped in -> yields more dots for you when you clear that square.

#2: What’s 50,000 dots to a mothaf*cka like me, can you please remind me?

$4.99. Stop reading here if you won’t pay 5 for 50,000 dots, because your scores are going to be terrible. Dots are how you pay for powerups and powerups are table stakes for playing Dots well. There are better things than a silly iPhone game to give your money to, so if you’re stopping here or just find this post helpful: consider giving 5 bucks to charity:water right now. Positive decisions!

Taken at his word, Jay-Z could buy 500,000,000 dots casually and not think about it.

Kissinger said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, if that’s so:

  • Expanders are the Viagra of Dots: the most expensive Powerup, they remove any color off the board and can only be used once a round. I use Expanders at the beginning of the round to guarantee the board will perform. The simple key to expanders is to pick the dominant color with the most dots on the board. Don’t worry: all of the dots removed by the expander will count to your score and it behaves identically to a normal square closing. Pro-tip: as the animation for an expander occurs, taps to close another square are registered.
  • Time Stops are the chocolate covered strawberries and tickets-to-see-that-band-you-like of Dots: used properly, the returns are massive for a simple 5 second extension. The key to time stops is to use them when you have momentum in closing square after square. Just like you shouldn’t drink when you’re down, don’t use time stops when the board isn’t in good order.
  • Shrinkers are the sexts of Dots: they are a great way to keep the momentum going in between closing squares. To use them quickly, double-tap a dot on the board and it’ll disappear. Make sure you keep plenty of them stocked to prevent getting what I call “blue dots”: when the powerup purchase screen pops up in the middle of a game. Below are the common formations you should learn and love. Seek these out if there are no squares on the board as quickly as you can, double tap the offending dot, close the square, repeat.
It’s totally normal and not really fucking weird to get excited to see these formations, right?

Simplified, Dots is an APM competition. Framed this way, you should consider the tap cost of every move you make to get the most done in 60 seconds. Closing a square is the atomic unit of the game and all other taps (mostly Shrinkers and the occasional swipes) in service of creating squares are where you can separate good rounds from terrible ones. In a good round, you’ll be doing minimal support taps. Three strikes rule: If I close ~3 squares in a round that require 2 extra taps to set them up, I’ll restart because it’s unlikely I’ll get a high score.

#3 Bringing Down The Dots

The frenzy of shrinking and swiping dots to create and close any possible squares is enough for most. That said, I’ve found that a little color management tip can boost your scores up consistently (as opposed to blind luck in what squares you create and the dots that drop for you).

Simply keep track of the order of the colors of the squares closed, a “color count”, and use it to help pick the squares you create.

Remember: when you close a square, all of the dots that replace the dots you earned are not of that color. If I close a red square, only blue, purple, yellow, and green dots drop in. As you continue clearing colors, the colors remaining tend to bulk together, making squares or square creation easier.

Important: if you’re following my advice, you should be starting each game with mostly three of the five colors on the board, since: 1) you restarted until the round opens with a square and then 2) you used an Expander. Up front, you have a much better board than the average chump in the App Store. That said, here are the basics:

  • If there’s only one square on the board, always take it.
  • If there is more than one square, go for the widely dominant color or higher square (2 Squarez!).
  • This is where the color count pulls its weight: if no squares are available, put a preference on creating a square that isn’t the color of the previous two squares. Example: if I close red, yellow, then blue squares, I should aim to create a green or purple square. In practice, there are no blue squares on the board, so I know only to avoid red and yellow. The idea is to keep a cycle of the five colors going so the board doesn’t get too jumbled. That’s it.

Fin.

I’ve heard that using a stylus and iPad are nice boosts, but haven’t tried them yet. You should definitely turn off sounds/vibrations. Ultimately, Dots’ best players will be the ones who can twitch and move their fingers the fastest. Hopefully you found something in here that will help you bridge the gap. :)

Also, respect to the team that made Dots, I really admire its simplicity and elegance.