Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A short review of Qwirkle....

Casual board games tend to get a bad rap.  You know, games like Rummikub, 10 Days in the USA, or even Scrabble tend to be the type of games one would play at a cottage:  easy to setup, not too long or intense, and something you can walk away from if necessary and come back to without losing your place.  Qwirkle is one of those games, simple yet strategic, but not something that will leave you with a headache.  And if your mind drifts a little when it's not your turn, you can quickly study the board and your tiles to find your way back.  All in all, it makes for an altogether pleasant and even aesthetically pleasing experience which we've come back to frequently in the last little while.

So how does it work?  Well, if you've played Scrabble at all, you'll feel right at home here.  Tiles are laid out in the form of "words" in an ever expanding crossword, although there is no board to play on or bonus spaces to cover this time.  I use the term "word" very loosely as there are no actual letters in the game, only symbols in 6 different varieties and 6 different colours.  And this is where anyone who has played Set, the brilliant lateral-thinking card game, will also feel right at home.  Each word consists of all the same type of symbol and all different colours or all the same colours but all different symbols.  So immediately one notices that a word can be no longer than 6 tiles, and when it is 6 tiles long it is called a Qwirkle (seriously) and earns a big bonus.

And that's really it.  The scoring is simple - 1 point per tile in every word made and possibly a 6-point bonus for making a Qwirkle or ending the game.  To say that these simple rules lead to a very deep game would definitely be exaggerating, but there is a surprising amount of tactics and timing required to play for the big scores.  There are always decisions: whether to play a 5-tile row and risk giving someone else a Qwirkle or hold out out for the other players to set you up instead, should you give up a turn and possible points to draw some new tiles in the hope of a bigger score, or even just considering the options on the board and your tiles to nail the biggest score.  At no point will this be brain-burning but there is definitely enough thoughtfulness to keep the game quite engaging.  In fact, the gameplay often feels like a more relaxed version of Ingenious, except that it doesn't feel as decided before the end of the game.  Yes, there is a big luck element, but with thoughtful play the best player usually wins out.


As you can tell, I quite enjoy this game.  It's relaxed enough that we were able to play it while watching the election results on TV a couple nights ago, but stategic enough that it didn't feel like a waste of 45 minutes.  Although it doesn't turn the gaming world upside down, it'll satisfy anyone who enjoys a good game of Scrabble and will draw in those players who hate Scrabble for the unfair advantages it naturally lends the arts majors.  And those lovely coloured blocks make quite the beautiful design as they fill up the table.  Just make sure you have a large enough table to play it on....

The final tableau at the end of our game.  The game AND the election did not turn out the way I wanted.....

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