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The Game of Gaming

Review: Qwirkle

Posted by Eisley on 22nd January 2010

At first glance, Qwirkle reminded me of Ingenious (also called Einfach Genial and Mensa).  Not a bad thing at all as I really like Ingenious and am playing it on my iPhone these days too.  Qwirkle’s gameplay is different to Ingenious but also has a really good thinking element to it.

The game consists of 108 square tiles which each show a coloured symbol.  There are 36 different combinations of the 6 different symbols and 6 different colours, and there are 3 of every different colour/symbol combination.

Each player takes 6 random tiles from the bag. On their turn, they place any number of tiles in a straight line (like Scrabble) so long as they obey a single rule: the tiles in any line placed (or formed by adding to other lines) must either be of unique shape but matching colour, or unique colour but matching shape.  So, for example, a player can build a line of red shapes (so long as all the red shapes in the line formed are different) or they can build a line of coloured circles (so long as all the circles in the line formed are different colours).  Also, instead of adding tiles to the board, a player can swap any tiles in their hand with new ones from the bag, but that counts as their turn.

The player scores a number of points equal to the number of tiles in all of the lines in which they placed their tiles.  So, if a line was 3 tiles long and the player added 2 to the end then they would score 5 points.  Also, if a player completes a line of 6 tiles (the longest that can be created) then they score the 6 for the line, plus an extra 6 bonus points too.  As well as trying to complete lines of 6 for the big bonus, the key to scoring big points is to find a way to place tiles which will extend multiple lines at the same time, i.e. play a new line across other lines.

After playing tiles, the player draws new tiles to refresh their hand back top 6 tiles again.  The game ends when a player uses their last tile and the player with the most points wins.

Overall, I really enjoyed Qwirkle.  It’s a bit like Scrabble with shapes, plus it has no dependency on vocabulary so it can be played with any group.  There are two key gameplay mechanics: placing and blocking.  Finding the places where the shapes you have in your hand will maximise the points scored is key as adding tiles to more than one line at a time can give lots of points.  With various different potential combinations  of the tiles in your hand, there can be lots to consider.

Blocking is very important too as it is possible to place tiles which make it impossible for others to place tiles in locations that would score big too.  In fact, blocking seemed almost as important as scoring – although not quite as important as you can’t see what tiles the other player has in their hand so you may be blocking a move no-one else can make at that moment.

With a finite amount of tiles in the game, it is possible to tell if some tiles are still available later in the game because of which tiles are already on the board.  For example, if there are 3 yellow circles already on the board then you know not to wait for that tile and/or you know that creating a line of 5 yellow symbols which doesn’t include the circle isn’t setting up a chance for another player to add the yellow circle and complete a full line of 6 tiles.

On your turn, the places you were planning to play may not be available due to the tiles other players have placed, so you need to think on your feet a bit.  However, this adds the great gameplay of having to decide whether to play to a location or use a certain tile, or wait to use it for an even better gain but at the risk of it not being availble.  There is potential for analysis paralysis with some players but we didn’t find this to be the case, plus banging the cubes on the table to hurry players along (like banging the wooden spoons in A La Carte) seemed to keep it flowing along too.  The wooden blocks are pleasantly thick and solid, although that does make it a game that you probably won’t carry around in your bag.

A really fun abstract game.

James.

[Played with 4 players]

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