Scott Alden of the Boardgame Geek was singing the praises of this Ingenious-like tile game, wherein players lay tiles in attempts to align like colors and/or symbols. I was able to secure a copy, and was anxious to give it a try. When I described the game to Rhonda Bender, she was even more anxious, and made sure I didn’t depart until she had played.
Qwirkle, designed by Susan McKinley Ross and published by MindWare, consists of 108 thick wooden blocks. On each block is printed a symbol – circle, starburst, square, diamond, cross or clover – with three each in six different colors. There is no board, as it will be formed by laying the blocks to the table. Players do need to keep a running tally of points scored, so paper and pencil are necessary.
Game rules are exceedingly simple. Basically, a turn consists of playing one or more blocks into the growing grid and scoring points. A few rules must be observed:
1) All blocks placed must link to the existing grid. No isolationist blocks allowed!
2) All blocks must be placed in one line, and they must share one common characteristic – color or shape – with other blocks in that line.
3) Each line of shapes can only have one block of each of the six colors. For example, a line of circles cannot have two blue circles in it. Likewise, a line of colors can only have one block of each shape in it.
It is possible to place blocks so that they will align with more than one line. That is actually preferred, as the player will score points for each line connecting to the blocks that they have placed. The true challenge of the game is spotting the optimal placement of the tiles at your disposal so as to score the most points.
When tiles are placed, scoring occurs immediately. One point is scored for each block in the line or lines created or extended, including blocks already in that line. In addition, a six-point bonus is earned if you placed the sixth and final block in a line. Players must exercise care to not continually provide this bonus opportunity for their opponents by placing a fifth block in a line.
After placing blocks and tallying the score, the player refreshes his hand to six blocks. Instead of placing blocks, a player may exchange blocks with the general supply, but that constitutes his entire turn. Play continues in this fashion until the supply of blocks is depleted and one player completely depletes his personal supply of blocks. That player receives a six-point bonus, and the player with the greatest cumulative score is victorious.
The game is very easy to learn and play, but it does require some planning and tactics. Mostly, it is a game of opportunity and observation, as players should try to spot the plays that will earn them the most points. However, care must be exercised to insure that one’s placements do not provide bonus opportunities for the next player. Further, it may also be wise to conserve a tile or two if they will likely be able to be used later in the game to complete lines and earn bonuses.
Fans of Reiner Knizia’s popular Ingenious will find much to enjoy here. Ingenious puts a bit more pressure on the players, as the board is fixed, so players can play aggressively to block their opponents. Since there is no “fixed” board in Qwirkle, the playing area expands without limit (well, perhaps the edge of the table is a limit!), so blocking an opponent is more difficult.
In my one playing so far, I derived the same feeling as I do with Ingenious – it was fun, but in spite of winning, I honestly felt I didn’t do anything clever. Each turn I studied the grid for my best placement opportunities, and chose the option that earned me the most points. I was able to complete several lines and earn bonuses primarily due to possessing the right blocks at the right moment. I won, but didn’t feel it was due to any superior tactics. That somehow isn’t very satisfying to me.
That being said, I do recognize that it appears that the vast majority of folks adore Ingenious. I’m fairly certain they will also be enamored with Qwirkle. I recognize that it is an ideal game to play with families and friends, which is quite likely the game’s target market. Gamers searching for deep strategies and mind-bending options, however, will likely not be satisfied.
Gail, Rhonda, Bo and I waged a see-saw battle, with the lead exchanging hands numerous times throughout the game. My final two placements each earned me 12 points, mainly due to the fact that I was in possession of all three orange starburst blocks, and was able to use them to complete lines and earn bonus points. This was enough to pass Rhonda for the victory.
Finals: Greg 146, Rhonda 123, Gail 101, Bo 91
Ratings: Rhonda 7, Gail 7, Bo 7, Greg 6
This actually looks like a nice game I can play with my wife and the components are great. I ordered it from Boards and Bits after hearing Aldie give it some praise on Garrett's podcast last week.