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Subject: Qwirkle: A game for the "normal" gamer rss

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Jeromie Rand
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The Normal Gamer

There are a plethora of lists and reviews on Boardgamegeek that describe the mythical "non-gamer," a person who doesn't play games but might be drawn into the hobby if *just* the right title is selected. I may have a few non-gamer friends, but I normally spend time with them doing things other than gaming. I do, however, play a lot of games with "normal" gamers: people who are willing to play games when invited to do so (and might even suggest playing games when we're hanging out), but who are unlikely to explore the depths of the hobby on their own. My wife, for example, is a normal gamer. She ranks Agricola and Bang! as her favorite games, is willing to play most anything at least once, and is happy to play games with me several times a week. But despite briefly dipping her toes into this site, she doesn't have any desire to seek out new games on her own and is not likely to spend time thinking or reading about gaming when she's not playing. I play with a lot of people who fit a similar description, and most likely you do, too.

Enter Qwirkle

Qwirkle is a tile laying game for 2-4 players that represents a rare breed on Boardgamegeek: a mass-market game (you're as likely to find this title at your local big box retailer as your local hobby game shop) that has a solid reputation throughout this site. While every person who plays games has distinct tastes, it should come as no surprise that this game that successfully straddles the line between the popular and niche markets is a frequent hit with the "normal" gamer. By exploring why that is the case, I hope to help you make a decision as to whether or not the game would be a fit for your group of friends / gaming partners.

Qwirkle is simple…

There is not a lot of time between sitting down to play your first game of Qwirkle and making the first move. The core of the rules can be condensed into a couple of sentences: Place tiles in rows with other tiles that match in shape or color, but not both. Score one point for each tile in the row or rows to which you added, taking a six point bonus if you complete a row. (There are six distinct shapes and six distinct colors, so the largest number of tiles in a single row is six.)

If you're going to add new games to the repertoire of a non-enthusiast, they can't all be complex titles. Most people only have so much tolerance for learning new rules, but Qwirkle is so easy to teach that it doesn't really tax that portion of the brain.

…but it has interesting decisions

Candyland is simple too, but no gamer is going to have fun with the the complete lack of decisions. There is enough going on in Qwirkle to keep the game interesting. Where should I place the tiles currently in my hand? Should I play them now or wait until I can complete a row? (aka score a Qwirkle) Should I make a high scoring move if it opens up a possible scoring opportunity for my opponent? Have I scanned the playing surface sufficiently, or is there an available move I may have missed? Qwirkle is not a brain-burner by any means, but there are enough choices to keep it engaging.

Qwirkle has a significant amount of luck…

There is no denying that luck will play a non-trivial role in the success of any given strategy in Qwirkle. If you happen to get the right tiles at the right time, it can make all the difference in the world. This can actually be encouraging for many people, as it serves to level the playing field quite a bit. If you don't like luck in your games, stay away from this one.

…but there is room for strategy

While Qwirkle has a lot of luck, the fate of the game does not rest solely in the tiles that are drawn. Like Scrabble, a lot of Qwirkle is about hand management. As players learn the game, it frequently becomes possible to choose your plays such that you are "lucky" with regularity.

Qwirkle is tactical…

The luck in the game tends to push Qwirkle towards tactical play. Trying to plan too far into the future (e.g. holding onto a tile for just the right moment) may occasionally pay off, but it is more likely to cripple you versus the player who takes advantage of the best moves available to them. Tactical games tend to be a good fit for people who aren't planning on studying a particular title; it means that the obvious move probably isn't such a bad one.

…but timing is also significant

I've seen Qwirkle compared to Scrabble, Set, Ingenious, and Blokus, but Power Grid isn't a game that usually comes to mind when discussing this light offering. Power Grid and Qwirkle share at least one significant trait, however: there needs to be a strategic shift at some point in the game, and the player who reads that timing best has a significant advantage. As you approach the end of the game in Qwirkle, the odds of drawing a particular remaining tile increase (especially when playing with 2 players). At some point, players need to start planning for which tiles that will be coming out. But it's not obvious when the probability of a particular tile coming out is large enough to make this shift. This adds an interesting dynamic as the game approaches its conclusion.

Qwirkle has incremental scoring…

The scoring in Qwirkle makes it hard to have a runaway leader problem. With very few exceptions, everyone will score at least 2 or 3 points on their turn and scores of more than 10 or 15 points are rare. This keeps the game close, even when one player is better than the other.

…but there is still the chance for a big play

If the scoring always moved at a steady pace, the game wouldn't be much fun. But there is the chance to pull off the big move in Qwirkle, since the bonus for completing a row is significant. This kind of move adds a thrill to the game that would otherwise be lacking. It also presents the opportunity for a come from behind victory - I once pulled off a Qwirkle on three consecutive turns (toward the end of the game when I had been saving key pieces) to close a huge gap between me and my wife. I still lost that one, but it came down to the wire.

The Verdict

Qwirkle is not a great game, but it is a good one.

Qwirkle is never going to climb the ranks into the top 100 games on the site. It's biggest claim to fame is probably its wide appeal: few people will love it and few people will hate it. But it is a fun game, and its current position (a 6.92 rating and a ranking of 385 out of the thousands of games on the site) suits it well. It is an attractive, well-made game that both the normal gamer and the enthusiast can enjoy, and there is nothing at all wrong with that.
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William (Andy) Anderson
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It's younger brother Qwirkle Cubes is also lots of fun and can be played on a much smaller area. I have played both of them with lots of non-gamers and they all seemed to really like them. It also plays very well with people of all ages.

Nice review.
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Bruce Glassco
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Good review. I'll add that it's a pretty solid game for kids as well. When my daughter suggests it, you're right, I'm not exactly jumping with glee, but I think "Well, there are worse games she could pick."

Also, don't underestimate the tactile quality of those nice solid pieces. And when she's done with a game, her Littlest Pet Shop animals can run around on the maze!
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Jeromie Rand
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BruceGee wrote:
Good review. I'll add that it's a pretty solid game for kids as well. When my daughter suggests it, you're right, I'm not exactly jumping with glee, but I think "Well, there are worse games she could pick."

Also, don't underestimate the tactile quality of those nice solid pieces. And when she's done with a game, her Littlest Pet Shop animals can run around on the maze!
My only experience playing Qwirkle with kids was at a friend's house, when his two daughters grabbed it out of the bag of games I had brought to play after they went to bed and asked to try it out. (I'd already played several rounds of Rat-A-Tat-Cat... the girls weren't being totally left out!) The girls were young and bed time was quickly approaching, so I made up new rules: deal each person 10 pieces, let them play then on the table according to the normal rules, and whoever gets rid of their pieces first wins.

The total playing time was 10 minutes and everyone had fun. Being able to make up new rules to games on the fly is a useful skill when young children are involved.
 
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Jim Rice
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I would agree with your assessment here. I play this one with my 5 and 7 year old girls and while I don't get excited about it, I certainly enjoy the games that I have played with them. Not like Monopoly, which is like dragging a saw across my teeth. Actually Qwirkle is currently my counter offer to any game request they toss out that I can't get behind. "Hey Dad, Do you want to play Disney Princesses?" "Um....how about Qwirkle?" ninja
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Just played it today. laugh I dislike the Scrabble-like downtime as you wait for your turn (after you've thought out which tiles to play), but, at least it doesn't have the annoyance of the "Scrabble-only words". There's definitely a beginning-, mid-, and end-game to Qwirkle as you count up the tile frequency to help plan your next move. However, the Qwirkle bonus resulted in many of us just pitching several tiles in our hands and hoping we'd draw tiles that would get us the bonus.
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