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QWIRKLE

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(MindWare. 2- 4 players, ages 6 and up, 30-60 minutes; $25)

 

A “gateway” game is one of those rare concoctions – a game able to introduce players with only the most glancing relationship to games to more challenging play while able to engage the more seasoned gamer. The desire for a definitive “gateway” game seems eternal and is certainly a desire yet to be quenched. Over the last decade or so, several games have jostled for position to be recognized as the definitive gateway game. Well, more over. Qwirkle is yet another game entering that competition and making quite a good case for itself.

Qwirkle, the creation of Susan McKinley Ross, consists of big, thick, one inch wooden blocks – 108 of them to be exact. These blocks display one of six shapes (circle, square, diamond, starburst, clover and “x”) in one of six colors (blue, red, yellow, green, purple and orange). The art of mixing and matching these shapes and colors make the game.qwirkle2

All of the tiles are mixed, face down, and each player draws six as a starting hand. The player with the most tiles that share a characteristic either in color or shape plays them to create the initial play area known as the “grid” (and scores). After drawing new tiles to replenish his hand back up to six, the next player goes.

On a turn, a player has three basic choices. He may play one tile onto an already played line of tiles, he may play two or more tiles onto an already played line of tiles or he may toss in any (or all) of his tiles and draw new ones. (Drawing new tiles is the only thing a player can do with this option. He will not score on that turn.)

Tiles may be placed so long as they match either the color or characteristic of the tiles in a line. That is, only a matching color or shape may be played on a line. The caveat here is that each tile in the line must be unique. In a line of color, there can only be ONE yellow circle. In a line of shapes, there can only be ONE tile of each color in that line. No duplicates in a line are allowed. After placement, players draw tiles to fill up their hand to six.

Scoring is simple. When adding tiles, players score one point for the each tile in the row that are extending. Should tile placement lengthen more than one row, they score for those as well. In addition, if you are fortunate enough to complete a six tile row (with a row filled with all the shapes in one color or a row filled with one shape in all six colors), you get an extra 6 points. The endgame is triggered when there are no more blocks in the pool to draw. Players continue to place tiles with the first player to successfully place his final tile getting a 6 point bonus ending the game immediately. The player with the highest final total wins the game.

When playing tiles, you need to be aware of several things. First, don’t set up your opponents by creating lines of five tiles. This leaves yourself vulnerable to being buried by someone finishing off a row to reap the 6 point bonus. (In one of our games, one of our players managed to complete TWO lines at once, adding a whopping 26 points to his score!) Also, keep in mind that there are three tiles in each configuration (3 yellow circles, 3 yellow squares etc.) so know which tiles are live and which are dead. (No sense in trying to draw a tile to complete a line if the tile is no longer available and you need have no fear if someone cannot complete a line.)

One of the strengths of Qwirkle as a gateway game lies in its familiar look. The shapes are easily recognizable so are non-threatening to non-gamers leading to less resistance to learning what might be perceived as a “complicated” game (which it is not). This “resistance lowering” is aided by nice production values. The big blocks are pleasing to the touch and the colors are handled well. Often red and orange or blue and purple can be so similar in hue that it is difficult to distinguish them at a glance. Fortunately, not a problem here as colors are easily recognizable – a big plus in a game where color is a key consideration. The game also benefits by including numerous examples in full color of legal plays and scoring making the learning curve that much easier. But this is not to say that the game is only for non-gamers, quite the contrary.

Qwirkle is light fare but with an edge. There is enough strategy, planning and challenge to it to keep he game fresh and entertaining both for those seeking to test the waters of more challenging game play as well as the experienced gamers among us. The pleasing result is that Qwirkle will make frequent journeys from the shelf to the gaming table. Recommended. – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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