Susan McKinley Ross
Qwirkle is a pretty popular mass market game that has also won the Spiel das Jahres, which is the German Game of the Year in 2011. This speaks volumes to the quality of the game. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill game in big-box stores that is a tie-in to some recent movie, the game is actually very well-designed and well-regarded by people who design and play games for a living. So, credit goes to the American designer, Susan McKinley Ross for developing and marketing a simple but fun game for kids and adults. The closest comparison I can think of for Qwirkle in terms of ease of play and availability is Blokus. Both games are currently in my collection.
Qwirkle is simple. The game comes with really nice chunky wooden tiles in six different shapes/colors. Each player will have a rack with 6 of these wooden tiles. On your turn, players can play as many tiles as they want, so long as the tiles are either of the same shape or color without any duplicates. For example, you can play 4 purple tiles of different shapes or 3 tiles with the circle symbol of different colors. The tiles are played onto a common area where players are free to place the tiles so that they interact with pre-existing tiles to form larger groups, but still abiding by the rules that only similar shape or similar color tiles can be placed together in vertical or horizontal rows. If you are familiar with Scrabble, then you will feel at home when it come to forming tile networks. However there is no fixed player board, so tile placement does not have any boundaries or special scoring positions. The only “bonus” you will get is by forming a Qwirkle, which is all 6 tiles in a row of similar shapes or similar colors. You will score 1 point for each tile and an additional 6 points for forming a Qwirkle. This means a Qwirkle usually scores a minimum of 12 points.
There isn’t a whole lot of strategy for Qwirkle, but there is plenty of pattern recognition going on. Players try to maximize scoring effort each turn by placing tiles in a way to score Qwirkles or to set themselves up to score Qwirkles. There might be some need to play defensively at times as creating 5 tile combinations is particularly dangerous as it opens up an opportunity for your opponent to place the sixth piece and form a Qwirkle. As the modular “board” expands, pattern recognition becomes more challenging and part of the tension and fun comes from spotting these areas to score points. Like Scrabble, it is legal to also place blocks parallel to each other to score both horizontal and vertical points so long as the “same shape or same color without duplicates” rule is followed.
I want to say that Qwirkle can be enjoyed by both adults and kids, but the truth is, Qwirkle is probably more suited for kids. Now, adults can enjoy it too, but unlike Blokus which feels more challenging, I think the decision space is a lot more obvious and less expansive in Qwirkle. This is not to say that the game is a slam dunk for adults. In fact, I think this is a fantastic game for families where the level of experience is mismatched between kids and adults. Qwirkle provides a fairly balanced competitive environment for kids and adults without dumbing down the game to a point where adults will find it boring. This partly because kids do a great job spotting patterns and combined with luck of the tile draw, kids have a fairly good shot at beating adults. It’s not clear to me if the game has an additional layer of strategy to it and even if there is, I am not sure I care enough to employ it in a family game. I think Qwirkle does a fine job as a family game and I believe that is why it won the Game of the Year award. The only gripe I have is that I wish the game came with tile racks.
Final word: Average (gamer); Good (family)
6 years and 5 months: I introduced the game to my kid when she was 5 and it didn’t bite. A year later, she is more than ready and it shows. She immediately grasp the game after one play and within three plays, she could formulate some strategy for tile placement to maximize scoring. I was impressed. The competitive balance in the Qwirkle is quite an achievement. I managed to score a victory in three games and she beat me fair and square in both other games. It’s true that tile draw and luck plays a role in winning, but finding the winning placement still takes some skill and patience. The game also scales well. So, playing with 2, 3 is just fine. The game doesn’t take longer as the tiles are same for all player counts. I highly recommend finding one of those score keeping apps on a tablet or phone if you have access to one. It makes scoring so much easier and also a running tally of the score will tell if you need to take some risks. Overall, I highly recommend the game for a family. This is clearly family gaming at its best.