Review: Qwirkle

Qwirkle with play example
Qwirkle with play example

In keeping with the theme of widely available games that I would recommend to friends, Qwirkle is another solid choice for the addition to a game library. Qwirkle is a simple and engaging game for two to four players, ages six and up. For young players, the game relies significantly on color and shape recognition, and counting skills are recommended to to determine valid plays and to tally score. Though the game has a very simple appearance and a straightforward rule-set, competitive adults will find that there are some tactical opportunities to use to their advantage. Qwirkle has been the recipient of several awards, including the prestigious German Game of the Year award (Spiel des Jahres) in 2011.

Qwirkle consists of 108 tiles that are a mix of six shapes and six colors, with three of each combination in the set (6 x 6 x 3). The overall goal of the game is to have the most points at the end of the game, and points are earned by playing tiles to the grid play area. Players begin the game by taking a hand of six tiles from a blind-draw pool (a cloth bag). The players keep this “hand” of tiles hidden from the other players during play, primarily so that the other players don’t have knowledge of what plays they may be enabling or blocking with their own play.

Each player has three options on his or her turn. The first is to play a single tile to the grid of tiles, following the placement rules, which I will discuss in just a moment. The second option for a player is to play two or more tiles to the grid, following the placement rules. When a player plays two or more tiles to the grid, the tiles must all share a single aspect, i.e. they must all be the same color or the same shape. When multiple tiles are added to the grid, they must also all be placed in the same line, though they do not have to touch each other. Finally a player may take a turn to trade some of his or her tiles for new tiles from the draw-bag. Players draw back up to six tiles in their hands at the end of the turn.

The placement rules for the game are very simple. Basically, a line of tiles must share an attribute, either color or shape, but there may only be one of each of the non-shared attribute in a line. Thus, there could be a line of squares — blue, red, yellow, green — but it would not be a valid play to add another blue square to that line because there already is one present. Tiles can also be in different lines. A blue square could be in a line of squares in one direction, and a line of blue tiles in another direction. Players cannot play a tile in a place that breaks the rules about placement.

Players score points for playing tiles. Players score one point for each tile played as well as a point for all of the tiles that are already in the line(s) on which the player played. One tile can score two points if it is part of two different lines. Players also get a bonus if they add the sixth and final tile to a line of tiles — this is called a Qwirkle and scores twelve points for that line — six for the tiles and six more for the bonus. Also, whomever ends the game gets a six-point bonus.

There is not a lot of strategy to pursue in Qwirkle outside of attempting not to leave scoring opportunities open for your opponents. The tactics of Qwirkle are to recognize where there are advantage plays to be made with your tiles, and to make the most use of your tiles when you play by adding to multiple lines when possible, or setting yourself up for multi-tile plays in the future. Since you know that there are only three of each tile in the game, you can also see where some lines and Qwirkles are impossible to complete because the necessary tiles are all already played elsewhere.

Though the basic game of Qwirkle does not have any expansions in the American market, there are several spin-off games from Qwirkle including a card game, a dice-type game, as well as a re-theme of the base-game to a Star Wars license. Qwirkle has an MSRP of $24.99 and is available at hobby game and toy stores, Target, Wal-Mart, and online.

End of a game of Qwirkle
End of a game of Qwirkle

Review: Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride

To start things off right on reviews, I’m beginning with one of the most prolific and widespread American games of the 2000s. Ticket to Ride was designed by Alan R. Moon in 2004 and won the prestigious German game of the year (Spiel des Jahres) as well as another two dozen award wins and nominations. Ticket to Ride has spawned several expansion maps, other content expansions, and a couple of spin-off games.

Ticket to Ride is frequently cited as a “gateway game”, as it is a game that is easy to learn, accessible by a wide variety of people of different skill levels, and is fun to play. The basic game of Ticket to Ride is playable by two to five players and is recommended for ages eight and up. Eight is a recommended age as players will use color and counting skills, though the game may also play well with precocious children even if they do not grasp all of the strategy and tactics of the game. Play time is around 30 to 90 minutes, and this is generally affected by the number of players and experience with the game. Individual player turns are quick, so there is not a lot of down-time for players between turns, though new players may take a little extra time thinking about actions.

The goal of the game is to be the player with the highest score when the game ends. Players score by connecting cities on their destination tickets that they take at the start of the game, and by claiming routes on the board through card-play. The destinations tickets that a player has are kept secret as each destination is serviced by a certain number of routes, and if other players have knowledge that a player must make a certain connection, they can use this information to claim the available routes to block that player from completing a ticket. This minor cutthroat element of the game helps to build excitement and tension for the game, but the game does not use a lot of direct adversarial conflict. With more play, players may recognize what hidden destinations a players is seeking to connect, so a group that plays together frequently may build rivalries as they grow to identify the subtle clues of fellow players.

The play of the game is straightforward, which lends itself to the quick player turns. Each player may take one of three actions on his or her turn. A player may take cards from the market of available cards. During the game, there is a constantly-refreshed market of five face-up cards that players may select for this action. Players may also draw face-down cards from the deck if they do not want any of the available face-up selections. The second action players can take is to claim routes. The game board has printed routes that connect cities, and on each connection there are a certain number of colored boxes. To claim a route, players play the number of cards of the color that is shown on the connection, and then mark that they have claimed the route by putting their own player-token train cars on those boxes. Players also score points for the length of the route they have claimed. Many cities only have one route that connects them, but there are many paths on the board that players can use to connect cities. The final action that players can take is to take more connection tickets. These tickets show two cities on the board that the player must connect by the end of the game to score the points on the ticket. Unfulfilled tickets count against the player. Taking additional tickets opens up opportunities for additional score by connecting more cities, but they also represent a risk as players may be unable to complete all of their ticket routes by the end of the game. Completed tickets are also kept hidden during the game, so other player do not know what cities a player needs to connect, but other players also do not know if a another player’s tickets have yet been completed.

The game comes to an end when one player has used all or nearly all of their player-token train markers. After the final round, players’ scores scores for their destination tickets are summed and added to their scores earned during the game for claimed routes. There is an additional bonus for the player who has the longest single line of trains on the game board. After all scores are tallied, the players with the highest score is the winner.

Ticket to Ride is a very fun game, and has been well received by nearly every person with which I have played it. The ability to scale from two to five players is a certain bonus as it allows the game to be dynamic to different-sized groups. The straightforward rules that give players the choice among three actions keep the game simple enough to be played by the whole family, but the tactical nature of seeking to make all connections keeps it entertaining for all age levels.

Ticket to Ride is available at hobby game shops, as well as Target, Wal-Mart, and online stores. The suggested retail price is $49.99, but it can frequently be found on sale or for a discounted retail price online.