Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.
Movies have the Oscars. Print has the Pulitzers. Board games have the Spiel des Jahres.
But for Americans like me, the SdJ is interesting in that we Americans don’t control it. As you might venture from the name, the SdJ is German in origin, and board games become eligible for the SdJ based on when they enter the German market.
Thus the interesting story of Qwirkle. Despite entering the American market in 2006, it wasn’t until 2011 that the game won the SdJ (as a side note of interest to the GT universe, this also marked the first time the award was given to a solo female designer). But it’s really a better late than never situation.
Qwirkle is best described as what would have if dominoes and gin rummy met at a not trashy, but not swanky bar, bought each other a couple of drinks, really hit it off, went back to gin rummy’s place, fucked each other’s brains out for most of the night plus a quickie in the shower in the morning and low and behold, a love child was born out of that amazing night of drunken passion. Probably from the shower quickie. It’s ALWAYS from the shower quickie.
Can you match colors? Can you match symbols? Can you count to six? Congratulations, you can play Qwirkle. But, as is often the case with SdJ winners, learning how to play Qwirkle is simple, but mastering it is a whole other fucking universe.
Story: Qwirkle is a purely abstract game. Sorry, no story. I’m sure you’re disappointed now, but I’m sure it won’t be the end of the world for you. OK, once upon a time people tried to lay down tiles in groups of six. The end.
What do you do?: The game of Qwirkle is played via a set of 108 wooden tiles. The tiles are broken down into six different colors — red, blue, green, yellow, purple and orange. The six colors are further broken down into six different shapes — squares, circles, diamonds, clovers, X-shapes and starbursts. So, doing the math, each color/shape combinations shows up three times. There are three red circles, three blue squares, etc.
All the tiles go into a big bag that’s shaken up to mix everything together. Each player draws six tiles. The player whose hand has the most tiles with a common characteristic (three tiles are diamonds, four tiles are purple, etc.) lays down the first line and the game beings.
Taking a turn in Qwirkle is very simple. you’re looking to add new lines or add onto lines already on the board, but all the tiles in a continuous line must share a common characteristic (they all have to be the same color or shape) with no repeats. If a line of starbursts already has a blue starburst, you can’t add another blue starburst to that line.. If a line of yellow already has a square, you can’t add another square to the line.
Once tiles are placed, you score points based on the length of line you contributed to. Let’s say you play a move that results in a new line of three tiles and a previous-existing line of three is expanded to four. You would get seven points on that turn (line of 4 + line of 3 = 7 points). You only score points for lines of tiles you create or expand on your turn.
And that’s where we talk about Qwirkles. A “qwirkle” is when you manage to create a line of six continuous, non-repeating tiles? A line of six purple tiles, each with a different shape? Qwirkle. Six straight circle tiles, each of a different color? MOTHERFUCKING QWIRKLE, BETCHES.
Qwirkles are important because they’re worth six points, right? WRONG. A Qwirkle gets scored DOUBLE. 12 FUCKING POINTS. Thus, trying to score Qwirkles is important, but so is trying to figure out ways to block the other players from getting Qwirkles, too.
If you can’t (or don’t want to) play tiles, you can swap out tiles in your hand for an equal number of tiles in the bag for your turn as well.
How to taste sweet, sweet victory: Well, you keep playing until there are no tiles left to draw and a player has used up all of the tiles left in their hand. The first player out gets six bonus points, you add up everybody’s scores, and the highest score wins.
So, what makes this game awesome?
Simple concept.Try to make lines of six tiles. I fully trust any dumbass out there can pull that off.
The strategy is deep, but accessible. It’s a risk-reward concept. You could get a bunch of points creating a line of five, but lines of five are susceptible for another player to add the sixth tile for a Qwirkle while simultaneously making a new line for even more points of top of the 12 points they’re already going to get for the Qwirkle.
There’s enough luck involved that inexperienced players can keep it close with more experienced players.
The game includes a drawstring bag to draw the Qwirkle tiles out of, so it gives some more flexibility for transporting and taking the game with you somewhere (there is also a travel version of Qwirkle available as well.
Component quality. These are nice, big, chunky tiles with bright colors.
Other ways to play: This neat little player vs. CPU freeware version of Qwirkle is available to you here on the Interwebs. Difference for the official rules to note: No six-point bonus to clearing your hand of tiles first, both you and the computer get to play out your hands.
Images via BoardGameGeek