The following 6 games have something very special in common. Something besides the fact they are all abstract strategy games, published by Gigamic, simple to learn, and only take around 5 – 20 minutes to play.
So, what is the Gigamic abstract collection? Well, each one is a beautiful, tactile, hearty, wooden game. They are in fact games on the verge of being sculptures. Not that any of us actually need a reason to keep our games out. But, if you’re looking for one, these are most definitely it.
With different objectives, playing styles, and components, this is a series that feels as good in your hand as they do making your mind work. None take very long to play, but they are each time well spent. Like a metronome or Newton’s cradle, you’ll want to touch them. You’ll need to move them. But which one will you start with?
Well, you may be able to decide on one, but I’ll wager that you’ll be adding more to your list before you finish reading!
Quarto is a chunky, tactile, wooden beauty. And, once again, it’s a fast-playing, strategic little number for 2 players, with a lovely board and the classic need-to-pick-up pieces.
Instead of building up, however, you are laying 4 in a row within a circle of permitted places. 4 pieces with at least one attribute in common; tall/short, dark/light, hollow/solid, rounded/straight.
The catch? Your opponent chooses which piece you lay on every turn! Strategic sabotage abounds as you watch your near-completed line compromised by the very piece you handed your opponent.
Don’t make the mistake I made and forget to shout “QUARTO” when you synch that sweet fourth spot. If you don’t, like me, your tactics will be for nothing. Your opponent gets to steal your victory for themselves! I always make silly mistakes in this game which cost me dearly – and not just failing to spot a win! Players who can think ahead and quickly change up their tactics definitely have the advantage. Nevertheless, it is a novel and fun puzzle to play!
Pyramids, Piles of Spheres. I can see where the name Pylos might well have originated.
A game I like playing even when I lose is a marker of its success in my mind. And without doubt, this is one I lose a lot. But I always want to play again.
In this Gigamic game, there is a beautiful wooden board with a grid of 4x4 indents. Both players have 15 spheres, and the object of the game is to be the player to place their colour sphere on the very top. Sounds like a straightforward race to the summit.
But, no! Each time you create a square of your own colour, you get to move one or two of your own spheres (that aren’t supporting any others). You can move them back into your reserve, or somewhere else on the grid. If you create a mixed square, you can take one of your spheres from somewhere else on the board and stack it on top to form the next level, locking the pieces in underneath.
As well as being visually stunning, this is a fast-playing, tactile game, with advanced and easier variants. Rolling the smooth wooden spheres around in my hands definitely helps take the sting out of being thoroughly bested by my opponent!
A little like its chunky cousin, Quarto, you can win Quantik by placing 4 unique shaped pieces in a row. Unlike Quarto, however, you can also win by placing 4 different shapes in a square or a column on the 4 x 4 board.
Take it in turns to place a piece of your colour somewhere on the board. Aim for a space you think will force your opponent to place their own pieces right where you need them.
It is so easy to snooker yourself when thinking simultaneously about grids and lines. It’s also easy to miss your own victory when concentrating on one aspect of your spatial strategy!
To me, it feels a bit tactile. A semi-cooperative, but ultimately competitive, Sudoku puzzle… without the numbers… or the writing. Okay, so not like a Sudoku puzzle at all. But you get what I mean… right? Again Quantik plays super-fast and is another feast for the eyes, as well as the hands.
Xs and Os. Yup, noughts and crosses. But Quixo isn’t just your common or garden scrap of paper version - aka the one you play with Grandma.
In the Gigamic game Quixo, you have a beautiful circular wooden board. Housing a 5 x 5 grid inset and filled with 25 cubes that are smooth, solid, and just begging to be held. Each cube shows a circle on one side and a cross on the opposite, although they all start off showing a blank face. On your turn, you select a cube from the outside edge (not the middle 9) that is either blank or showing your symbol. Rotate it (if it was originally blank), and then slide it back into one end of a row or column left with a space to fill. If you get 5 of your symbols in a row (orthogonally or diagonally), you win!
As with all of the Gigamic games in this range, the rules are simple. This one is especially to pick up, as traditional noughts and crosses is such a familiar puzzle. But there’s more crunch to this cubey delight than I expected. With rows changing whenever blocks are moved, the board is a dynamic playing space that can work both for and against you. The chance to snooker your opponent and force them to place their cube right where you want it is there - if you can see it!
Strangely, unlike most games where familiarity breeds speed, the more we play Quixo, the longer we take. It’s like we are hunting for the sweeter taste of victory at the expense of the other player.
And, unlike many purely abstract strategy games, this has a team variant where up to 4 can play. You may have noticed the small dots on the cubes? Well, in the team version, each member of a 2 player team sits on opposite sides of the board. Then, on your turn, you can only select a cube where the dot is on the side closer to you than your teammate. We have only played the team version once so far, but we really liked it. Seeing the cube you need, but being on the wrong side of the board to take it (and knowing that you are just about to change the landscape again), is a step up on the tension ladder! In fact, we might actually try out a two-player team variant where we each play two sides, alternating between them both, to see what happens… I am excited already!!!
Again, 2 player or team-based, Quoridor is a fine example of the simple to learn, hard to master gameplay. In it, you need to get your pawn to the opposite side of the board. Just one pawn and just once across the board. But so does your opponent. And you don’t want them to get there first. So, each turn, you get to choose whether to (a) advance your pawn one space orthogonally or (b) erect a wall. Walls can slow your opponent down, but you mustn’t dead-end them completely. And that’s it. Nothing complicated, but surprisingly crunchy!
Like a game of cat and mouse, where you’re each playing the cat as well as the mouse, this is a thinky race. And yet it is not always a race. I sometimes focus on trying to shorten my own journey time. For other games, it’s more about sending my opponent down longer paths. In fact, it's more like a labyrinth. You think you can see the exit from the mind maddening maze, and then it reverses on you again!
When one of us wins in Quoridor, the other is usually nowhere near their destination thanks to some wiley wall placement. Needless to say, we play this game (like the others in fact) with meanness cranked up to max!
There and back. 4 out of 5 pieces going across the board and coming back again. In straight lines. That’s all it takes to win Squadro. But not so easy when you don’t set the pace, or have any say over the pattern for moving your pieces! Oh, and that’s before you realise your opponents can send your ships back to their starting docks.
Yep, should one of theirs sail over the top of one of yours en-route to their own side of the board... your boat is going to be backtracking. And they get to advance one space ahead of your recently vacated spot… dang!
(Okay, so they aren’t technically ships. But to me they look like little ships traversing the wooden waves, so I am going to name them such for the purposes of this feature!)
So how do you get yourself out of this prickly predicament? Strategy of course! Each dock shows how many spaces each ship can move every turn (1, 2, or 3). This switches up in the second half of your ship's journey, as the opposite ends of the board have different numbers. Essentially, it’s down to you to predict where your opponent might go next. Avoid putting yourself somewhere worthy of hopping over. Look for opportunities to sail your opponent's ships back. Race back to home base with four of your wooden wave riders, before they get the chance! Not much to think about then! Haha.
So far, I have seen my ships sent back more times than they have reached the finish line first. But that’s okay. I know my husband is a master of spatial strategy! Plus, even when I’m losing like a three-legged horse in the Derby Stakes, I have something stunning to look at and hold.
So many reasons to jump into the Gigamic range! We are loving the series, particularly as they all need slightly different ways of thinking and looking at the game space.
And there is no point knocking points off for theme (or lack of it) because that's not what Gigamic games are about. They are pure abstract strategy games. Elegant exercises in tactical thinking. Besides, they make up for it by containing pieces I want to take away from the table and parse like wooden stress balls! If you like a little more colour to your abstracts, I recommend checking out Aqualin from KOSMOS.
Gigamic's Abstract Strategy games are all pretty much pick up and play. They run no longer than around 15 minutes, so we can get a quick hit with almost zero set-up time.
I am not the best at spatial puzzles, or thinking too many moves ahead (my AP kicks in way before then!). But I love the challenge these games present. And when I play them and win (or lose less spectacularly), I not only have fun, but I feel like I am improving as a gamer.
I should also mention two things. Firstly, we have a 6-year-old. We have found the Gigamic games so easy to learn that he can play them without modifying or softening the ruleset. Double thumbs up for accessibility! Gold stars all around also for being a tactile and visual way for him to learn a key skill; thinking ahead. Predicting moves in different contexts, without overwhelming masses of components and mechanics. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the rules; these games pack a fast and powerful strategic hit. Dial the hate-play up or down to suit. The Gigamic range is a hit with each of us on different levels.
Secondly, whilst the big, chunky, solid versions of the Gigamic games are definitely table talking points, they also come in “mini” versions - ideal for travelling. Portable puzzles that delight both the eye and the mind; what more could you ask for?! Well, maybe one more thing… GIANT versions of the same games! Honestly, I kid you not! Next time you’re at a convention, head over to the Hachette Board Games UK stand to see those big beauties in action!