Qwirkle is a game I’ve played countless times. It is always a favourite to fill in some time and despite being an easy game to learn and play, it comes with depth and plenty of room for strategic play.
The game is played with two to four players. Each player starts with a ‘hand’ of six tiles. These are the lovely, chunky wooden tiles you get with different coloured shapes on one side. There are six different colours and six different shapes.
Each turn, players take it in turns to place a ‘line’ of tiles. This line can be between one and six tiles long. The golden rule on placing is this: the line you place must comprise tiles of all the same colour OR all the same shape and no duplication. When you add a line, it must join at least one other tile already in play. It may join more than one, but the golden rule of Qwirkle is wherever a line of two or more tiles are joined together each ‘line’ must be the same colour OR the same shape with no duplicates.
You can see from the image an example of play. The first line placed was the line of green tiles – all green, but different shapes. Another line is then added of starbursts. The green starburst joins the line of green shapes to make the move legal. In each row or line in the image, the golden rule of Qwirkle is met- same shape OR same colour with no duplicated tiles.
Once you have scored, grab the bag of tiles, give it a shake if you like and replenish your hand of tiles back up to a set of six. If there are not enough tiles to take your hand back to six tiles,S that means the bag is now empty and play continues until someone uses their last tile.
On your turn, if you want, you can trade tiles. You simply set aside the tiles you don’t want and draw the same number from the bag, then add the discarded tiles to the bag. You will not score any points for this turn though so you will need to choose between possible a very poor turn, where at least you will score something or gamble or getting more useful tiles so you can make up the loss on hopefully your next turn.
Scoring in Qwirkle is straightforward enough. You score one point per tile in a line. If you create multiple lines with your placement, you will score one point per tile in each line. In the image you can see three orange tiles added to form two ‘lines’. The first line with the three orange shapes scores three points, but since a second line has been created ie a line of two circles, the player also scores additional two points and yes the orange circle scores twice! So the total for that placement of orange tiles is five points. It is not unusual for a player to score between four and eight points on most turns.
Qwirkle ! If at any time a player places or completes a line of six tiles, (remember all same colour OR all same shape), in addition to scoring six points for the six tiles, you get a bonus six points for completing a Qwirkle ! And this is in addition to whatever you score for any additional lines you add to. Honestly, if you want to do a little dance at this point or stretch your arms like a gladiator go right ahead, whatever works, just remember your opponents may reciprocate in like manner if they make a Qwirkle . It is possible to place six tiles to form one Qwirkle whilst adding to a line of five to form a second.
In the image, imagine a yellow starburst at the top or bottom end of the starburst row, then the player placing the line of orange tiles had the full set of shapes, this orange line could be added so that the orange starburst joined one end of the starburst line.
This would be amazing honestly, but then questions would be raised as to how it was allowed to happen!
When the tiles run out you will know the game will shortly be ending. The game will end when one player uses their last tile. When a player does this, they also score a bonus of six points for finishing first.
Qwirkle is very simple in respect of the basic game, but understanding how to ‘use the board’ ie the existing layout of tiles is something that adds a layer of depth. Try to avoid simply adding a few tiles to the end of a line, but think how you can score for multiple lines.
One thing to bear in mind is that there are 108 tiles and three copies of each tile. This will influence how you play. Placing a fifth tile to a line in the early game may set up someone else’s Qwirkle but in the later game, when you know all three copies of the necessary tile to complete are already placed, you can go ahead and place safely.
You may want to hold on to tiles if you think that they might help you score a Qwirkle later on, there is a luck element, but then preparing yourself can allow you to take advantage of an opening. Sometimes players will gamble on opening up a possible Qwirkle , if it means their turn is particularly high scoring.
There is also scope to make life difficult for your opponents by blocking off possible scoring opportunities. Placing several lines of tiles of similar colour or shape in one area can effectively block off that area for expansion later, but this could also hamper your scoring later on too.
Qwirkle is a simple and quite elegant game. The tiles are good quality, chunky and won’t get blown away that easily, so you could play it outdoors say on a picnic table, you just need a flat table with no gaps. The components are simple enough, you get a nice drawstring bag to put all 108 tiles in and so game set up and packing away are easy and quick enough.
It is simple to teach the basics and demonstrate examples of valid moves. It is simple enough for children to learn with the age recommendation being 6+. It is a great filler, ie a game you can easily play within an hour even with teaching the rules. The game is very re-playable, every game will be different because of combinations of tiles you draw and how the ‘board’ layout grows. Player interaction is there most turns because ideally you are always balancing what you can score now, what you might be able to score later and what opportunities your opponents might have by your placement.
Final score. It gets a solid 4 starbursts out of 5 for me. An elegant, quick and simple game and whilst it isn’t a heavy, hours long strategy game, it fits in as a nice filler very well.