• Number of Plays: 12
  • Game Length: 30 – 45 minutes
  • Mechanics: Tile Laying, Hand Management
  • Release Year: 2006
  • Designer: Susan McKinley Ross

Qwirkle! Travel-sized for your convenience!

There are few games in my collection that get the chance to leave my doors once its been slotted into a spot on the bookshelves. Qwirkle By Susan McKinley Ross is not one of those games. I own the travel edition of Qwirkle, which has small tiles and a zipper bag to hold everything together in a conveniently tiny package. The ease of transportability coupled with the fact that this game only needs a relatively flat surface to be played means we have played this game in locations from sea to shining sea. As an added bonus, it is a relatively wind-resistant game, so playing it outdoors is less of a challenge.

Qwirkle, aside from being awkward to spell when you’re sleep deprived, is a tile placement game for two to four players. You begin the game with 6 tiles in your hand. Each tile has two attributes; a shape and a colour. On your turn you place any number of tiles in a single line as long as every tile in that line shares one attribute (either all the same colour, or all the same shape). You earn one point for every tile you place from your hand onto the table.

A game of Qwirkle starts out simply enough

Very quickly the common play area becomes a sprawling mass of tiles. The rule of lines of tiles only a being a single attribute quickly becomes a thorn in your side as you search for a spot to place your 3 green tiles that doesn’t abut against tiles that are not green, or worse, the exact copy of what you have in your hands.

As you add onto and spin off of lines of tiles, the length and score will creep higher and higher. Placing a 4th tile in that green line earns you 4 more points. The next piece placed will earn that player 5 points, and if someone can complete the line with the 6th shape or colour, they get 6 points, plus a bonus 6 points for a “Qwirkle”. They are also contractually obligated to shout out the word “Qwirkle” as they tap that piece onto the table.

The play area quickly sprawls out

The challenge with Quirkle is that the player’s best move also tends to set up other players for even better moves. The more lines on the board, the more likely someone is going to earn 5 points or more per turn. Knowing what’s left in the bag isn’t to hard to parse. There are 3 copies of each tile in the bag at the beginning of the game. Subtracting the 6 tiles that each player has in their hand gives you a pretty good idea of what you can and cannot hope for. If there are 3 orange circles on the board, you had better not be hoping for another orange circle to come out of the bag or you’re going to find yourself quite disappointed.

This placement is a no-no

One issue that does come up is the fact that it can be hard to tell some of the colours apart from each other. Trying to differentiate the purple and blue colours, or the orange and the red colours, on the black tiles feels nearly impossible if the lighting is anything less than perfect. Also, if you’re colourblind, give this game a pass; there is no way to differentiate the the tiles from one another other than colour.

Qwirkle has traveled across the country with me and has been played on a dozen different surfaces. It’s an easy game to teach the in-laws while being just competitive enough that keep players engaged. The smaller travel edition makes a great stocking stuffer (I know because I stuffed it into my wife’s stocking one Christmas) and comes in a lovely zip-up pouch. The full size game comes in a larger cardboard box. I understand the concept of ‘shelf appeal’, and I’m not the one bringing these products to market. I’m just the guy who needs to find new and creative way of storing board game boxes lest my wife pitches my newest acquisitions onto the lawn because I stored games in the towel closet again (Note from the wife: It isn’t that I mind his board game collection; it’s just his choice to displace the towels in favour of his games!). Maybe my ‘travel’ games will just live in a backpack from now on, perpetually ready to go. I’ll tell my wife it’s motivation to travel! What could go wrong?