Qwirkle – Tile-Based Game Review

Quirkle Game Box

Qwirkle Game Box

Qwirkle is a tile-based game for two to four players. It was released in 2006 by publisher MindWare and was designed by Susan McKinley Ross. It is one of those wonderful games that is approachable to young children while simultaneously rich in complex strategy such that there is a great deal to enjoy for advanced players as well. I was introduced to Qwirkle by my five year old son who learned how to play it with his friends at a board game night we attended. He nearly taught me how to play all on his own, though the more advanced strategies seem to be difficult for him to implement and it will take him some practice to ramp up. It is also one of the rare games that doesn’t vary in gameplay based on the number of players playing. The game plays pretty much the same with two players as it does with four players, and no one will feel like a third wheel when playing it with three players.

The Qwirkle set I purchased at Target on sale for 15 dollars has high quality wooden tiles that fit nicely into the supplied cloth bag. Much like Scrabble, players draw their hand from the bag without looking to see what they will get. Each player’s hand is six tiles to start with. After each player plays, they draw the correct number of tiles to replenish their hand.

Quirkle Game Pieces

Qwirkle Game Pieces

There are six different shapes: a square, an x, a diamond, a circle, a star, and a clover. The six different colors are red, blue, purple, green, yellow, and orange. There are 108 tiles in all which divided out means there are three of every shape and color combination that may be played in any game. Having this knowledge comes in handy in the later stage of the game when you are running out of moves for maximum points and want to know if a move can potentially allow an opponent to qwirkle.

In each turn a player plays a single line of tiles that are alike in one of two ways. They are either the same shape but different colors, or they are the same color with different shapes. After the first turn, these lines of tiles must be played on other lines of tiles in the play area. When a tile or line of tiles is added to the play area, points are given for each tile in each line affected by the play. A line of two tiles is worth two points, while a line of four tiles is worth four points. A line of six tiles is called a qwirkle and is worth 6 points for the number of tiles with a bonus of 6 points totaling 12 points.

Linear Gameplay (Before We Knew What We Were Doing)

Linear Gameplay (Before We Knew What We Were Doing)

It is possible to play Qwirkle quite linearly, that is to make plays in straight, solitary lines for 2 to 12 points, hoping when you get your five pieces in a row that your opponent doesn’t have that sixth piece to qwirkle. However, scoring does not just occur on a single line unless only a single line is touched by the play. If a player plays beside an existing line, they are scored for the line they played as well as each line they added that intersects the played line. So, if a player plays a line of two tiles directly beside another line of two tiles, they receive two points for the line they created, plus two points for each of the new lines that were generated by the two lines sitting side by side for a total of six points. When playing in these successively larger squares, this can lead to significant point increases.

Outside of the linear style of play there are two main strategies. A player can play to block others from getting qwirkles. This keeps the opponents’ scores lower but can also impede the scoring potential of the one who played the blocking move. A player can also play to build out the play area so qwirkles are more easily accomplished for everyone.

The order in which tiles are played is extremely important and will affect how successive plays may be made on those tiles later in the game. I have found the best strategy for me is to only play moves where I can get more than five points in the turn. I do this by splitting out my hand. Wherever I have three or more tiles that could be used toward a qwirkle, I keep them saved so I can qwirkle in one move when the time is right. The remaining pieces I attempt to use to play around the board to maximize my points per turn and impede others from achieving their own qwirkles.

Things Got More Interesting When We Learned How to Score More Points

Things Got More Interesting When We Learned How to Score More Points

There is a legal move in which a player may choose to pass on their turn. The player may set aside all tiles from their hand they don’t want to be discarded. Then they may draw that number of tiles from the bag to replenish their hand. The tiles they discarded are then placed back into the bag and the bag is shuffled. Then that player’s turn ends and they are awarded no points. I have not been able to determine a situation in which this would overwhelmingly help a person, outside of perhaps within the first few turns of play. I have thus far not had a hand poor enough that I was willing to purge it at the expense of a turn’s worth of points.

When played with a worthy opponent, Qwirkle tends to be a very cutthroat game. The scores will often be so close that winning or losing comes down to some elegant play in the end game. The player who successfully plays through their entire hand of tiles once the tile bag is empty is awarded an additional six points to their final turn’s score and the game ends. Therefore there is great scoring power in being the last person to play.

I have had a surprising amount of fun playing Qwirkle. It is easy to teach newcomers how to play and it affords a challenge that keeps it fresh. I’ve been taking it to family gatherings. The younger children can still play with the adults, while the adults keep getting better and more difficult to beat. This is a fantastic game that I would recommend be in any board game or strategy game fanatic’s collection.

Mexican Train – Domino Game Review

Cardinal Mexican Train Domino Kit

Cardinal Mexican Train Domino Kit

Cardinal’s version of Mexican Train is documented to support 2 to 8 players. It is played with a set of double-twelve dominoes. I’ll cover other variations in the future, but this is the one I learned how to play first.

  • With 2, 3, or 4 players, initially draw 15 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.
  • With 5 or 6 players, initially draw 12 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.
  • With 7 or 8 players, initially draw 11 dominoes each at the beginning of each round.

There are thirteen rounds of play, one for each double domino in the set. The dominoes are shuffled and players draw their initial hand out of the pile of dominoes referred to as the bone pile. And whomever has the current round’s double domino places it in the middle of the table. For the first round, the double domino required to start the round would be a double-twelve. For the second round it would be the double-eleven and so forth until the round with the double-blank. If no player in the first round has a double-twelve, each player draws one domino from the bone pile at the same time until someone draws the double-twelve. Once the double-twelve has been played, everyone should have the same number of dominoes in their hand except the person who played the double-twelve. That person will have the same number of dominoes in their hand as everyone else minus one, the missing one being double-twelve that was played.

Play then proceeds clockwise around the table from the person who played the double. In their first turn a player may start their own train. They do this by placing a domino that has a side that matches the current number represented by the starting double. Trains come out of the center like spokes on a wagon wheel. In the first round I would be able to play a domino that has a twelve on it to start my train. If I had no domino with a twelve, I would then have to draw and place a marker on the place where my train would be. In the Cardinal Mexican Train domino set I have, there are small colored plastic train engines provided that may be used as markers. In the past when I didn’t have such frivolous gaming equipment, I would use a penny or bottle cap as a marker. Any sort of token will do.

While the token is on a player’s train, and it must remain there until the player’s next turn, any other player may play on the marked train instead of playing on their own. They may also start the Mexican Train, a public train that anyone may play on. If a player has a marker on their own train, and they play on the Mexican train or someone else’s train, the marker on their own train comes off of their train until such circumstances where it may be put back on their train again.

To review, a player’s turn consists of playing or drawing. If they draw, they must place a marker on their train to indicate it is open for others to play on. Players may play on their own train, a marked train, or the Mexican Train. If the Mexican Train has not been started, it may be started off to the side of the other trains in the same manner the players’ trains were started. If a player plays a double, they may play again. The objective is to run out of dominoes in your own hand.

When a player is down to their last domino, they must tap it on the table to indicate there is a likelihood that they will run out of dominoes in their next turn. This is similar to calling out “Uno!” in Uno. If you get caught not doing this, all the other players may call you names and force you to draw two additional dominoes into your hand.

When a player runs out of dominoes, all of the other players count up the face value of all the other dominoes in their hand. This becomes their score for the round. Scores are summed up and carry forward for each player from round to round. The player with the lowest score after the double-blank round wins the game.

Mexican Train is primarily a game of chance and is fairly easy to learn, which makes it great for children. There are some elements of strategy, however, that can keep it interesting. It is usually best to play your highest point dominoes as early and as frequently as possible so they are not left in your hand by the end of the round.

It’s also good to learn when to be nice and when to let someone stay stuck. In the last game I played, one of my opponents needed a domino she didn’t have and had placed a marker on her train. I had the very domino she needed, but did not provide it since she had fewer dominoes in her hand than I did. I let her sit there for several turns until she had accumulated a hand that was sufficiently and safely larger than my own.

Take care in how you arrange your domino hand since one side of it is somewhat public for others to see. On one hand, you will want to arrange your dominoes in such a way that you have a plan for every one you play so you make the maximum use of each one On the other hand, if people can predict by the way you’re arranging your dominoes which one you plan to play next, and that you are a certain number of turns from going out, they may play accordingly in a manner that is not in your favor. Just some food for thought.

Mexican Train gameplay

Mexican Train game play

Double-twelve dominoes are really easy to find in all sorts of stores. Outside of playing cards, I can’t think of any other piece of gaming equipment that is so versatile in being used to play more distinct kinds of games. Dominoes are also spill and dirt resistant. They are handy for when I want to play games outdoors. I don’t ever worry about getting dominoes dirty. If you don’t already have a domino set and you want to consider yourself a board gamer, then you owe it to yourself to go get one. Mexican Train, is just one of many games you can play with it, though it is a fun one; one I would recommend everyone try.