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.

Upgrading to the Latest Development Version of Wine in Lubuntu Linux to Play Fallout: New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas Title Screen

Fallout: New Vegas Title Screen

A couple days ago, Bethesda Softworks released a teaser trailer for the new game Fallout 76. I have heard speculation that it might be a Fallout MMO, which would be awesome. I have been unable to find any details on release date yet. The news of a new Fallout game made me want to go back and play an older Fallout game.

It was while browsing through my Fallout game collection that I noticed Fallout: New Vegas is available on Steam download for Windows users only. I was surprised by this. I thought surely there would be a Mac version released at some point if not a Linux version. I went on the wine website and checked their AppDB to see how compatible Fallout: New Vegas is for running in wine. For those unfamiliar, wine is a program that runs in Linux that can be used to run windows compatible software with varied success. They have an AppDB that keeps track of what programs work for what versions of wine across various flavors of Linux. The wine program’s website may be found at www.winehq.org. The AppDB can be found at appdb.winehq.org.

Cutscenes Work Flawlessly in Wine 3.9

Cutscenes Work Flawlessly in Wine 3.9

According to the AppDB on the wine website, Fallout: New Vegas should work flawlessly in any version of wine since version 3.3. Excited by this, I downloaded the game to one of my Linux machines and got ready to play. The flavor of Linux I prefer to use is Lubuntu, a Ubuntu variant. The game downloaded successfully and I launched it with wine. The game bombed right at the title screen.

Depressed and annoyed by this, I checked my wine version I had install on my machine. You do this by opening a terminal and typing in the command, “wine –version”. I saw my machine had wine version 1.9 running on it. Users of Ubuntu and its variants who want to get a stable, system compatible version of wine up and running very quickly can use the the Synaptic Package Manager, search for wine, and install the most recent wine version offered within the “Universe” package repository provided by default upon installation of the operating system. This version of wine, while tested to work well with the operating system, is not the latest and best version of wine to achieve high compatibility with more recent Windows programs. To do that, you must go to wiki.winehq.org/Ubuntu and download the latest version using the instructions provided there.

We've Got Some Geckos to Clear Out.

We’ve Got Some Geckos to Clear Out.

There are three branches of wine versions that can be installed via the apt-get command on Ubuntu flavored Linux systems directly from winehq: stable, development, and staging. Stable is less error prone, obviously. Staging is what will hopefully be released with the kinks worked out in the next version. Meanwhile the development branch, despite its name, has turned out iteratively better versions of wine that can be used with relative stability until the next stable branch version comes out. The longer I get away from a stable wine version, the more I feel a need to use the latest development branch version.

To install the latest development branch version of wine onto my Lubuntu system, I first had to open a terminal and type in commands to add the wine specific repository to download the latest wine development branch packages. The first command I ran was to enable my system to download and install 32-bit binaries and code libraries necessary for wine to run any 32-bit applications. Interestingly, 64-bit Ubuntu systems are more apt to run fully 64-bit code as opposed to Windows systems where it seems many libraries still have a 32-bit variant, sometimes the 32-bit one is used by default.

sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386

To add the wine specific repository for the latest branches, run the following commands in the terminal. I ran these commands from my home directory.

wget -nc https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/Release.key
sudo apt-key add Release.key
sudo apt-add-repository https://dl.winehq.org/wine-builds/ubuntu/

Then run an update to pull down the latest package information.

sudo apt-get update

Finally, install the latest wine version from the development branch.

sudo apt-get install --install-recommends winehq-devel

Everything completed successfully, so I was finally able to run Fallout: New Vegas using the latest development version of wine on my machine. I reloaded the game and watched it crash again in roughly the same place. Hmmm, that’s not good. I checked my wine version again. Still 1.9! What happened!?!

The Ubuntu default wine installation from the universe repository installs its wine binaries into the /usr/local/bin directory and has all sorts of system links that call the wine commands located there. This directory is also part of the system path ($PATH), so any wine command contained there will be favored even over a wine command located in the /usr/bin directory. Meanwhile, the wine binaries for the latest development branch are installed to the /opt/wine-devel/bin directory.

It was at this point that I wrote a bash script to replace the old wine binaries in the /usr/local/bin directory with links to the new binaries in the /opt/wine-devel/bin directory. I opened a new file in a text editor and saved it as RefreshWineCommandsToDevel.sh. Once the script was run, all of my Ubuntu specific links were now pointing to the more recent version of wine. The contents of the script follow.

if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine /usr/local/bin/wine
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine64 ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine64
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine64 /usr/local/bin/wine64
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine64-preloader /usr/local/bin/wine64-preloader
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineboot ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineboot
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineboot /usr/local/bin/wineboot
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winebuild ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winebuild
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winebuild /usr/local/bin/winebuild
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winecfg ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winecfg
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winecfg /usr/local/bin/winecfg
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineconsole ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineconsole
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineconsole /usr/local/bin/wineconsole
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winecpp ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winecpp
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winecpp /usr/local/bin/winecpp
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winedbg ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winedbg
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winedbg /usr/local/bin/winedbg
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winedump ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winedump
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winedump /usr/local/bin/winedump
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winefile ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winefile
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winefile /usr/local/bin/winefile
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineg++ ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineg++
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineg++ /usr/local/bin/wineg++
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winemaker ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winemaker
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winemaker /usr/local/bin/winemaker
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winemine ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winemine
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winemine /usr/local/bin/winemine
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/winepath ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/winepath
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/winepath /usr/local/bin/winepath
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wine-preloader /usr/local/bin/wine-preloader
if [ -f /usr/local/bin/wineserver ]; then
    rm /usr/local/bin/wineserver
fi
ln -s /opt/wine-devel/bin/wineserver /usr/local/bin/wineserver

Once the script was created and saved with the above contents, I was able to run the script using the following command from the directory that the script was located in.

sudo bash RefreshWineCommandsToDevel.sh

After that, when I ran “wine –version” I received output indicating the current version of 3.9. Time to test out Fallout: New Vegas again.

Well, VATS!

Well, VATS!

It worked! Perhaps flawlessly? There were moments where it would briefly slow down a little or acted funky, but I remember having had a few problems with it when I used to run it natively on Windows. Looks like this was a success. All of the screenshots included in this article were taken from within Linux while running Fallout: New Vegas in Wine 3.9. Many thanks to all of the wine developers that make it possible to play these mainstream Windows only titles on the Linux platform. Wine helps me get closer to having a truly integrated universal gaming platform that will play all of my games.

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game – Nintendo Wii Game First Impressions

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game Title Screen

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game Title Screen

To make up for her having to play through Cocoto Magic Circus last night, tonight my wife and I pulled out Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game for Nintendo Wii. It was released in 2011. It was developed by Traveler’s Tales and published by Disney Interactive Studios.

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game follows the formula of most Lego games. The game seems to attempt to recreate the film it is based on scene by scene in a sort of parody: switching things up where necessary for younger audiences, to make the Lego blocks work with what is happening on screen, or just to make things more comedic for the audience. It really feels like you are replaying the movie in Lego blocks. The first four movies are represented, so it looks like there is no shortage of adventure awaiting us as we complete this game.

The split screen mechanics work well. Someone was playing as the dog in the lower left.

The split screen mechanics work well. Someone was playing as the dog in the lower left.

What made Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game a good title for us to play is that it is fully two-player cooperative. A second player can drop in and out of the game at any time by pressing the “+” button on their wiimote. Players can change which character they wish to play within the current scene by pressing the “c” button on the nunchuck. This is a fantastic game for two players to spend several hours having fun enjoying a single game together.

Captain Jack Sparrow using his compass.

Captain Jack Sparrow using his compass.

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game will let you be a team player or a jerk backstabber. Friendly fire is turned on by default, so hitting your fellow player will cause them to take damage. I haven’t checked if there is an option to turn off friendly fire, I need to look into that. True to her competitive form, my wife would hit me to knock me away from getting “her” treasure. The treasure totals collected will show up separately during the level, but they get combined at the end of the level. This game is truly a cooperative gaming experience, so there’s no need to be mean.

Choose between Pirates of the Caribbean movies to play through in port.

Choose between Pirates of the Caribbean movies to play through in port.

Sometimes I’ll get into an area in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game where I am scratching my head, unsure what to do next to progress in the level. I have therefore constructed a formula for progression that has served me quite well when working through a new area in this game’s levels.

1. Kill all enemies in the area. Make sure all damage that can be levied toward you is neutralized.

2. Examine the environment for things that can be built. Many environments are strewn with random Lego pieces that can be put together to create an item that is necessary to progress further in the level. Pressing the “Z” button puts pieces together. If you are stuck, walk around pressing the “Z” button.

3. Run around and look for items that show either a “c” button above them or a picture of another character that is required for you to play as in order to use that item. There were several things we had to do that required controlling a dog, or that could only be done by a specific character like Captain Jack Sparrow.

4. Use Captain Jack Sparrow’s compass to find anything that might be necessary in the area, dig for it, and use it.

We are commandeering this vessel. It's the nautical term.

We are commandeering this vessel. It’s the nautical term.

So far, the gameplay in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game has been very linear, but the game does not always hold the players hand and tell them exactly what they should do next. I think the game creators struck a refreshingly good balance between creating a challenging, fun experience and guiding players appropriately in how to play their game. After beating the first level, access to the beginning levels in all four Pirates of the Caribbean movies are unlocked, and the player can travel from the port to the current available level in any of those movies.

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game Game Disc

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game Game Disc

Quite the contrast to last night’s game, my wife wants us to complete and stream our progress in Lego Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game. I have had quite a bit of fun with it myself thus far. Obviously this would be a good title for children; the ESRB recommends this title for ages 10 and above. But I would also say this is a fun title for adults that want to play a nice relaxing game at the end of a day where they would like to enjoy only a moderate, light mental challenge while they laugh, have fun, and are entertained.

Cross-Up – Board Game Review

Cross-Up Box Cover

Cross-Up Box Cover

I found and purchased this board game, Cross-Up by Milton Bradley, at an antique shop in Sweetwater, Tennessee. When I saw it I turned to my wife and said, “Look! It’s Lucy from I Love Lucy!!!” Judging the cover of the game, I would assume that is what the publishers would have hoped a prospective buyer like me would have done. As can be seen in the image, the cover has a canned cursive Lucy signature. The signature looks nothing like the signature on the Lucille Ball Wikipedia page. Despite this and the image of her sitting behind the table, this game appears to have no further references to the great American icon.

Cross-Up has a copyright date of 1974. According to Wikipedia, 1974 was the last year Lucy was credited as starring in any particular movie or show. It kind of hurts me to look at her face. She’s like a grandmother smiling longingly at me, hoping she’ll get to play the game with me, while also sad and exasperated like she has low expectations that will ever happen. I hope they simply edited her picture onto the cover, otherwise I would feel sorry for the camera man who surely felt he must play the game she’s advertising to keep from breaking her heart. Enough about that, on to the game-play.

Cross-Up Game Components

Cross-Up Game Components

Cross-Up is advertised as a game for two or more players. I would like to know if there is a world record on the number of people who have played Cross-Up at one time. Four game pads are provided, but the five-by-five letter play grid is easy enough to draw out on a piece of scrap paper.

Cross-Up Letter Card Piles

Cross-Up Letter Card Piles

There are two decks of cards containing one letter on each card. The decks are shuffled together and dealt face down into six equal piles. Each face down pile is then turned face up and placed in a spot within the letter card tray. The letter frequencies are as follows.

A – 9; B – 4; C – 4; D – 4; E – 12; F – 3; G – 3; H – 3; I – 9; J – 2; K – 2; L-4; M – 3; N – 6; O – 8; P – 3; Q – 1; R – 6; S – 4; T – 6; U – 4; V – 2; W – 2; X – 1; Y – 2; Z – 1; Total: 108

It is best for all players to agree on a dictionary before play begins to alleviate the kinds of conflicts that arise out of playing word game board games. Take care when doing this. While house rules often state that if a word is in the dictionary it’s fair game, I noticed that the Merriam-Webster dictionary we were using had correct spellings of popular biographical figures, and we all know that’s not Scrabble kosher.

The rules say all of the players simply determine who will go first by mutual consensus. They obviously have never played a game with the people I play with. We used a single die, highest roller went first. Each player chooses a letter tile, calls it out loud, and places it prominently where everyone can see it. Then each player chooses where they would like to place that letter within their five-by-five play grid. Play continues in a clockwise manner with everyone drawing a card until 25 cards are drawn. Once players have filled out their play grids after the 25th letter, they calculate the points of the number of three to five letter words they were able to construct. The letters J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y, and Z are considered special letters. If a word contains one special letter, the total point value of that word is multiplied by two. With two special letters it is multiplied by four. With three special letters it is multiplied by eight. And with four special letters it is multiplied by sixteen!

Cross-Up Play Grid

Cross-Up Play Grid

The corners of the play grid are labeled starting in the upper left corner and going clockwise: A, B, D, and C. Legal words may be read horizontally A to B, vertically A to C, diagonally A to D, or diagonally C to B. The point values are rated below. As can be seen, it pays to favor diagonal words over horizontal ones. Five letter words are the brass ring.

Diagonal 5 Letter – 15 points
Diagonal 4 Letter – 8 points
Diagonal 3 Letter – 5 points
Horizontal/Vertical 5 Letter – 10 points
Horizontal/Vertical 4 Letter – 4 points
Horizontal/Vertical 3 Letter – 3 points

Cross-Up Final Score

Cross-Up Final Score

As you can see from our scores, I tend to be awful at word games. That being said, I think playing this game would help someone who was trying to become a better Scrabble player. The entire game could be viewed as an exercise in creating as many three to five letter adjoining words in a tight space as possible, an art that really separates the expert Scrabble players from the loser laymen like me. Cross-Up is a simple game that takes little time and preparation to play and is fairly enjoyable while it lasts. See if you can pick it up for around three dollars like I did.