Qwirkle's whimsical name, easy-to understand tile-laying mechanics and simple, bright pieces might initially make you think that this game is for kids. While it's true that the rules are simple enough for children, this matching game is as complex as any. A game of Qwirkle requires two to four players and shouldn't last more than an hour.
Before playing Qwirkle, make sure you have paper and pencil or another way to keep score. Players score points throughout the game rather than at the end, so you'll need to stay on top of the total. Clear a flat area between the players to serve as the playing space. Take the game's 108 tiles, each of which is marked with one of six shapes in one of six colors, and place them in the bag provided. Give the bag a good shake to "shuffle" the tiles, then let each player draw six tiles. Thee tiles are kept face down or otherwise concealed from the other players.
The First Turn
The player with the largest number of tiles of the same type -- that is, with the same shape or color -- goes first. Each player takes a number of tiles and plays them in a row on the playing area. All tiles in a row have to be either the same color or the same shape. For example, the first player might put down four yellow tiles or four tiles with a square on them. However, no two tiles in a row can match. If the first player put down a row of yellow tiles, she could not put down two yellow squares. Similarly, if she decided to put down a row of squares, no two of them could be of the same color. Once the first player has put down her tiles, she draws enough tiles from the bag to bring her total back up to six.
Once the first player's turn is over, play passes clockwise. The next player must place some of his own tiles to form a row building off one of the tiles played by the previous player, either starting a new row perpendicular to the first or adding to the length of a row. For instance, if the first player played a row of yellow tiles with no diamond in it, the second player could put a yellow diamond on the end of the row and then continue it into a row of diamonds at right angles to the first row. If he cannot play any tiles, the player may discard any number of tiles from his hand and draw back up to six.
Each tile in a row is worth one point. In addition, the player gets one point for every tile that was already in a row he extended. A tile can score twice if it is in more than one row. A player who plays a row of six tiles -- called a Qwirkle -- receives an extra six points. The first player to use the last of her tiles ends the game and receives a six-point bonus. Once the game is over, the player with the most points wins.
Expanding the Board
Although Qwirkle has no board, publisher Mindware makes expansion boards for the game. These boards introduce new modes of play, with one printed on each side of the board. In Qwirkle Select, placing a tile on a special symbol on the board allows a player to take a tile from the board and put it into her hand, while in Qwirkle Connect, players score extra points for connecting tiles already on the board.
Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.