Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Qwirkle: Strategy 101

Simple rules and simple tiles allow for very complex play, especially if your opponent is skilled!  photo: Mindware

WHAT: Qwirkle by Mindware
DOES: simple rules allow for easy and fluid starts;  game scenario is ever-changing thus forcing you to be flexible
INVEST: $24.95
TOOLS: Flexibility is My Superpower, Remember to Learn, Lose and Win Gracefully (because points are on the side, you don't really tally until the end, so you're focused on shifting strategies instead)
EXPERT OPINION included:  Heather Goldman, PhD, Child Psychologist & Psychology Consultant, The Quad Manhattan
Giveaway Details below 

I had no intention of reviewing this game.  Like Scrabble, Connect Four, or Monopoly, I consider Qwirkle to be a real classic and so there isn't a need to review a game that everyone knows about, right?  And yet still, as with Imaginets, a reader asked about it but in this case, I had already purchased and had been using the game.  Thus, this time, I am using my reader's request as an excuse to talk about one of our favorite family games.

It is also Minnesota Week here.   This week, Squishy Circuits Store, a Minnesota company, left Toys are Tools the loveliest note while discussing play and learning.  Additionally, another MN company's product review had quite a viral response this week which now means that four of Toys are Tools' top seven most read-reviews are Minnesota-borne products.  What are they all eating there?  Can can it and sell it to us online?

On a more serious note, I am intimidated by classic games. I feel I have to be very brainy in my approach or be extra interesting when talking about it.   So here is one tidbit for starters: Qwirkle was born from a dream- not of the aspiring variety but rather the kind you get at night when you are asleep.

I wonder if the inventor has a notepad on her nightstand (like the dry version of an AquaNote). Regardless, one thing I do know is that creating a great game is not easy.  However, playing it should be easy but only easy enough to get started.  Mastery, on the other hand, should never be taken for granted.   Capacity to win should change with each new opponent(s).  Only the best games are going to be designed to motivate players to master it and allow you to get to know others through play.  Qwirkle is one of those games.

One great part is that there is a definite adult appeal to this game.  In fact, the simplicity really helps span different ages.   This can be a Grandparent vs. Grandkid game.   Seniors like playing games with kids, especially teens.   If you have a teen, give him Qwirkle and send him to volunteer in a senior center. I'm not kidding.  Both parties will gain from it.

Simple Rules But Not Simple Play

Qwirkle has pretty shapes painted on each black wooden tile.   They don't look intimidating but don't be fooled.  This is a game for vipers as it is for innocently inquisitive children.  The object is to get points and it is relatively easy to get a point (age rec is 6+).  That is the simple part or what I like to call: the hook.

But here is the hard part: as the game scenario becomes more complicated and you are constantly looking at your pieces and all the possible moves you can make. Only the most patient and strategic thinkers will prevail.  Additionally, if you happen to feel comfortable with shapes and their place in space (visual-spatial skills), this game is for you!  If you aren't, then you will still love it because the design of these tiles don't intimidate.  They can practice their strategic thinking skills with blue flowers, green squares, purple circles, or purple stars, etc.  There are 108 of these gorgeous wooden tiles that feel good in your hands.

This dynamic duo seems so laid-back and friendly.  No glitz needed here.  It's very respectful to the viewer.

"So I would imagine that as you play this game more and more, you are increasing these skills" Child Psychologist, Heather Goldman, PhD.

I remember when Number 3 first played this game with us.  She was so motivated and so focused that she was breathing as if she was sipping air.   Her eyes danced looking at the tile layout.  She couldn't stop smiling.  Qwirkle had been out since she was eight but she had never seen it before and she's now going to high school soon.  I love that.   Watching her enjoy Qwirkle for the first time, I felt the same way I did when I watched my kid try and love sashimi with that monumental first bite, chew, and swallow.   Like Qwirkle, sashimi is very simple and yet brilliantly complex.  It's about how much you take from it.   Will you chew or will you savor?

Choose Strategy and Choose to Savor

Like I said, I need to be brainy.   This game sports awards like an Olympic athlete so I wasn't about to write this review alone.   I called Heather Goldman, PhD, child psychologist, and Psychology Consultant at The Quad Manhattan, to steal some thoughts as to why this game is so awesome.  

When I play Qwirkle with Number 1 Son, he totally kicks my butt.  This always intrigues me because I want to understand why he does well here. Heather said Qwirkle sort of reminded her of the neuropsychological batteries she does with kids to assess their abilities.   With this particular game, what was very evident was that Qwirkle required you to "shift sets"  (a.k.a.  cognitive flexibility) which she described as being able to think in one way (make a row of red tiles) but then have to switch it (oh, wait, I can make a row of squares there).   Gosh, this sounds just like Mine Shift to me!  Being flexible is such an important skill.  I'm glad he's practicing that.

She also talked about how Qwirkle brought out opportunities for kids to practice inhibiting impulses.  That makes sense.  It's so easy to score a point but to score a Qwirkle or position yourself for more points per tile would take more thought.

A complete row of six is a Qwirkle and it is double the points (6 x2=12)   See the row of diamonds in the middle?   There are five.  I try not to make rows of five (5 pts) because with just one tile, my opponent can make accrue 12 points.  photo: Mindware

Crossword Puzzle Without the Words

Heather then brought up a perfect example of how a very similar strategy is exercised elsewhere.   "Where that comes up is doing a crossword puzzle because you think a word fits but then you have to be aware of: 'Okay, but does that letter fit with other words?' " Heather said.  "You have to look at all the clues around that word."

This ability to process the information and then figure out the pattern and features is something Heather tests for often.  In some of these tests, she is not supposed to help them.  They have to figure out the pattern but they are not told what the pattern is. 

"As you play Qwirkle more and more, you probably get better at it," said Heather, adding that one of the interesting things that she must assess is how many trials it takes for a child to figure out the pattern.

"So I would imagine that as you play this game more and more, you are increasing these skills,"  she said referring to cognitive flexibility as one of the major skills being practiced.  This is more believable to me if I think about sashimi again.  I hope you've tried it.  Good sashimi blows sushi out of the water.  You really can choose to appreciate it and savor it with each new piece you place in your mouth.  Like wine, the more times you try it thoughtfully, the more you will understand and appreciate it.

Is this crazy to say but don't you think higher quality pieces can also help inhibit impulses and bring on more grounded thinking? 

Wow, that totally rocks.   But wait, there's more!  The term executive-functioning came up often here.   When you have a few tiles on the table, figuring out where you can score doesn't get too hard but as the tile rows increase in number and are positioned so that you can't just put any ol' tile anywhere, you must then rely on your working memory to help you remember where to score and which areas you need to keep an eye on.

Wait, working memory, executive functioning, flexibility, crossword puzzles?  Are we talking about Qwirkle here?  Because my kid is really strong with his game but I am looking at these words that I just listed and haven't really viewed them as his major strengths.  It's actually quite the opposite (except for flexibility-when he starts talking like a law student and argues everything to his favor).  But seriously, put a crossword in front of Number 1 and he will reflexively look out the window.

So how can he be so good at this game and not so good at those challenging skills I just mentioned?!?!  Come back next week to read why kids who rock at this game may not show these skills in school and how you can use Qwirkle as a tool.   You'll have a chance to win Qwirkle Travel Edition too.  You will love it those pictures.  I promise!

Time to Win Your Own Qwirkle!  Remember to follow the rules!   The winning game can only be shipped to the U.S.  Sorry to my Canadian readers!  I'm always thinking of you!!! Ends: July 10, 2012 12:01 AM EST
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Dear Santa (because I'm already thinking about him now),

I do not review apps here but I certainly use them.  Can you ask to make an app for Qwirkle or how about Lab Mice?  I do believe it is possible.    Also, please tell the elves that if they don't know what to give a family or a grade school kid as a gift, this game is an easy hit.  It's hard to go wrong.  Just make sure they don' t have it already!!!

Your Favorite Toy Reviewer (hopefully),

Can't wait for the giveaway? Put it in your shopping cart today through my Amazon link!

In case you're wondering..... Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.  This product was purchased by Toys are Tools way before Toys are Tools became Toys are Tools.   Toys are Tools supplied Dr. Goldman with her review copy. 


  1. Probably not on my fridge, but their white board...

  2. Qwirkle may be a classic but I never played it or really ever took notice of it until I was exploring the MindWare website for games I would be interested in learning about. Qwirkle is so eye-catching I don't know how I missed it. I really like the photo of the hand holding. It gives me a sense of how large the pieces are and how big the playing surface would need to be.

  3. we've just started playing dominos, I like the twists this offers. Great review!

  4. I am so ashamed that I still do not know what to do with dominoes. I did hear of a dominoes game called Mexican Train that sounds interesting.

    Thanks for the compliments. This is a great game.

  5. Yvonne, great great comment! The Qwirkle game can get large and so a big table is great. So is the floor. The travel size can definitely work around those issues but the big pieces feel terrific and are great for little hands. Thanks for looking at the Mindware store. There's so many cool things. My current theory is that this kind of shopping saves a lot of time.

  6. On your fridge? whiteboard? Did you read my notes? You must be thinking like me. This game played with the pieces on the wall rather than a table is a great idea.

  7. It's funny, you called this a classic - but I've never heard of it! Would love to win it - think my son would love it.

  8. Never heard of it? I was afraid that it would be the case for some readers! But it's got classic status. It really does. You can play it open face to teach younger children too. Happy to share the good news!

  9. I love these types of games -- too bad I didn't have too many of these resources 25+ years ago! Great for the grandkids however!

  10. love it. i would play this with any kid (or adult).