Qwirkle can be described as Scrabble using shapes and colours instead of letters. You create "words" in the playing area, where the tiles in a word must have the same shape of different colours, or the same colour of different shapes. You score for each word you make on your turn, 1pt per tile in each word. If you make a Qwirkle - a word with 6 tiles, which is the longest word possible - you score double, i.e. 12pts. There are six shapes and six colours in the game, making 36 combinations; and each specific combination appears on three tiles. So 6 x 6 x 3 = 108 tiles in the game. You play until the tiles run out, and one player runs out of tiles to play. On your turn instead of playing tile(s) to make a new word, you can forfeit your turn and exchange any number of tiles with the bag.
There are four Qwirkles in this photo. Horizontal blue word with all six shapes, horizontal orange word with all six shapes, vertical circles word with all six colours, and vertical stars word with all six colours.
Qwirkle won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres. It isn't the type of game that I actively seek out to play, but since I had the opportunity to try it at Carcasean (Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia), I gave it a go. The rules are immediately familiar, because of the Scrabble-like mechanism. I expected a rather simple game. However as I played I found myself counting tiles, estimating probabilities and seriously strategising. The game may be a bit more strategic with 2-players, because it is easier to calculate. There's a 50% chance that a specific tile will be drawn by you.
I found that I often had to make tough decisions. It is always good to make a Qwirkle, and it is usually not easy to do so. You need to keep some tiles and wait for some more specific ones that allow you to make the Qwirkle. This takes up space in your hand of only six tiles. It is not easy to keep two or more options open, and often you need to play some tiles that you could have used to make a Qwirkle. You may even have to risk helping your opponent make a Qwirkle. There is brinkmanship in making long words. The longer a word is, the easier it is to extend it enough to make a Qwirkle. Do you want to set up an opportunity for yourself at the risk of letting your opponent grab it before you can?
Since all tiles will be drawn from the bag, as the game nears completion, it can slow down because the players have more and more information to calculate probabilities and to plan moves. I didn't find this a problem. I found it tense that time was running out and I needed to draw those few specific tiles to let me do a few more big scorings.
Qwirkle is better than I expected. Easy to teach, and quick to play, but there are some interesting decisions and there is a bit more strategy than meets the eye. You can play to deny the long words by making some positions unplayable. Or you can gamble and create many opportunities for making Qwirkles. Whether to forfeit a turn to draw new tiles can be a tough choice too. You are forgoing a scoring opportunity, and you may not get useful tiles.
I'm not sure whether I would call this a light game, despite the simplicity of the rules. I guess you can play it without thinking much or calculating much, but I think this brainless approach would be a waste. There is some strategy in the game. Nothing overly complex, but it's there, and it's fun. I think it deserves the SdJ win - a good family game that everyone can play.