How do you spell sesquicentennial?

Is that even a word?

How do you have that many tiles?

Are you cheating?

And so ends another game of Scrabble.

I do not know about your family, but growing up, my family played a copious amount of Scrabble.

I lovingly remember sitting around the table with my family and maybe, on a good day, beating my sister while being demolished by my mother and grandfather.

My family loved the game so much we splurged on the most expensive version. We had the fancy set with the swiveling and recessed board to hold the letters in place.

Nowadays, I do not often have a chance to play Scrabble.

My wife offered to play a game with me one time during our engagement — it lasted two turns.

Her first word was followed by my piggybacking on her word to play all seven of my letters in an eight-letter bingo for enough points that she immediately packed up the game … and we have not played since.

My children, my other regular game partners, are just now reaching an age where they can — much less might want to — play Scrabble.

As my family has changed, with new additions and some losses, Scrabble has been allocated to the shelf, but there was some part of it I still desire — a little bit of the puzzle.

Qwirkle has filled that need for me.

It is a two- to four-player tile-laying game, by designer Susan McKinley Ross, that shares a good deal of what to me is the essential Scrabble experience.

Like Scrabble, Qwirkle is played with a set of square tiles. In Qwirkle, players take turns, using a portion of their tiles to add to the array of crisscrossing sets of tiles already in play and thus scoring points, also just like in Scrabble.

The game ends much like — you guessed it — Scrabble, when the tiles run out and one player places his or her last tile.

For me, it is that element of searching out where you can play tiles within the constraints of the rules, for maximum points, that is at the heart of Scrabble. That puzzle is what I love, and Qwirkle delivers it in full.

Qwirkle has those elements in a tighter grid, as if you played Scrabble with a group of professional crossword puzzle creators, and I love it.


There are differences, however, and my mother, who enjoys both games, reminds me that, to her, Scrabble is about the words. That is the key difference: Qwirkle is not a word game at all.

The tiles in Qwirkle do not bear letters, but rather one of six different basic symbols in one of six different colors, making a set of 36 different tiles.

The constraint on tile placement is Scrabble is that you must make real words. In Qwirkle, you must match either symbols or colors in a group, but not both.

This means that there is no more advantage to those readers who have amassed vocabularies filled with obscure verbiage and little-known nouns.

I still have not forgiven one opponent for my not knowing that an “umlaut” not only is a thing, but also a legal play.

For some, that will set Qwirkle apart from Scrabble. If words are what you want, like my mother, look elsewhere.

My kids can play Qwirkle competitively with me and my mother, as well as all other family members who disdain word games because they make them feel less intelligent when they cannot look at a jumble of letters and see “parsimony” or “petrichor.”

It is just colors and shapes, which I will admit can be a problem for those with any colorblindness.

I still get to scour the board for that perfect place where a few judiciously placed tiles can score me a mountain of points, but now I don’t have to worry about defending my spelling or pulling out the dictionary to prove a word really does exist.

In the Qwirkle box, which you can find at Target or possibly some Walmart stores, you will find a set of 108 tiles — three of each of the 36 possibilities — as well as a rules sheet, and a bag to store tiles and help to randomize tile draws.

The price of the box will vary, but it averages out to the lower $20 range, depending on which of the many printings of the game you find.

Personally, I suggest hunting down one of the early Mindgames publishing editions, as they have great wooden tiles that are well printed and a well-sized and very functional canvas bag. Those printings tend to retail for between $25 and $30.

Some of the cheaper versions tend to have minor printing issues, such as symbols that are off center, and the bags can be a little small, but unless you are a real stickler for perfect presentation in your game bits, like me, these issues will not bother you.

One last thing I want to mention about Qwirkle: On a large number of copies of the game, you will find a little sticker that proudly proclaims that Qwirkle won the Spiel des Jarhes award in 2011.

The Spiel, as the name of the award often is shortened to, is the highest honor that can be given to a board game and designer.

Literally the game of the year in Germany, the Spiel is awarded once a year in Germany and ensures a million copies or more will be sold in Germany, the world’s largest board gaming market.

If Ark City Daily Bytes keeps letting me write game reviews, the Spiel des Jahres will be something I reference again, and it probably will have its own article eventually.

Let me just sum up by saying that little sticker speaks volumes in board game circles. If I teach you nothing else in this column, remember that if you see that logo on a box, the game inside is good and probably deserves at least a consideration for a spot on your game shelf.

Now, on to forgetting that list of 10 words with a Q and no U, which I memorized so I finally could beat my mother at Scrabble…

The Game Is Afoot is a column written for Ark City Daily Bytes by Ark City native and guest contributor Dustin Ward.