Monthly Archives: January 2017

Qwirkle Cubes: Can the son of Qwirkle live up to Dad’s reputation?

cube

Qwirkle from Mindware is one of the top selling games in the world. It also won the prestigious 2011 Spiel des Jahres award as “Game of the Year” in Germany. It’s simple, fun and one of my favorite games.

It’s become very common in the game industry for publishers to try and milk every penny out of a top-selling product by creating a host of offspring. So when the folks at Mindware asked me to look at Qwirkle Cubes, during the New York Toy Fair, I was wondering how it would stack up against the original. Did the acorn fall far from the tree or not?

Object of the game:

Just like Daddy, this game has players creating lines based on either color or shape. The difference is, instead of tiles you have dice. And dice can be rolled and re-rolled to change their value. You score points based on the number of cubes in a row and earn a Qwirkle bonus for making a line of 6 in a row.

Components:

You get a cloth bag to draw the cubes from along with 90 Qwirkle Cubes. There are 15 in each of the 6 colors. Each cube has all 6 of the Qwirkle shapes in the same color. You also get an instruction booklet which has the rules in English, French and Spanish. Lastly you get fairly flimsy corrugated cardboard box. It’s up to you to supply paper and pencil, so some other means, to keep score.

Game Play:

Each player starts the game by drawing 6 cubes and rolling them. Unlike Qwirkle, where your tiles are keep hidden from the other players, your cubes are visible for all to see. At the start of your turn you decide which of your cubes you want to re-roll and then roll them. You can choose any amount including none. Then, just like with Qwirkle, you add cubes to the grid. You can only add in one line and all the cubes you add must share a single attribute, either shape or color. You score points, the same as in Qwirkle, for the number of cubes in a line that you create. If you create a line of six then you shout out “Qwirkle” and get an extra six point bonus. Lastly, you draw cubes to bring your hand up to six and roll the new cubes. In one significant different from the original game, if you have no legal move then you re-roll all of your cubes until you can make a play.

How does junior stack up against his old man?

You can see other players cubes and that allows for more strategy in playing your turn. Of course your opponents will have the option of re-rolling, so you can’t be 100% sure what they’ll have when their turn begins. Since each cube has all 6 shapes in one color, the colors they have will not change, only the shapes. The re-roll rule gives you more opportunity to get that missing shape and again adds a strategy element that doesn’t exist in the original game. It’s the same basic game play but I think it’s a more strategic game as you know what colors your opponent has. In fact, I like that aspect of the game so much that the next time I play Qwirkle I’m planning on trying it with the tiles visual to all players.

What’s not to like?

The only feature of Qwirkle Cubes that I don’t like is the box. That’s right, the box. It’s what the packing industry calls a Tuck Top Snap Lock Bottom (TTSLB) box. It’s what I call flimsy. I’ve never seen a TTSLB game box hold up over time. They aren’t designed for lots of opening and closing. It wouldn’t be a problem if Qwirkle Cubes was a crappy game. However it’s a great game and that means the box, like doors on the bus, will get opened and closed all day long.

Highly Recommended:

First Blocks by Haba: Quality Trumps Quantity

haba

When in comes to consumer goods, we live in a Mega-Sized society. Everything seems to be super-sized, as if a product isn’t worth purchasing unless there is a lot of stuff in the box. Where we once had Small, Medium and Large for sizes, we now have Giant, Jumbo and Mega. You can go into a toy store and easily find children’s blocks in sets with hundreds of blocks.

First Blocks by Haba http://www.haba.de has only 8. That wasn’t a typo, it has exactly 8 incredibly wonderful blocks. The set contains: a car, a driver and 6 building blocks. So what makes First Blocks so special? It’s the quality of both the design and construction. The set is designed to stimulate a wide range of senses. One of the blocks has a mirror on one side, another has wooden beads inset and a third has a bell. The designs that are printed on the blocks are embossed giving some nice tactile feedback. Haba uses only water-based paints and varnishes. Safety matter to them and it shows. Unlike a lot of other painted blocks that I’ve seen, the paint doesn’t start to chip off when the blocks are banged around or chewed on.

The colors are bright and the shapes simple. It’s a product that is made to foster creative play. Each of the blocks engages a child’s brain in a different way. And best of all, did I mention that it has only 8 blocks? For those of us that often say “We’re gonna need a bigger house” when we cast our eyes out over the sea of mega-sized toys our children have accumulated it’s nice to have something that’s both compact and engaging.

My son Josiah never seems to get bored with this set. It’s almost always the first toy he reaches for.

Highly Recommended

You can get First Blocks locally at:

The Play House Toy Store

702 9th Street

Durham

It’s a great store, they even have a lending library, so you can try an item first.

Tumba: More than just a dexterity game

tumba'

Tumba is a block stacking game from Poof-Slinky designed by the team of Noel Donegan & Luz Java. Before I tell you my thoughts on the game, a little disclosure. Noel and Luz are friends of mine and Poof-Slinky will be releasing one of my games this summer. If you’re saying, “Ah, he’s just shilling for a friend and a business partner” feel free to click the next button and pass on Tumba. If you do, you might just miss out on a great game.

The heart of the game is 50 rectangular blocks that players take turns stacking on top of each other. The blocks are made up of five cubes, each one being one of five colors (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green and Orange). At first you might be tempted to dismiss the game as a Jenga clone with lots of pretty colors. Well, remember that old adage about not judging a book by its cover? Tumba offers a lot more strategy while keeping the tension of not wanting the tower to fall.

Game Play:

The game play is quite simple. Take all 50 blocks and place them in the cloth bag. Then take the plinth and set it on the table. The plinth is just a wood block that you use as the starting pedestal for your tower. Noel and Luz came up with a clever opening, as the plinth has three slots, two parallel to each other and the third perpendicular to the other two. If the starting player wants to make a more challenging game they can use the single slot. For a more stable tower, use the two parallel slots. On their turn, players draw a block from the bag and add it to the tower.

Building rules:

Here is where things get interesting. When adding a block you can only build color on color. With five colors and 50 blocks, each color appears in each position exactly ten times. Part of the strategy is knowing what blocks have been played and what blocks are left. If the tower falls on your turn then you are out.

Challenges:

If you draw a block that you think can’t be played, either because you don’t have a color match available or because you think the tower will fall if you placed it on any available color match, you can declare “No Play”. The other players can decide to accept this, in which case you draw a replacement block. However, if another player does not accept this, they can challenge you. The player challenging then must place the block on the tower. If the tower falls then the challenger is out, otherwise you’re out.

Game End:

After the tower falls, the remaining players start a new tower. This continues until only one player is left.

Going Solo:

It’s not really a game with only one player, but it’s a nice challenge to try and use all 50 blocks without the tower falling.

More Strategy:

The game involves a mix of strategy and dexterity. If you want more strategy I have a nice variant for you. Get rid of the cloth bag and just place all 50 blocks on the table. Then, when it’s someone’s turn they can choose any block they wish. Don’t allow a No Play declaration. You’ll now have a game where players can try and leave their opponents with no legal play.

Conclusion:

If you hate dexterity games, Tumba probably isn’t for you. However, if you like dexterity games then you really need to check out Tumba. It’s available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target and lot of other stores.