Travel Loot

The Travel Game I Can't Stop Playing

by Pavia Rosati
Qwirkle in action. Photo by California Chaney.

I'm a big-time gamer of the pre-tech flavor. Games with physical components — cards, tiles, that sort of thing — are more interesting to me than moving pixels on a tiny screen. Especially when I travel. I sometimes forget to pack a bathing suit. I never forget a deck of cards and Bananagrams.

I have a new obsession: Qwirkle.

My husband and I were introduced to the game last New Year's by our always-fun neighbors on the version with big tiles, and I was thrilled to find a travel version, which I have since played in Venice, the Dolomites, New York City, and Asheville.

Qwirkle is a tile-based, rummy-style game for up to four players where the goal — insofar as board games can really have goals — is to make melds of six different shapes or colors. There's no formal board — just the flat surface in front of you at a table in your home, hotel lobby, airport lounge, or cute cafe.

The opening player lays out their best first move, and everyone then builds vertically and horizontally on what's been played. Sort of like Scrabble (without the board) or a crossword puzzles (with shapes and colors instead of numbers). Points are tallied for every turn, and the big score comes when someone makes a Qwirkle — six shapes or colors in a row. Because any good player will want to prevent their opponents from completing a Qwirkle, you play defense as well as offense. The game is at once simple and strategic, and therein lies the fun.

Another reason I love this game and have deemed it a new travel essential is that it's language-agnostic: You can play with strangers who don't speak the same language — as soon as you signal the rules in rudimentary gaming sign language. We learned this firsthand in Italy when three German couples who had watched us engaged in an intense game, approached to ask "vat ees ze gahm?" In non-existent German, we conveyed the rules, and they sat down for a match.

I've started packing an extra set to leave behind as a thank-you for hosts on my travels. I have yet to find anyone who doesn't love this game — young and old and everyone in between. It's a game for all ages, so expect to be beaten by your eight-year-old niece. Happy Qwirkling!

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