While I adore video games, I'm equally fond of board and card games. On the Table is a weekly feature of my cBlog that examines some of these analog entertainments. If you have a suggestion for a game to appear in this column or suggestions on how to improve it, please let me know.
Mazes are integral to the development of a gamer. We encounter them everywhere in our youth, from published collections to the Sunday funny papers and the backs of our cereal boxes. And we've never really escaped the maze as an essential component of gaming. The entire FPS genre consists of one maze after another, they've just tossed in more barriers between point "A" and point "B".
Quoridor takes the maze as a concept and makes it a competitive endeavor. Two or four players position themselves around the board with the objective of getting their pawn from one end of the board to the other first. On each turn, a player has a choice to make: Advance or Impede. In addition to the pawn which progresses across, every player has fences that can be placed into the slotted grooves surrounding each space of the board. You may sacrifice your movement for a turn to place one of these fences on the board and restrict your opponent's movement.
In a two-player game, this forces you to plan a little bit of strategy. You are never allowed to completely fence in your opponent, but you can make things as inconvenient as possible for them. At the same time, the other player could be counting on using all those fences you laid, causing a massive detour for you in the late game which lets them race to the finish. Do you fence early or late? How much time should you spend gunning for the goal and ignoring the encroaching enemy?
A four-player game can be absolute chaos. Fences might fly in from all directions in very quick fashion, building one on top of the other. It almost becomes just as co-operative as it does competitive. Two players, operating on opposite sides of the board, can work together to shut out the players moving perpendicular to their path. A truly devious player might even be able to convince all of his opponents to squabble amongst themselves long enough to make a break for it.
The game is produced by Gigamic and, like most of their titles, features all wood pieces. I'm less pleased with the design of Quoridor when compared to Quarto or some of their other releases, if only because the "fences" don't really lend themselves well to a coffee table. They're small and could easily get lost, particularly if you have an animal or small child in the household. It's one I wouldn't leave sitting out on display, but is well-manufactured.
Speaking of the kiddies, a children's version of the game was released a few years ago, called (appropriately enough) Quoridor Kids. The differences between the two are minimal. Original Quoridor is played on a 9x9 grid while the Quoridor Kids plays on a 7x7, reduces the number of fences given to each player and changes the pawns to adorable mice. The games run a bit shorter as a result but strategy remains largely unchanged despite the differences.
Quoridor is a fun game, but a few things keep it from being a strong recommendation. The restrictions on players, being limited to only playing with two or four people, reduces its playability. The strategy is a little abstract for young kids and could be frustrating in spite of the simplicity of the rules, though they'll probably have fun just playing with the board and fence pieces. It does have a considerable level of replay value from the standpoint of how limitless the options are in building your mazes but, after a while, it feels like every game plays out the same way. A digital version of the game is available here
for those interested in giving it a shot.
All said, this one is an entertaining diversion for two or three rounds, but will probably wind up just collecting dust in your closet. It's not pretty or functional enough to keep out all the time and too casual to keep dragging out for additional rounds of play. Fun, but far from a must-have.
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