Quoridor – an elegant game of strategic wall-building

The rules for Quoridor are a paragraph long. You can understand everything you need to play the game in just a few minutes of watching someone play. The whole game takes five, maybe ten minutes. And yet it’s completely absorbing, deeply challenging, often surprising, uniquely compelling.

The game is played on a 9×9 grid. Deep channels separate the squares. These channels are deep enough to hold a “wall” – a thin wooden rectangle wide enough to span the border of two squares. Each player has a wooden pawn. The object of the game is to be the first player to advance her pawn to the opposite side of the board. Each player, in the two-player version, also gets ten walls. On your turn you can either move your pawn one square horizontally or vertically, or you can add a wall. These two choices seem remarkably familiar, elegantly embodying a fundamental political dynamic: to advance our own cause, or to prevent the opposition from advancing. The result of this debate is the creation of an evermore complex maze, again depicting something remarkably familiar to anyone engaged in political discourse. Republicans, democrats, lovers, parents, children.

As Rob Solow reports, Quoridor is such an elegant game that it can be easily played (with some minor modifications) with a 5-year-old. And that is another important thing to note about Quoridor – because it is so easy to understand, because it’s components are so few and so functional, it is also easy to modify. Like tic tac toe, Quoridor invites you to come up with new ways to play. Rob talks about giving the weaker player more walls. Since you can play several games in a half-hour, it is easy to create a handicapping system where the losing player gets two more fences for the next round.

Quoridor comes with four different-color pawns. In the four-player version, each player gets five wall pieces, and the pawns start out in the center of the board rather than on the opposite ends. This points to yet another variable – the starting position of the pawns. Then there’s the rule for what happens when two pawns meet. In the standard rules, they get to jump over each other. But that, clearly, is only the beginning. And one can’t help but gleefully contemplate the implications of a two-player version with four pawns.

Quoridor exemplifies the kind of thinking game that prompted the creation of the Major FUN award. It can be intensely competitive, but its elegance and brevity make playing the game itself fun, no matter who wins.

Designed by Mirko Marchesi, Quoridor is another beautifully rendered wooden game from Gigamic, available in the US through the wise auspices of Fundex Games.

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