We review Korean import title Eco-Links and then do a quick take on the modern classic Qwirkle.
Published By: Korea Boardgames
Designed By: Günter Burkhardt
Player Count: 2-4
Note: Korea Boardgames provided a free review copy for an honest review.
Eco-Links is an import game from Korean publisher Korea Boardgames and designed by Günter Burkhardt who is behind such titles a Dragon’s Breath, Kupferkessel Co, and Seeland. For 2-4 players, Eco-Links is a simultaneous puzzle game where players try to link a single path to 6 different spots on their board. All players have the same pieces (with different environmental art – one is the Arctic, another swamp, etc) and race to be the first player to link the path and solve the puzzle. There are certain rules to the tile-laying action like you have to lay one single continuous path, the path cannot dead-end without a dead-end tile and cannot exit off the board without an animal piece on the edge of the board. Oh, and you must fill in the board completely with tiles. The first player to finish the path grabs the 1st player token and flips a one-minute sand timer. Now all other players have until the timer runs out to complete their path. Only the first two players to finish the puzzle correctly scores any points. After X number of points (or there aren’t enough scoring tiles) the game ends. To read the full rules you can check them out on BGG at https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/169386/english-rules.
Eco-Links is made for puzzle lovers. If you don’t enjoy puzzle style games this one may not be for you. While I am not a huge fan of real-time games, the real-time actually makes the game more enjoyable as you’re pressured to not only finish the puzzle but do it faster than everyone else at the table. Eco-Links has some great components, everything is top notch quality and the player boards are even dual layer allowing the little animal pieces to remain standing as you speed through completing your puzzle. Each puzzle is set up similar to Ingenious – six tiles are pulled randomly from the tile stack and those are the six numbers you stick animal tokens on around the board and to connect in one path. Because there are only six numbers used and 18 possible places means there are a ton of combinations and games solutions are different each time. Also, those placement tiles serve as points (1st player take the highest number token as points) – which is a great way to not have too many components on the table as you’re already spreading out all your tiles. I should also add that Eco-Links has a handicapping mechanism if needed, where when players when they lose certain mark tiles (see rules for more on that). Because of this, I am pretty confident that all puzzles have multiple solutions, ones that can be reached with or without these special pieces
One of the possible solutions in Eco-Links
So what about the gameplay? This game the pluses and negatives seem to really stand out with Eco-Links.
The negatives include: If players are really bad in this game, it is never-ending. If no one wins, you just keep going and going and going, the end game trigger which is usually X points or running out of placement tiles (which double as points) doesn’t happen. Now, this can be house ruled with the highest number being put back in the box in each round that no one wins, but without that house rule, it can really drag on. To that effect, if you are playing three players, and 2-players match each other in skill and the 3rd one doesn’t, it could feel like the game is dragging on for them as well. Also, the frog’s habitat tiles can be harder to read over the others, not just because there isn’t as strong a contrast, but also before all the other ones are clear paths and the frog gets lily pads dots. In fact, my 10-year old son, once he switched from frog/swamp to another set – did NIGHT and DAY better in the rounds. Also a minor issue, I don’t know if its because I live in Florida or they are cheap but the sand timer quick working on our second game, and we ended up having to use a 1 min timer on the cell phone.
Positives/ Final Thoughts: That may seem like a lot of negatives, but there are just as many positives if you’re a puzzle game lover. It also has rules for a handicapping system (some tiles have special markings for this) and I can think of two or three ways to further handicap the game if needed, it is easily handicapped for more equal play. Also, though it says 2-4 on the box, if teachers wanted to use this in the classroom as a single brain teaser puzzle, I could actually see that working. Often in our plays, some of the players that weren’t done yet when the timer went off still wanted a minute to be able to finish their puzzle. However, the main positive is that’s it is a great and fun puzzle game if you are into puzzle style board games.
Note: MindWare provided a free review copy for an honest review.
Qwirkle is an abstract tile-laying game where players attempt to make a run with either colors or shapes in a crossword-style grid (think Scrabble) directly on the table (no board for this game) scoring points for each tile in the run. If you complete a run of six different shapes of one color or six different colors of one shape, you score a “qwirkle” and claim extra points. The player with the highest points at the end of the game wins.
I am not sure there is much to be said that hasn’t already been said about Qwirkle. The fact the game is still in print after 13 years, over 3 million copies made, and has won the Spiel des Jahresin 2011, tells you it’s a fun and widely played game. It has been called a gateway game for bringing people into the hobby, and I think it could also be called a “reverse gateway” game causing hobby gamers to consider more family style games. So why does it appeal to new and seasoned gamers and why has it’s success lasted more than a decade?
Qwirkle is a game that is very easy to grasp and casual enough to be played while chatting at family functions, which I suspect played a role in it becoming such a popular game with the mass market. While at times I am lukewarm on Qwirkle and tend to like the iPhone version better due to it automatically scoring, I do get the huge appeal it has. I really do understand why people like the game, it’s one you can introduce the game to anyone in your family from gamers to non-gamers, young or old. If there is any chance you will be playing games at family functions with grandma, kids or non-gamers, or even looking for a game to play with friends over coffee, this one is a safe bet to have in your collection.