Quarto is a board game that makes zugzwang the star

Quarto is a board game that makes zugzwang the star

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Quarto is so easy to learn that I was both introduced to it and taught the rules over the course of a single, brisk, Tiktok. It’s a two-player board game that plays out on a 4×4 grid. Players take turns putting pieces on the grid. The objective is to get a line of four pieces, horizontally, vertically or diagonally, across the board.

This sounds like Connect 4, but rather than using pieces of different colours – I’m red and you’re blue – Quarto’s pieces are little towers that have a mix of four different characteristics. Pieces can be tall or sort, square or round, can be solid or hollow, and can be dark or light. Every piece is some of these things, so one will be dark, short, hollow, and round. Another will be solid, short, dark and square. The objective is to ensure that every piece in the line of four pieces you make shares at least one characteristic. You don’t have to place all the pieces in the line, but you do have to complete it, at which point you shout “Quarto!”

One final rule. Your opponent chooses the piece you play each turn, and you choose the piece they play.

@_thegamesweplay A better version of a childhood classic. #quarto #boardgames #boardgame #gamenight #gamenightideas #boardgamestiktok #recommendations #fyp #foryou #gamesfortwo ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

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Quarto is extremely good. God, it’s quick, too. Our set arrived last night and my daughter went from bemusement as I tried to explain the rules to absolutely flattening me in the space of ten minutes. I love the simplicity of it, but also the fiendishness. That 4×4 grid? Not a lot of real estate there, so you’re elbow to elbow from an early point in the game. I also love the ritual of politely handing your enemy the absolute most useless piece you can find, smiling at them sweetly, and wishing them well.

Deep down – maybe not so deep down, actually – I think Quarto’s about zugzwang, a word I might be badly misusing, but which is so much fun to type I’m going to take the risk. From my understanding zugzwang comes from games like chess, the idea being that it’s a state in which you have to make a move, but any move you make will damage you significantly, and you know this.

That’s Quarto. There gets a point where you’re going to have to hand your opponent a piece that will win them the game, or a point at which you’ve maneuvered your opponent into a position where they have to hand you a winning piece. So it’s all about tempo. It’s also all about your options disappearing. After about four turns each the board will often be in a state where nobody wants to play a light piece or a square piece anymore, say, as both are contributing to lines that are almost complete. You’re trying to screw over your opponent, but in this weird world of total information.

I’ve been after a game like this for some time, a game which is simple, quick, and sort of self-contained, by which I mean it draws you and the person you’re playing with so deeply into a shared world that you might as well both be sitting in the drum of a washing machine as you play. The rest of the world disappears. Strangers have no clue what you’re doing. And then the game turns against you and your enemy shouts, “Quarto!”

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