Full disclosure: A review copy of Quarto was provided by Hachette Boardgames.
I’ve really been getting my money’s worth from Board Game Arena, lately. Probably over a thousand plays this year, just online? It really is kind of wild, getting back up to my pre-pandemic board gaming pace. It’s also a bit exhausting waking up to 14+ active games where it’s my turn, but, I mean, games are fun. I’ve also been able to play a number of Gigamic’s abstract games over Board Game Arena with some of my less-local friends (shout-out to Susan for Quarto, specifically, though my first in-person play was with Beka) as a nice way to keep interpersonal connections alive and well even when I’m leaving my house far less than I used to. So that’s nice. But yeah, one game I’ve been playing a fair amount of lately on BGA is Quarto, an abstract game! So let’s dive into it and see how it plays.
In Quarto, players are trying to get four pieces in a row. The challenge here is that all sixteen pieces are unique along four distinct axes. To get four in a row, all four pieces must share at least one common attribute. If that weren’t confusing enough, your opponent decides which piece you play on your turn! Pass pieces back and forth in a strategic attempt to trap your opponent into letting you win the game. After all, it’s always better to give than to receive, probably.
Essentially none. Take the pieces, and set them within view of all players:
Place the board nearby, as well:
You’re ready to start!
Quarto is a surprisingly simple abstract game. Your goal? Four in a row. Sounds familiar, so let’s add a few twists. Each piece in Quarto is unique:
- Light or Dark
- Hollow or Filled
- Square or Round
- Tall or Short
Your goal is to get four pieces in a row that share at least one common characteristic among them (all dark, all hollow, all short, et cetera). The challenge is this: on your turn, you choose a piece and hand it to your opponent. They play that piece, and on their turn, they choose a piece for you to play. The first player to get a line of four pieces in a row (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) with at least one common characteristic wins!
For additional challenge, try adding in the 2×2 variant, which also allows players to win if they form a 2×2 square with at least one common characteristic.
To be more beginner-friendly, try reducing the complexity. Start with the win condition being “four pieces of the same color”, and then “four pieces of the same color or height” and then “four pieces of the same color, height, or shape” and so on. Mix and match as needed.
Player Count Differences
None! This is an exclusively two-player game.
I probably shouldn’t offer too many strategy tips, given that I’m terrible at this game, but here goes.
- There are four areas of difference for each piece, and each piece is unique. Keep that in mind. Some pieces can look similar if you’re being hasty, but just try to keep in mind what the distinct types of pieces are. I find that it can help to keep them grouped for both players to use as a point of reference.
- You really need to think a couple moves ahead, on this one. Seeing how the remaining pieces set you up for different scenarios based on what you and your opponent both play is pretty key to your success. It’ll help if you have a few plans and contingencies for the various possibilities that can occur during a game.
- Don’t forget that your goal is to force your opponent to give you a winning move; that means you want to make it such that your opponent can only give you a piece that will win you the game. I usually think of it as “if I play this piece, what possible moves can my opponent make?” When doing that, that leaves me with where they might move and what my subsequent options will be. If I end up in a scenario where they can’t give me anything that will block me winning, then I win. So just try to trap your opponent! Set up situations that they might miss, for starters. Just be careful; you don’t want to fall into your own trap! And that can happen a lot, especially if you’re playing a particularly savvy opponent.
- I tend to think about plays as how many possible pieces they eliminate. This is, I think, the easiest way to plan. Once I place X piece, well, then I can’t give my opponent any squares or any dark pieces. So what can I give them? What’s remaining? Using that to gradually reduce my available options also lowers the complexity of my turns, since I have far fewer pieces to think about.
- For the Advanced Game, there are even more ways to fail; keep an eye out. The very-real thing that happens is players forgetting to track the possible 2×2 squares that can be filled in such a way that their opponent wins. It’s a common issue, so keep track of that!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- High-quality pieces really make the game feel like a classic part of the modern gamer’s collection, which is nice. I just find wooden pieces classy, to some degree. I think it harks back to seeing a lot of fancy offices with chess sets and stuff (I knew a lot of lawyers, growing up, for unrelated backstory reasons). But I find that Gigamic has settled on a very specific design language and branding for these games, and they all look super classy as a result. Pylos, for instance, felt great because the spheres were so nice; Quarto is a lot of fun with its high-quality pieces, as well.
- The game takes essentially no time to learn, which I’m always pleased with. I’ve basically explained how to play in its entirety twice over the course of this review and it’s still one of the shorter reviews I’ve written in a hot minute, which is impressive. A lot of my favorite abstracts are really quick to learn, which I appreciate, and Quarto is no different, here.
- It’s very easy to dismiss this game as Gamer Connect Four, but it really is quite strategic and interesting. Connect Four is a solved game, if you’re familiar with games getting solved, but I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a lot less about making a four-in-a-row and more about pushing your opponent into a trap by limiting their options. It’s a very different kind of strategic experience, and I like that a lot.
- It plays very quickly, which I appreciate. This is just kind of a go-to requirement for me for abstract games. I want a game that I can play a few times in a session so that I can develop a sense of familiarity with it quickly.
- The game also belongs to a nice category of games where it’s very easy to replay after losing. Or winning, if you win, I guess. I usually call these “Rack ‘Em” games since, like pool, I just end up re-racking for another game whenever I lose. That’s often. I’m not good at pool. But these quick abstract games invite a lot of replay just because they’re easy to learn, quick to set up and tear down, and fast to play. These are all great things for me (and for players looking to get into abstract games from a relatively new standpoint). The tougher and more complex abstract strategy games are fun, but they don’t always do as good of a job ramping players up.
- Giving the piece to your opponent to play is just different enough that it really throws off my strategic thinking. I like it. I’m not sure what’s so unique about it for my brain; I think I just haven’t done that before? This also avoids the part of my brain that doesn’t like “I cut, you choose” games, so, that’s good. I think it’s a very fun bit of strategy, though, trying to give your opponent a piece that will set them up for a major failure. It feels great when you can land that, and watching them escape your trap is also satisfying in a frustrating way.
- As befitting the Mehs, a very whiny complaint, but the pieces are kind of generic-looking. I think they could have been funner shapes than square pieces and round pieces, I suppose is the point I’m trying to make. They’re fine, but I could imagine a particularly striking set existing that I would also like.
- I worry a bit about the pieces or the board getting goofed by just flopping around inside of the box; this is where a nice insert or something would have been really good. Especially since there are so few pieces, it would be nice to have some way of storing them outside of a thin bag so that they don’t just kinda smack into the edges of the box.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I like Quarto a lot! I think it’s probably not going to beat some of my favorite two-player abstracts, but it’s a striking piece, and I think I’ll keep it around as part of the collection in part because it’s so new-player friendly. I think I just like the way a lot of the Gigamic games in this series look, first off. They make me seem like a fancy person who has Interests rather than some thirty-year-old adult man whose bread and butter is games for ages 13 and up. But enough of that. I think Quarto is the strongest of the ones I’ve played so far, both because of its simplicity and its subsequent complexity. I underestimated it a bit when I first played, but Quarto really shines after digging into it with the same play partner a few times. You start guessing what pieces the other player is trying to go after and setting traps for them in the long-term so that you can try and trick them into giving you the game. It’s speed chess but you’re playing with each others’ pieces. Quite fun. The low barrier to entry is particularly nice because I’m trying to find more games to play with my friends and family who are gradually getting into board games. I’ve been playing this one quite a bit on Board Game Arena, as well, and the quick, snappy play with limited options makes for quick and fast games that are fun to play and reset and play again. It’s a solid introductory abstract that offers some room to grow for players (with an advanced variant) and a nice on-ramp for beginners (with the more introductory variants). If you’re looking for a solid and quick little abstract, you’re a fan of the Gigamic line, or you just want some four-in-a-row shenanigans, I’d recommend Quarto! I’ve enjoyed playing it.
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