Quarto!
Gigamic, 1991

Quarto is a beautiful abstract strategy game along the lines of tic-tac-toe. In Quarto, you are trying to get 4 in a row of any of the characteristics of the pieces, which are either short or tall, light or dark, round or square, solid or hollow.

The first player picks a piece and hands it to their opponent who places it on the 4×4 board, then picks out another piece and hands it back for the first player to place. This adds a layer to the strategy as you have to not only concentrate on where to place your piece, but to also be careful about which pieces you are handing to your opponent.

Quarto comes in several different variations including a full size game, a mini game (about 4″ wide) as well as travel and magnetic versions. Quarto Mini is the newest iteration, from Gigamic games. It has elegant packaging, beautiful real wood pieces and is handy to throw in a suitcase or bag to have as a filler for when you have a few minutes to kill. It plays quickly and is accessible to many ages.

I was taught this game many years ago, and liked it quite a bit, but never seemed to get around to picking up the full size game. When I saw the mini version come out, I was quite excited by the smaller size, which will be much easier to carry around with me. This game would make an awesome gift for a gift exchange or would make a good stocking stuffer (if you have a slightly larger stocking). A nice addition to any collection. Versions with plastic pieces can be found for around $15. I would recommend spending the couple extra dollars and picking up the Mini version with the real wood pieces for $25 (Note that the board is made of composite wood) for a better tactile experience. Especially if you intend to give it as a gift.

Recommended in any version.

DixitDixit
Asmodee, 2008

Dixit is a storytelling card game and won the Spiel de Jahres in 2010. The game is made up of 84 abstract art cards. Expansions are available that also have 85 cards, so there is a lot of variety available.

Each player has a hand of 6¬†cards. Gameplay starts with the storyteller choosing a card from their hand, placing it face down in front of themselves and giving a short word or phrase that describes the card. This phrase should be somewhat cryptic. Each other player chooses a card from their hand that they feel best matches the storyteller’s phrase and plays it face down. Then all cards are collected, shuffled and placed out faceup. Each player then votes for the card that they feel best matches the description. If no one or everyone selects the storyteller’s card, then the storyteller gets no points, and each other person gets two¬†points. Otherwise the storyteller, and everyone who voted for them gets three points, and each other player who received a vote gets one point per vote on their card. The object is to get to 30 points (various different editions of the game have different point tallying mechanics). You cannot vote for your own card. The story teller doesn’t vote, but uses their vote to indicate their card, so will always “vote” last.

The storyteller must carefully craft their wording to that it isn’t too obvious (or everyone will vote for theirs and they get no points) or to obtuse (in which case no one votes for them).

For example, the picture on the cover could be described by the storyteller as “Adventures in reading” “Imagination” or “And they rode off into the sunset”. Using the word book or waves in the description might pinpoint this card too much. Sunset might also do the same thing, but since it isn’t the focus of the card, could be abstract enough to get by. Using “Imagination” might not be specific enough, but gives the overall “feel” of the word, so would probably get a vote or two. Much of the voting and storytelling will depend on who you are playing with and is a good “get to know you” game.

With a little of “Apples to Apples” and a lot of artistry, this game is fun for all ages. A good imagination is very helpful, and I probably wouldn’t recommend this game to incredibly literal thinkers. Playing with kids is good, but they will probably tend to be very specific about their cards. This game can be great for teaching abstract thought and storytelling.

Very much recommended for creative minded folks.