Late last month a digital version of Quarto showed up Steam, and I’m much more enamored by it than I thought I was. An abstract game designed by a Swiss mathematician almost 30 years ago, Quarto is a simple and lovely game that requires you to really think, but occasionally feels more like a puzzle than a game. This digital adaptation from Games-Up and Asmodee Digital is faithful to the spirit of Quarto, and gives you one thing I didn’t know I wanted: The ability to play by myself.
Like most abstract games, Chess or Checkers or what have you, you could play Quarto with stuff you find around your house. It’s played on a 4x4 grid with 16 pieces, each of which is a unique combination of four traits—tall or short, square or circular, etc. The first person to place four in a row with a common attribute wins. The twist you might not expect is that each turn your opponent, not you, chooses which piece you can place. You’re constantly setting up delicate balances, looking at the pieces still available, and thinking a move ahead to set up a situation where your opponent can’t help but hand you a winning move. You’re also trying not to set up a situation where your opponent has a winning move you can’t see coming, or where you can’t help but hand them a win.
It’s a game with a serious less is more design philosophy. It may seem too simple, and like Chess it’s not a game you want to binge play for hours on end, but it’s a wonderful way to kill time and after a few rounds you can see why it has remained popular in board gaming circles for a quarter century. Further, what’s great about this digital version is that it implements lots of new ways people have found to play Quarto over the years—and trust me, there are a lot of victory variants and quirky rules limitations out there. This series of challenges and puzzles is really satisfying for one reason: You can do them by yourself.
It’s not always easy to get someone else to try a new abstract game, or to find an opponent as skilled as yourself. What I was pleasantly surprised by in this adaptation was the AI, which is pretty good, but not perfect. At its hardest difficulties, though, it’s a real course in how to be good at Quarto. It makes unexpected moves, trounces you with perfect board knowledge, and generally crushes your hopes in dreams over and over—beating it is the kind of brain burning strategy puzzle that I love.
You can also play it in hot seat, with multiplayer marked as ‘coming soon’ by the developer. Quarto is $6.99 right here on Steam.
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Jon Bolding is a games writer and critic with an extensive background in strategy games. When he's not on his PC, he can be found playing every tabletop game under the sun.