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Subject: [Review] Ingenious rss

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Tom Vasel
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Ingenious (Fantasy Flight Games, 2004 - Reiner Knizia) finally made me stop and realize something - I just didn't dislike abstract games as much as I thought. I wasn't really expecting much to enjoy the game, but the fact that it had contended with Ticket to Ride for the Spiel des Jahres in 2004 made me wonder. The simplicity of the game, along with a smidgen of luck, and the ease of play - all of these appealed to me. And I realized that I LIKED this game, thus shattering all my prior conclusions about the abstract genre.

Probably one of the things I like best about Ingenious is how it played equally well with two, three, or four players. The scoring mechanic, which isn't new to the game, seems to be custom made for it. The gameplay is very intuitive - anyone who has played dominoes will quickly catch on; yet the strategy is certainly deeper than dominoes. Ingenious combines simplicity, luck, and strategy in the perfect combo. It's not one of my favorite games, but it's one I enjoy playing, and one which I find easy to bring out and play with just about anyone.

A hexagonal board, made up of a grid of hexagons, is placed on the table. The outer two rings of hexes may or may not be used in the game, depending on the number of players. Each player takes one score board and places six colored cubes on the starting position of six tracks. They also take one rack, placing six double tiles from the bag on it. The youngest player begins, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.

Play is extremely simple. On their turn, a player chooses any of the six tiles on their rack and plays it on the board - on any two empty adjacent hexes of their choice. Players normally want to place the tile next to other tiles (or one of six starting locations - imprinted tiles on the board) but don't have to - except on the first turn. After placing, the player traces straight lines from each hex in the tile they placed. For each identical symbol in this line (that ends at a different symbol or empty space), the player scores one point, moving the matching colored cube on their score board accordingly. Players can score in one or two colors each turn. Afterwards, the player draws a tile to replace the one they played.

There are a couple of special rules. If a player has no tiles that match the color of their lowest score currently, they may reveal their tiles to the other players at the beginning of their turn, discard the tiles back into the bag, draw six new tiles, then take their turn. Also, if a player reaches "18" with any of their colors, they immediately can play one more bonus tile onto the board for each "18" they get. Incidentally, "18" is the highest score a player can get in any color - once they hit it, they can no longer score points in that color.

The game ends when players can no longer place tiles on the board. At this point, players check their scores - or more specificially, the score of their lowest color. The player whose lowest score is the highest is the winner, with ties being broken by the next lowest color, etc. It's faintly possible (and I've seen it happen), that a player can also win by reaching "18" in all six colors.

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Ingenious is one of those games where one has to make sure they have everything put in right, or the box doesn't close. The box is one of the large square types: very sturdy, with a professional looking design. The board is quite nice, with the two outer rings of hexagons shaded, so that a player can easily remember which ones they can use for the game. The tiles, which are the heart of the game, are chunky plastic bits, and really feel satisfying to plop down on the board. They look good, fit together pretty well, and I enjoyed how each one had a different symbol and color, so that one could use either to identify them. The cloth bag included is nice (although bursting at the seams to fit all the tiles in), and the racks provided held the tiles well. The scoreboards were quite useful, and it's easy to move the cubes on - with the only problem being that if a scoreboard is bumped (which happened at least three times in our games), it's difficult to remember what a player's score was in each color. Still, excellent components all around, Ingenious is certainly a pretty game.

2.) Rules: Ingenious comes with one page of rules that are the same size as the box. They're large enough for full-color illustrations and examples, because the rules for the game are that simplistic. In fact, when I teach the game, I simply have to take a moment to show how scoring works (it's easier to show than it is to tell), and quickly explain the two special rules - and off we go. It's one of the easiest games I've been able to teach, and teenagers and adults have latched onto it very quickly.

3.) Scoring: At first, players will simply plop a tile down in the spot that gets them the most points, regardless of what color it is. Soon, however (and hopefully it doesn't take a game to figure this out), players realize that they need a spread of all the colors, and that sometimes taking a lower score - but one in their lowest color - is more important. Still, opinions may vary even on this. I've seen some players try to shoot some of their colors up to eighteen as fast as they can, so that they might get the bonus tiles out. Other players will also take a turn and score NO points, just to place a tile strategically to mess up other players.

4.) Interaction: As I just mentioned, a player can attempt to place a tile in such a manner as to annoy their opponent(s). This drastically can affect the game. In games where players do this and attempt to be confrontational in their tile laying, scores tend to be lower. Games in which players simply concentrate on their own scores tend to end up with a much final higher score. It all depends on the mood and attitude of the players. Personally, I prefer to play the game much more confrontationally, but with a more "cooperative" group, I could easily play the other way. Great care must be exercised when playing that a player must not get too dependent on needing one specific color - because the other players will quickly shut that color down - blocking off all routes to getting good points.

5.) Fun Factor: Most people that I've taught the game to really enjoy placing the tiles down and matching them on the board. It doesn't require much thought, the tiles look beautiful, and players have enough options to keep them occupied. The gameplay itself only takes about twenty to thirty minutes, and that works well for people's enjoyment of the game. Some that I've taught it to have enjoyed it but not requested another playing (they are fond of theme, which Ingenious certainly doesn't have), but I haven't met anyone yet that has disliked the game.

6.) Players: Ingenious bills itself as one to four players, and for once - this is correct (many games advertise that they play well with a certain number of players, but they really don't). I can't say which number of players I enjoy it with the most - it seems to play equally well with 2-4. The solitaire game, while not necessarily my cup of tea, does make for a unique "puzzle-type" situation, in which players are simply trying to score the highest score possible. This is fun in its own fashion, but I prefer to try and play off of the other players' tile layings.

If you like Dominoes, or are looking for a simple game that offers a great deal of tactical options, then Ingenious may just be what you want. The game, upon an initial glance, doesn’t look that fascinating, but it plays better than most games and is certainly one of the easiest abstract games I've ever played. The lack of theme may hurt it in some folks eyes, but the game is so quick, so simplistic (with a bonus strategic value), and looks so good on the table, that I think it should be a requirement for pretty much anyone's collection.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"
www.tomvasel.com
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Allen Doum
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So, Tom, what's the theme?
 
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Eric Haas
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TomVasel wrote:
There are a couple of special rules. If a player has no tiles that match the color of their lowest score currently, they may reveal their tiles to the other players at the beginning of their turn, discard the tiles back into the bag, draw six new tiles, then take their turn.


You do that at the end of your turn, not at the beginning.
 
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Tom Vasel
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Possibly, but the more I play abstract games lately (QQChess, Darter, Yinsh, etc.), I like them more and more. I still love a good theme - but abstracts are growing on me.

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