Sunday, April 03, 2005

Review: Ingenious

Reiner Knizia's latest game is simply Ingenious. First released at the end of last year in Germany under the title Einfach Genial, this game generated quite a buzz. To say it was well received would be an understatement.

Ingenious is an abstract strategy game for one to four players. It's a very simple game with simple and elegant rules. You can learn this game in five minutes and you can play it in well under an hour. Like many of Heir Knizia's games, its simple rules belie a deep strategy game that is easily played but is not easily mastered.

Ingenious is played on a hexagonal grid. Each piece in the game resembles a domino formed from two adjacent hexagons. Each hexagon bears a different color-coded symbol: red twelve-pointed stars, green disks, blue six-pointed stars, orange hexagons, yellow suns, and purple circles. At the start of the game, each player receives a tile rack, six tiles, a scoreboard and a set of colored cubes that mark the players score in each of the six color-shape categories.

On your turn you place one of your tiles anywhere on the board you like. Tiles need not be connected and they need not be adjacent to any other tile. (Except for the first round when each player must play adjacent to a different one of the six symbols printed on the board.)

After you play your tile you score it. Tiles score points by being adjacent to hexagons that have the same symbol. For each of the two hexagons on your tile, you project a line in each of the five directions adjacent to that hexagon and you score one point for every matching symbol in that direction until you reach a non-matching symbol or an empty space. Here's an example from the rule sheet:

Here the player on the left would score two points in red and four points in blue. The player on the right would score twelve points in green.

After a player has placed his tile he draws his set back up to six and play continues to the next player.

Play continues until there are no more legal moves on the board at which point players compare their scores. The winner (as in Tigris and Euphrates) is decided by the player with the most points in his lowest scoring category. So players are rewarded for balanced scoring. There is little advantage in getting a huge score in one category; you must instead spread your scoring around as evenly as possible in all six categories.

Ingenious is one of those rare games that's so very easy to learn and so very difficult to play well. It's fast, it's simple and it's (ahem) Ingenious. If you like abstract strategy games then this game belongs in your collection.


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