Designer: Reiner Knizia
Artist: Scott Nicely
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
I don’t own many abstracts apart from the GIPF series. Ingenious or Einfach Genial is one of Knizia’s most popular and well known abstracts that I own and it has become a classic for us. Even though most of his games are already pretty simple and abstracted, this one has absolutely no theme whatsoever. Unfortunately, you can no longer find new copies of Ingenious as the game is no longer sold under the “Ingenious” label due to trademark disputes. There is a new version called AXIO and it is a remake of Ingenious. However, as I understand, the two games may share the same mechanism, but there are significant differences in the shape of the tile and some rule tweaks.
Ingenious is a domino-type tile laying game with each tile consisting of two hexagons fused together on one edge. This uniquely-shaped domino tile is then played on a hexagonal array printed on a game board with the size of the play area on the game board depending on player count. Each hexagon is printed with one of six possible shapes with each shape also spotting a different color for maximum contrast. This means each domino tile has 2 shapes, one on each of the hexagons, and they can be the same or different shapes.
Players are playing these domino tiles on the board to score points. Scoring is a little hard to explain: Basically, after playing a tile, players will check to see if there are matching shapes on the board from previously played tiles. For each matching shape adjacent to the one just played, as well as those that form a continuous, unbroken chain radiating from the active tile, each shape scores one point. Since there are two shapes in each tile, up to two shapes can be scored. In this way, players are placing tiles, building upon what was collectively played in previous turns to score maximum points by matching adjacent shapes. This can have snowball effect as players score large chunk of points depending on the pre-existing clusters of shapes on the board.
The game score track goes up to 18 per shape and if players get to the end of each track and score 18 points, they get a free turn and play again. As per usual Knizia games, the winner isn’t just the person with the most point. Instead, all players look at their own score board and identify the shape with the lowest scoring point total. That is the final score for each player and the one with the most points for their weakest scoring shape is the winner. In other words, to win, one has to advance all scoring cubes at the same pace so that there your weakest performer is still good enough to beat out everyone else.
The game supports up to 4 players and there is a partnership game for 2 vs. 2 players as well. In fact, from what I understand, a partnership game for Ingenious with 4 is actually highly recommended though I have not tried. I think this game will also be suitable for a kid who has prior exposure to Euro games, perhaps starting as young as 6. I intend to give it a spin with my kid soon.
I think there are decisions to be made in Ingenious and just like any other Knizia game, the opportunity costs of an action is pretty clear. You might want to place a shape some place to rack up a chunk of points because it is building upon a pre-exisiting cluster collectively set up by the players. Doing so will score oyu a chunk of points as you can hop on the scoring bandwagon. However, if you already have a lot of points for that shape, is that a wise move? Should you not instead invest in improving your lowest score even though you may only get a few measly points from that play? It it tempting to get a lot of points for something you may not need just because you can do it. Often times, if the board situation is tight, scoring the few extra points in a shape that no one is paying attention to can be the difference between winning and losing. This is particular true if after placing the tile and scoring those points, you manage to seal up the area with a defensive move so that no other players can capitalize on that cluster.
Ingenious is a game that can be taught in 5 minutes and played in 30. The game isn’t particularly complex nor brain burning, but it has enough depth to make the game feel both light and hefty at the same time for lifestyle and casual gamers alike. I would say it is lighter than all the GIPF series. It is also long enough that it is not just your average filler, yet short enough to function as a night cap after a game night. Even if you are not a fan of abstracts, Ingenious is worth a try. Which is why the game falls into this very nice niche that Knizia is known for.
Final word: Good