Reiner Knizia comes in for a fair bit of stick from a section of gamers. The whole thing about his games being dry and lacking in theme can be true – even stuff like his Lord of the Rings game feel a bit like the game was developed first and the LotR story was laid over it. To be honest, if that works for him, fair play to him – his designs still sell well even if not everyone is a fan. I must admit that I don’t like everything he’s responsible for, but I’ve recently been playing one of his games released back in 2004 and have really been enjoying it.
Ingenious is a tile-laying game with relatively simple rules and a trademark Knizia twist. Between two and four players have a rack of six tiles before them, each one basically two hexagons joined together. Both ends of the tile have a coloured shape printed on them, one from a selection of six – think of them like oddly shaped dominoes. Once per turn, a player selects one of their tiles and places it down on the hex-tiled board in a bid to either score points or prevent other players from doing so.
Scoring initially sounds confusing but is easy enough to pick up on. If the tile you’ve just placed has the same symbol (or a row of them) adjacent to it, you’ll score a point for every symbol. You don’t just score in one way though – moving out from the tile in five different directions opens up the opportunity to get a lot of points through clever placement. Both ends of the tile are scored in this way, then the points are added to your own score track. Players are aiming to get as many points of possible, as you’d expect, but here’s where the twist comes in.
As the game goes on, you must make sure that you’re pushing all six of your colours in relatively equal amounts. If you happen to leave one or two behind, this could well cost you a victory because when the game draws to its conclusion, each player’s worst-performing colour is their final score. If you manage to get five colours into the high teens but neglect to score your final one, leaving it back in single figures, your opponents will find it very easy to defeat you.
Each of the six scoring tracks goes from zero to eighteen and should you manage to get a peg all the way to the end, you’ll be granted an extra turn before replenishing your rack. Keeping an eye on your lowest scoring colour offers the chance to discard all your tiles should you not have any of that colour available in front of you and acts as a nice way of keeping all players in contention. The game can also be won if a single player gets all six coloured pegs to the end of their scoring rack but this is a very rare occurrence – it even says so in the rules!
It only really takes a couple of turns to get your head around the game’s core concepts. The idea that the “highest lowest” scorer is the winner can be a little confusing for players who aren’t used to designer games, but the rules include clear examples that demonstrate how things work.
Thanks to this comparatively simple ruleset – play a tile, score points, draw a tile, continue until there’s no space left – I’ve found that the game is very accessible to a wide range of potential players. Sure, early games will see most people simply racing to score as many points as possible, but it isn’t long before they realise that there’s a second layer of tactics to consider: cutting off your opponents while still ensuring you have access to score colours that you still need.
This is when Ingenious truly comes into its own; seeing that realisation dawn that there’s not only the potential to get points for yourself but also to screw over your fellow players is both funny and terrible – funny because they get all excited that they’ve learnt a new concept, terrible because you know they’ve taken that step and are now a much stronger opponent…
The latest version of the game has been produced by Esdevium here in the UK and it’s a very nicely put together set. The board is solid, the 120 tiles are light but sturdy and the whole package has a satisfying heft to it. My copy has a couple of tiny printing issues on two tiles (two blue stars are missing a point!) but that’s the only downside I see with this production run.
All in all, I honestly believe it’s one of Knizia’s better games. Even non-gamers are drawn to it thanks to the rows of bright colours that form on the board over the course of play, and a quick explanation of what to do will get everyone up to speed in moments. Sure, there’s an element of randomness there thanks to the necessity for tile drawing, but being able to discard your rack should you need to compensates for that quite well. This abstract levels the playing field between players of all ages and skills impressively and is a great introduction for new players to games that are a little different to the norm.
Ingenious is designed by Reiner Knizia and was originally released back in 2004 (when it was also nominated for the Spiel des Jahres). The latest version is made by Esdevium Games, plays with between two and four people (though there are solitaire rules too) and is available for around £25. There’s also an iOS and Android conversion of the game that is pretty faithful to the original and well worth checking out!