INGENIOUS – not native to my gaming room.

When you look at my game collection, one of the things that sticks out is that the majority are pretty “light” games, or can be seen as “non-gamer friendly.” One of my latest additions certainly follows this theme: INGENIOUS from FFG.

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The simple cover doesn’t give too much information about the game or theme, but there are two things visible that made this an immediate “must have” for my game collection – the FFG logo, which always means quality components, and the name Reiner Knizia, one of my favourite game designers.

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INGENIOUS looks like a simple game similar to something like dominoes, but with colours and shapes rather than pips or numbers. That’s the beauty of this game, especially when playing with casual groups – if you can grasp the concept of matching colours and symbols, you’re well on your way to understanding the gameplay. The real strategy comes, of course, in the scoring mechanism.

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When you play a tile in INGENIOUS, you collect points based on how many similar shapes you connect to in a straight-line. Each tile contains two shapes, each with 5 open sides – you count matches out of each side for each shape and mark the score on your tracking grid. Starting out, you may pick up 1 or 2 points per shape, but as gameplay progresses, you are bound to hit motherlodes collecting multiple points in multiple directions.

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Because this is a game designed by Knizia, there’s always the scoring twist: in INGENIOUS, your final score is dictated by the LOWEST score on your tracking grid. While it’s fun to lay down those double-star tiles and collect 9 points in a quick go, you quickly discover that you’ve missed out on getting red or orange and chances run out quickly as the board fills up.

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Our first go round with this game, which had 3 players and took about a half-hour as we learned the rules and rarely remembered to refill our hand after each turn, we were aware of the lowest number determines the score rule but it wasn’t really the driving force – we were much happier collecting the big strings and sliding our counters across the board. Only when the game was over did we see that we were focusing on the wrong side of the score grid, and things changed significantly during the second play. You need to keep moving all of your markers forward, shoring up the weak links, while still looking for opportunities to max our your score to get the INGENIOUS reward of a double-play turn.

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When you hit 18 points with any colour, you get to shout “INGENIOUS” and lay another tile immediately. Of course, we immediately defaulted to yelling “INDIGENOUS” ’cause that’s how we roll. The components have a great tactile feel, and gave me a craving for mint cookies (they’re thin and dark). Also, there’s a certain amount of joy when you get the perfect double-shape tile – you can quickly turn it into binoculars or voodoo eyes.

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In the end, INGENIOUS is a fun, quick and simple-to-grasp game that found fans in the casual gaming players, but also provides some deeper strategy and quirky gameplay that I appreciated. Another winner from Knizia, and another FFG game finding its way to the replay shelf.

Posted in James On Games