The ABCs of Gaming: I is for…

We’ve reached the I’s in the ABCs of Gaming, and we’ve reached the biggest controversy of the poll.  I’ll get into that in a minute, but for now: I is for…

image by BGG user CapAp

Ingenious is a 2004 game from Reiner Knizia, published in the US by Fantasy Flight.  It’s an abstract game for 2-4 players aged 10 and up that takes around 45 minutes to play.  It’s a pure abstract game, with players trying to link up shapes.  It’s a Knizia game through and through, and though it isn’t really what you would consider to be standard Fantasy Flight fare, it’s still an excellent abstract.

I’ll go ahead and get the controversy out of the way.  When I set up the polls, I tried to combine games that were part of the same system to open the polls up to other games.  For example, if I hadn’t combined all the Ticket to Ride games, four of ten spots would have been taken up by TTR games.  Even here in the I’s, I combined Ingenious with Ingenious: Travel Edition since they are essentially the same game.  However, I failed to combine Imperial and Imperial 2030.  I thought they were different games with the same brand, like Power Grid and Power Grid: Factory Manager.  However, as I have found out, 2030 is a reimplementation of Imperial with a new map.  It has been pointed out enough people voted for Imperial and Imperial 2030 that the system would have won the I’s with 20.2% to 17.8% for Ingenious.  After much soul searching, however, I’m just going with the poll as I wrote it.  There’s no guarantee that the Imperial 2030 voters would have voted for Imperial had they been combined.  Send all complaints to

image by BGG user acatalan

Ingenious comes with a board featuring a playing space filled with hexes.  The inner section is the only one used in 2-player games; the middle ring is added for 3-players; and the outer ring is added with 4 players.  Additionally, there are 120 double hexagon tiles and four player racks.  The tiles feature one of six different symbols on each side.  There’s a bag to hold them in, as well as four scoreboards and 24 counters.  My copy of the game uses cubes, but more recent editions use a peg board for keeping score, and that’s probably a better idea.

Each player begins with six tiles on their rack.  In order, players will take turns placing the tiles on the board in effort to score points.  There are six preprinted symbols on the board, and your first play has to be next to one of those, but after that, you can play anywhere.  Once you have placed a tile, you score it by considering each side of the tile.  From each symbol, trace a line out from each of the five open edges.  For each symbol in a line that matches your symbol, you score one point in that color.  So, if there are two yellow circles extending out from the yellow circle you just played, you get two points in yellow.  After scoring, you draw a new tile.

If any of your colors gets up to 18, you call out “INGENIOUS!” in your most pompous manner.  That’s not exactly how it’s worded in the rules, but you can’t help it.  Scoring an INGENIOUS! gets you a bonus tile play before drawing up to six.  You can’t score any more in that color for the rest of the game.

When no one can play any more tiles, the game is over.  Your lowest scoring color is your final score, and the winner is the player with the highest low score.  Yes, that is definitely a Knizia final score.

Ingenious is a very simple game with a lot of complex strategies.  At its heart is the tile laying, and trying to figure out how to best lay your tiles to score the optimal number of points while not giving your opponents any opportunities to score even more by piggybacking off of you.  The end score condition makes the game even more interesting, because you can’t just focus on two or three colors.  You really have to diversify and maximize all colors.  The biggest problem in the game is how badly analysis paralysis can set in once the board gets pretty full.  Still, it’s not bad.

I’ve gone on record as to not being much of a Knizia fan.  I feel that a lot of his games, while mechanically very tight and interesting, lack any soul.  There’s a lot of math, and scoring almost always has some convoluted twist that makes people’s heads spin.  Themes are generally slapped on, and hardly ever have any effect on gameplay.  In games where the theme is an important part (i.e. Lord of the Rings), his games feel very scripted and clunky.  All that being said, I think Ingenious is one of his best designs.  There’s no pretension of theme, which is a plus.  It’s just as abstract as most of his titles, and more entertaining because of the lack of theme to distract you.  In fact, it’s my second favorite Knizia game that I’ve played, only behind Blue Moon City.

I did not vote for Ingenious in this poll, though I am happy with it’s selection.  My choice was Incan Gold, the 2006 press-your-luck adventure game from Alan R. Moon and Bruno Faidutti.  That game didn’t even make the top 10, and had to be included with “Other.”  It’s a fun game about treasure hunting, and trying to not lose everything in your haste to escape hazards.

Let’s take a look at the also-rans in the I category:

  • Innovation came in second with 15.7% of the vote.  I talked about this 2010 civilization building card game from Carl Chudyk and Asmadi Games in a recent post when I put it up against Glory to Rome.  It’s a great game that I’m still having fun exploring, and I would have been happy if it had won.  I’m hoping to get the expansion sometimes soon.
  • Imperial came in third with 13.6% of the vote.  This 2005 game was Mac Gerdts’ second game featuring the rondel system, after Antike.  I’ve never played, but I watched it being played once and it looked pretty fun.
  • Other came in fourth with 12% of the vote.  Nominations included Igel Ärgern, Iliad, Illuminati, Incan Gold, India Rails, Industria, Infinite City, Inkognito, Inn-Fighting, Invasion: America, Iron Dragon, and Isla Dorada.  Of those, I’ve only played Incan Gold, and I’ve already given my opinion there.  Moving on.
  • In the Year of the Dragon came in fifth with 10.9% of the vote.  This was the third Stefan Feld game in the alea Big Box series (after Rum & Pirates and Notre Dame).  It was published in 2007, and is set in 10th century China.  I’ve never played, and don’t really know much about it.
  • Indonesia came in sixth with 7.8% of the vote.  This is a pretty massive game from publishers Splotter Spielen that came out in 2005.  The game is a pick up and deliver game set in Southeast Asia.  It is very highly regarded, but has always looked quite boring to me.  I can’t judge it until I’ve tried it though.
  • Ikusa was right behind Indonesia, in seventh with 7.7% of the vote.  Originally published as Shogun in 1986, this game was later reprinted as Samurai Swords, and last year was rereleased by Avalon Hill as Ikusa.  It’s a game set in feudal Japan, with factions battling for power.  I’ve never played.
  • Imperial 2030 came in eighth with 6.6% of the vote.  Released in 2009, this game featured upgraded components and a new map from the original version.  There were some tweaks, but as mentioned, it’s essentially the same as Imperial.
  • I’m the Boss! came in ninth with 3.2% of the vote.  This 1994 game from legendary designer Sid Sackson was all about negotiation and set collection.  It’s another that I’ve never played.
  • Inca Empire came in tenth with 2.6% of the vote.  Originally published as Tahuantinsuyu in 2004, White Goblin reprinted this route building game in 2010.  I haven’t played yet, but as Alan D. Ernstein (designer of the game) is a member of my game group, I’m sure I will someday.
  • In the Shadow of the Emperor came in eleventh with 2.1% of the vote.  It’s a 2004 medieval area control game, but I always want to call it Shadows of the Empire and set it in the post-movies Star Wars universe.

And there you have it.  Thanks for reading – see you in a couple of weeks for J!

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