Ingenious: Who’s Smartest With Symbols?
At first glance, Ingenious looks like a game of Scrabble or Dominoes but with abstract symbols on the tiles. Each player has a rack of tiles (double sided; like Dominoes). The tiles are pairs of connected hexagons. These tiles are hidden from the other players. On their turn each player puts a tile on the table/board to score points; like Scrabble.
But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Does it take genius to win? Ingenious is a Parent’s Choice Silver Honor Award winning game by the legendary Reiner Knizia. It plays 1-4 players in 30-45 minutes and is published by Thames & Kosmos.
Begin the game by placing colored cubes at the beginning of each symbol row of your score track. Draw six tiles from the bag.
On your turn, play a double-sided tile to touch one or both of its symbols with matching symbols already on the board: either pre-printed start locations, tiles previously placed, or both.
For each symbol on the tile you placed, score for every matching symbol, extending in a straight line in each direction. Tally your points for each symbol and track them on your own personal scoreboard.
Mechanically, that’s it. It’s so elegantly simple! This is one of the great things about Ingenious; it’s so easy to grasp.
As in many Reiner Knizia games, you must advance all symbol categories equally to win. The winner is the player with the best lowest score. This means you shouldn’t max out some categories at the expense of one or two. If you did, an opponent with a very mediocre score (3-4) in each symbol would beat you.
Despite the simplicity of the tile play and scoring, Ingenious has immense strategic depth in a variety of aspects.
Much of the game is knowing when to play certain tiles with various symbols; but is can be very difficult to gauge. Essentially, you’re guessing to some degree what the other player(s) will play on their next few turns.
“If I wait to play blue stars until later, I might score more points, since there’s only 1 blue star out there. But if I wait too long, the good spot where I trigger a long line of orange hexes might get taken, or even worse, get blocked. I don’t want to get blocked.”
Experienced Ingenious players can use a well placed blocking tile to almost lock down a victory.
For example: If the game is more than half over and another player has a very low score in purple circles, you may choose to look for ways to block accessible purple circle tiles. Though you may sacrifice some scoring by placing a tile to block instead of score, this would force that player to have to restart the symbol group.
To start scoring in purple again, someone has to put a purple tile out that scores nothing, have it *not* get blocked, then invest a lot of turns in growing the purple group with more tiles. This is very cumbersome, inefficient, and difficult. There might not be enough time to get the purple scoring engine going again before the game ends.
Maxing out any symbol/color score to 18 gives the current player an immediate second turn. Deciding when to do this and getting multiple bonus turns at the right times (even in a row!) can be a very rewarding feeling, as well as a strategic coup.
Whenever you have no tiles in the category you have the lowest score in, you may swap your tiles. The timing and decision about this (even creating the condition on purpose) can be very important as well.
Ingenious is a very solid game without many problems. But, because you are drawing tiles out of a bag, there is a high luck factor. As with all other luck games, it can be frustrating when you aren’t drawing what you need. Swapping tiles is a way to mitigate this to some degree.
The inclusion of double-tiles with the same symbol is a potential for imbalance. The ability to score big with tiles having the same symbol on both ends can be very influential. If one player gets no same-symbol tiles and the other gets several it can feel a little unfair.
While the elegance and simplicity of Ingenious makes it a great game to pick up and learn, after many plays (maybe over 20-30 games) it can feel a little bit deja vu. There are only so many unique situations of symbols in clusters on a board you can see before it feels similar. But since you can pick up Ingenious for just $20, this might not be an issue.
Ingenious is a great game with great accessibility for new players and depth of strategy for experienced players. We wouldn’t recommend it to players who don’t like abstract games or those who want very long term unique replayability.
If that’s not you, definitely consider Ingenious. When you can peg that one category at 18 and get that extra turn, then use it to block someone in a key spot to clinch the win, you do have a moment of feeling like you’re pretty smart. You might even feel like an Ingenious genius.
Head over to Amazon or your friendly local game store to pick up your copy of Ingenious today!
Thames and Kosmos provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of Ingenious for this review.
Number of Players: 1-4
Age Range: 8+
Play Time: 45 minutes