Ingenious is an abstract game, with a solitaire variant, for 2-4 players. It was created by Reiner Knizia and produced by Kosmos. Ingenious is a relatively quick game, with most lasting around 40 minutes.
Gameplay occurs on a hexagonal board. The size of the playing area is determined by player number. Players select six tiles from a bag and play one of these domino style double hexagon tiles in turn. Rather than domino dots, six coloured symbols distinguish the tiles. Players score points by matching the symbols with adjacent pieces on the board. More points are gained if there are a number of lines of similar coloured tiles going out in long straight rows from each of the symbols.
What makes Ingenious different is the scoring system. Every player has their own scoring board. Each of the six symbols is represented on its coloured track and a corresponding peg moved depending on the points achieved each turn. There is a maximum of 18 points for each colour. Any additional matches beyond this might be considered wasted points.
If a player reaches the top of the scoreboard for all of their coloured symbols they will be declared the winner. Otherwise the game finishes when there are no more spaces to place tiles on the board. At this point the player with the single lowest colour score is the loser. The winner is the one with the least weakest colour! This means that the best strategy is to get every colour increasing steadily rather than focusing on one or two large scores.
Ingenious is a clever little game. It is suitable for adults and children alike. Young children can easily play with the tiles, match the colours and count up their points scored. Those needing more of a challenge can play strategically to block opponents. This might prevent them from accessing some coloured symbols that they might need. The rules are simple and Ingenious is easy to learn or explain to new gamers.
Visually, the board and tiles are very clear. The folded board is made of thick card with six bright symbols printed as starting positions from which to build. By having colours and symbols, this avoids any confusion for gamers who might have colour blindness. The tiles and symbols are easy to identify and are of a good size. This enhances the playability of the game.
My only criticism is that in my older version these tiles seem slightly thin and do not have the tactile presence of other tile games such as Azul. Similarly, the player’s tile rack is light-weight plastic and sometimes has a tendency to fall over, exposing ones hand. The scoreboards are strong and study but can be a little fiddly.
How Does it Feel to Play?
Ingenious is a turn-based tile-laying game. Sometimes other players' placement of pieces will thwart your plans causing you to rethink your strategy. Therefore, pre-planning a number of moves in advance is not possible. Players need to react to the board on their turn. This will mean some patience is required for players who like to over-analyse possibilities.
For most turns your best move is invariably to place tiles to get maximum points. However, sometimes you might be better playing a tile of a weaker colour. This might get fewer points overall but may mean you will no longer be the player with the weakest colour. Towards the end of the game there is a scramble to avoid being the player in this position. Players with no weak colours can often prevent others from scoring and consolidate their winning position.
Every game will finish within about 20 turns (once the board is filled). Whether you win or lose may be partially determined by the tiles drawn from the bag. At the end the board looks very colourful with symbols grouped (for maximum points).
Finishing with a completely filled board (minus one hexagon) does have quite a pleasing quality about it. It is extremely rare for one player to win outright by completing their scoreboard across all six coloured symbols and to do so is a moment to savour.
Alternative Game Variants
Ingenious lends itself nicely to two variations; four-player partnership and a solo solitaire game. In the four-player team game, players are paired into two teams. They each have their own tiles but contribute to a joint scoreboard, with a maximum score of 36 for each colour. House rules can determine whether communication between team members is permitted. By playing in pairs, a greater selection of tiles (12 across both players) will reduce some of the random selecting of tiles. Scores are more likely to reflect skill in tile placement and scoring rather depending on the tiles drawn.
In the solo game a player aims to achieve the highest possible aggregate score for all six symbols. Only one tile is drawn at a time and played immediately. In this variant two scoreboards are used to double the maximum score for each coloured symbols to 36.
Final Thoughts on Ingenious
Ingenious is a good, solid family game. It is not aggressive, is timeless and its simple rules and scoring make it very suitable to encourage anyone to venture into board games.