Review: Ingenious
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Year: 2007
Tagline: An Amazing Game for 1 to 4 Brains!
Players: 1 to 4

how we met

Ingenious had been on my shelf of shame for a long, long time (if you are not familiar with the self-flagellation of board game enthusiasts, a shelf of shame is the term for any group of games you have purchased but not yet played). I probably found Ingenious at thrift four or more years ago. The cover is simple and implies the abstract game that it is. I have seen it at thrift before, but not much. It was just elusive enough to entice me, without me knowing anything about the gameplay.

Also, realistically, I probably looked Ingenious up on BGG and saw the incredible rating. There’s not a trick in the book that can pull a game out of my hands at that point.

how it plays

Although Ingenious is listed as a 1 to 4 player game, the 1 player game is a solitaire version that I have not tried and probably will not discuss. The rules will cover that if you are interested, and if you have tried it as solitaire, I’d love to hear what you thought!

Each player gets a score board and a little rack that will hold their tiles so that only they can see them (like in Qwirkle). Players should always begin their turn with six tiles on their rack. The size of the board will vary based on number of players.

A look at the board behind my rack of tiles
A look at our early play

On their turn a player chooses one of their tiles and places it on the board with the goal of creating lines of matching symbols that will increase their score. So the turns are very simple to remember: place a tile, score your tile and refresh your hand by drawing a new tile.

There are two special things to remember:
During the very first round only, each player is required to place their first tile next to a different one of the symbols already printed on the board.

The empty board has six symbols printed on it

And, if your rack of symbols does not contain any of the colors in the lowest position of your score board after you have played a tile, you can refresh your entire hand after showing your tiles to your fellow players.

This tile refresh can be important because the scoring of this game is, well, ingenious. You track your score per each symbol, and when the board is full your final score is your lowest marker. So if you blast ahead on five of your symbols but ignore the sixth, you will have a terrible score. It’s important to nurture each of your symbols along the way and/or block your fellow players.

The score board is tracked with wooden cubes for each symbol
A look at my score board. If the game ended right now, my score would be 3 since my lowest level symbols are at 3 🙁

The player with the highest end score (which is whatever your lowest symbol is), wins Ingenious!

how it went

When I finally busted out Ingenious, I played with my normal game group so we played 4 player. We enjoyed the game so much we played three times in a row.

Check out this review by Mason on The Five By podcast. As he points out, there’s a lot of room for strategy in a 2 player game. 2 players is probably where Ingenious shines the most. I think there is a lot more disruption in a 4 player game, and I think I am used to that since I play so many games with 4 players. But it’s not the worst thing: this type of play prepares you for other games like Gloomhaven, where your best laid plans may turn to ashes before your eyes. Ingenious still requires a steady hand and plenty of examination to ensure you are scoring your best hand or blocking others, not to mention the strategic decision of which symbol or symbols to focus on based on what is in front of you.

NOTE: Mason does a good job of explaining the differences in versions and if you look at Ingenious ratings you will see some complaints. I was lucky enough to find the old Fantasy Flight Games version and the components are great.

Further along in play. In my version, the white space is used for 1 or 2 players, the light grey for 3 players and the full board including dark grey for 4 players

In our play, Keri won once and Bill won twice. John did fairly well while I was never even close because I am generally terrible at abstract games. The scoring system helps to ensure there is not a runaway winner, but you can still be a runaway loser if you get unlucky enough. But there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had in deciding your best move, whether it is offensive or defensive.

Game over and time to see who won!

play or pass

Absolutely play. This is one of the best games we have reviewed on Idle Remorse and has a very elegant, enduring gameplay. Ingenious is very approachable, plays quickly and offers a lot of strategy. If you see it at thrift, do not pass it up. And if you already own it, buy it for your local coffee shop or brewery; it is the perfect game for a chill evening with friends.