Idle Remorse

Review: Ingenious

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.

Review: Bottle Topps

Review: Bottle Topps
Publisher: Parker Brothers
Year: 1993
Tagline: Stack ’em High & Stack ’em Wide
Players: 2 or more

Cover shows a bottle with disks balanced on top of it in a wide canopy

how we met

I had never heard of Bottle Topps before finding it at thrift recently. But I like a dexterity game, and it seems impossible to me that this many wooden disks can truly branch out as wide as the cover suggests, just being balanced on a single little bottle. I was intrigued.

how it plays

The game comes with a small wooden bottle with a cap that sits on top of it. From there, players take turns placing a single wooden disk on the cap or on another disk. For beginners, the game suggests playing up to nine levels. Once you get to nine levels, you place the red stopper on top (an ever-so-slightly different shade of red than the other disks). This means no players can build at that level. All other disks need to get placed within the first nine levels.

A few disks on the bottle at this point
Here we are warming up. In case you were wondering, there is no difference or relevance to red vs white disks

If a player knocks disks off during their turn, they need to add twice that many disks onto the pile. Players can use their disk to push other disks to tighten the pile.

The rules also say that you must stay in your seat, so you can’t get up and move around to find a better spot. You can spin the bottle to change what you can access, but I feel like you’d have to be nuts to do that.

As with many dexterity games, there is one loser rather than one winner. The player that causes the chips to fall down loses Bottle Topps!

how it went

It’s probably not worth mentioning, but I am annoyed that the game is called Bottle Topps with two P’s. I know this is probably for purposes of disambiguation, but I don’t like it. However, that is not important. Let’s talk gameplay.

I really wanted to play around with Bottle Topps on my own to see how many disks I could get on the bottle, but I didn’t want an unfair advantage against my gaming group when we went to play. So I didn’t.

Further along in play
Here we are growing our little bottle! You can see in this photo the “red” disk on top. It is an ever-so-slightly more red, red than the other red disks. No one can play at the level of that top red disk, everything must be lower.

As we played, John probably did the most attempted sabotage by placing his disks in awkward spots. Like if you place your disk directly on top of another disk, that’s awkward. It won’t last terribly long. It will set someone up for a bad spot, but you don’t know when or who.

Our bottle did not get terribly wide in its growth, but still. I think it’s cute. Note how many are stacked on top of each other instead of outward 🙁

As play progressed, and as expected, it was getting more difficult to find places to slip a disk into the pile. Eventually on my turn I was really struggling to find a decent location when it all came crashing down. And I lost Bottle Topps!

The moment of my non-victory

Board Game Geek user Teppolainen mentions in their rating comments that this is based on an old pub game where you balance matches on a beer bottle. I believe that, but unfortunately I haven’t tried that game yet. I’ll have to pick up a box of matches soon.

play or pass

Play. Bottle Topps is a balancing dexterity game. I was impressed at how broadly the chips fan out if the weight distribution is right. This is not my favorite, but it brings everything you expect in a dexterity game. Things like tension. Sabotage. Luck. Patience. Shaky hands. Color confusion. Naughty words. Trash talking. “Accidental” table bumping.

Review: The Garden Game

Review: The Garden Game
Publisher: Ampersand Press
Year: 1996
Tagline: A Celebration of Cultivation For All Seasons
Players: 2 to 6

how we met

When I found The Garden Game at thrift, it was clearly an educational game about gardening. Educational games intrigue me (much more than they should) so I wanted to bring it home and soak in all of the gardening wisdom it had to offer me.

I should probably mention, I am not a gardener. We raise sheep and lambing happens around mid-May. That’s not the height of planting season, but it is important for weeding, watering, other things. And so we just never have prioritized gardening. So I probably have plenty to learn on the topic!

how it plays

The Garden Game is a spin and move game where your goal is to have the most points in the end by having the most amazing garden of all!

On their turn, players spin the spinner to see how many places they move. At the end of their turn, they draw an Almanac card and do what it says. If they happen to land on a space with another player, they draw a Garden card before drawing an Almanac card!

The spinner, which has some gentle education

Almanac cards usually have you pick a Garden card, but they can also cause you to lose a Garden card, Lose a turn or Spin Again. Drawing a Garden card always means you can choose the visible card in the discard pile or draw blindly from the deck.

At the beginning of each turn you can try to trade Garden cards with other players. Trades are really where this game is won or lost.

Garden cards are placed out in front of you face up – don’t hide that beautiful garden! Some Garden cards will protect you from unpleasant Almanac cards. But the ultimate goal is to have the most points. Every single garden card you have is worth a single point, but garden cards double in points if you create a pollinating set. This means having two copies of any single plant plus whatever it takes to pollinate them. Pollinating sets consist of either two (for self-pollinating plants) or three cards. Each card in the set is worth 2 points instead of 1 point.

These are example Almanac and Garden cards

Once the first player passes the End space then each other player has one more turn. Then the game ends and everyone should count up their garden scores. The player with the most valuable garden wins The Garden Game!

how it went

Oh, our play went largely as expected. And as much as I appreciate an indie, labor-of-love educational game, there’s a few gripes I have.

First, the pawns are small rocks. I appreciate the message and natural approach, I really do. But my game comes with 21 of these small pebbles/rocks. And approximately 18 of them are semi-identical. The biggest trick is finding four pawns that you can all tell apart. And I just can’t shake the image of the game creators literally grabbing a handful of pebbles and throwing them into the box.

A collection of rocks, most of which are grey
These are the pawns from the box. I wondered if it was just my copy but an image on BGG seems to indicate something like this is what came in each box

Second, the game is not super educational. It comes with a short booklet that includes information on plant life cycles, pollination, gardening basics, a glossary and a bibliography. The back of the booklet is where the game rules can be found. The cards do go into some best practices, but I feel like the majority of the educational aspect is outside of the game and in the booklet.

This is the booklet that teaches you about gardening

Third, the game departs from reality as needed, which I do not appreciate in an educational game. The booklet prepares you for this if you actually read it, but otherwise the rules may get confusing when you encounter self-pollinating plants in your garden, as an example. You still need two of them to make a pollinating set.

Fourth, and I feel bad saying this, but the art is not my personal taste.

We dutifully traveled around the game board. The goal, probably, is to travel as slowly as possible so that you can draw as many Garden cards as possible. We had amazing gardens. But your Garden cards will get stolen and lost and all kinds of bad things.

In the end, I won The Garden Game with 28 points! Keri had 27 (what a loser!), Bill had 18 and I do not have John’s points recorded. I think he was just happy it was over.

This is my garden, with pollinating sets in the upper right corner

FUN FACT: my copy of The Garden Game came with an original Packing List from when it was ordered by someone in Milwaukee in December 1997. They paid $26.95 which is a lot more than I paid. 🙁 But the paperwork included other neat things you could order from this company, like Angels of the Daily Grind rubber stamps!

Angels of the daily grind show angels doing daily chores like ironing, making the bed
The game cost a couple bucks but this insert was priceless

play or pass

Pass. I have a special place in my heart for educational games like this, but I want the theme to be relentless. In this case, the theme is pasted onto a spin and move game. Nothing about the actual gameplay says gardening to me. I didn’t learn much about gardening. The most difficult part of play was figuring out which pebble pawn was mine.

Review: the Vampire Diaries

Review: the Vampire Diaries
Publisher: Pressman
Year: 2010
Tagline: The Game Based on the Hit TV Show
Players: 3 or 4

Game box is coffin shaped with images of woman laying on ground looking toward you and two boys at her side doing same

how we met

I have had this strange, coffin-shaped game in my collection for several months. I remember finding it at thrift and being unable to fight off the temptation based on box shape alone. Well, and the box indicates transformational photo frames are inside. I was sold.

how it plays

the Vampire Diaries game is won if you control the last human character amongst vampires. Humans become vampires by receiving bite marks. Bite marks are received by other players landing on certain spaces of the board on their turn.

You might open the box, as I did, and wonder if it’s missing a bunch of pieces. No, that’s just how this game is. You share a pawn. The board is little. My copy was only missing the ring, and Bill and I had just played an escape room where we had to build a ring so we just used that.

Players each start the game with one of the photos, and all photos should be set to their human form and facing the other players. On your turn, roll the dice and move the shared pawn the number of crows that you roll. If you did not roll any crows at all, even better! You get to take control of the ring, possibly even for a full moment. The ring will protect you if someone lands on the vampire bite and wants to bite your character.

Three six sided die that have crows on 3 sides each
Crows are on 50% of the dice sides

Other spaces on the board will cause you to swap characters (so don’t get too attached to anyone) or erase a vampire bite. The ring does not protect you from swapping characters.

Once a character gets three vampire bites, switch them to the vampire setting. There is no erasing those marks now: that character is a full-on vampire.

Character images have cutouts around eyes and mouth that show human features when on human setting and red eyes and fangs in vampire setting
This young lady as a human and as a vampire. The cutouts are disturbing and I love them in all the wrong ways.

The last player to have the last human character wins the Vampire Diaries!

how it went

We played the Vampire Diaries during a recent epic gaming day where we played eight different games, and this was far and away the worst one. Far and away. So of course I wanted to capture the magic for you immediately.

I am not familiar with The Vampire Diaries TV show property, and normally I would like to at least read up on it to understand how the game might resonate with fans. But I am not sure the game designer bothered to do that, so why should I?

The strange pawn is meant to be a stamp that players use to stamp bite marks on the characters. It does not contain any ink and does not appear to even be the right material to have ever had any ink. But I was prepared: we used dry erase markers to draw bites as we went. That was way more fun.

Bite mark image on a stamp
You will never convince me this was ever meant to have ink for longer than a week

the Vampire Diaries is strange because you are really just trading around the different characters endlessly. Initially John found this delightful and was asking, “Who are you? Who am I? Who are any of us?” His comment really hit home that we were merely agents the game was using to play itself.

The ring traded hands almost incessantly. Huge portions of the game consisted of just passing the ring from player to player. One time I didn’t even get the opportunity to touch the ring after winning it.

Our play showing pawn on the track and ring in center of board
This was apparently the most time the ring ever spent in one place, and thus the only photo I captured of it

Bill took on the role of ushering us through gameplay quickly, coldly, efficiently. He rushed us, pushed us, moved the pawn, moved the dice. He only ever paused to draw really inappropriate bite marks. Because otherwise the gameplay lasts forever. It may seem mean, but it’s really important to gang up on characters when you get the opportunity to bite them. Otherwise they will recover and play goes on and on and on. But it’s not so mean in this game because it’s very likely the character you draw bites on will be yours in short order anyway.

Photos of cute teens and vampires with bites drawn on them
This was our final crew and the poor boy with the J-shaped bite in his cheek became our hero. IIRC the poor boy with the pause button on his neck was second

The transformational photos did not disappoint. That’s a pretty fun novelty for a game. And in the end, Bill had the last character that did not transform and Bill won the Vampire Diaries!

play or pass

I give you pass eternal. I know many of you would have passed on this one anyway for $3. But then you may never know the frenetic fun of winning a protection ring only to have it taken from the player to your left, then seized by the player to their left, then unceremoniously tossed to the player to their left. Then landing on the floor at your feet again.

John described the gameplay of this one best when he pointed out that none of us are really a part of the game at all. We were merely suckers moving the pawn around the board and drawing imaginative vampire bites when instructed to do so (and that last bit of creativity is not even part of the original game!). Super pass!

Review: FIBBER!

Review: FIBBER!
Publisher: Maruca Industries, Inc.
Year: 1986
Tagline: The game that makes it fun to fib!
Players: 2 to 4

A family of four from the 80s in lively play over the board

how we met

FIBBER! was a recent post-pandemic purchase of mine at thrift. Bill was okay with the purchase because FIBBER! can maybe sell for a few bucks online (not much, but a few). I was happy with FIBBER! because the pieces were delightful and the cover is a lot of fun.

The four dice shakers have cartoonish faces and names via sticker
Here’s a closer look at our heroes

how it plays

In FIBBER! each player has a private dice shaker with a fun character on the front, like Tricky Tracy or Bluffing Billy. On their turn, a player shakes their dice shaker and looks into the hole to see the result of their die roll. They then announce a number that their pawn will move.

Looking down into the shaker you see a 4 on the die
My trusty die, ready for me to weave my lies. I can say I rolled anything, but I’m only guaranteed forward movement if I say 4.

If another player thinks the player is lying (ie fibbing) about their die roll they say loudly and clearly, “FIBBER!” The player reveals their die roll by removing the top part of their dice shaker. If they were truthful, the accusing player must move their pawn backward the number of spaces on the actual die while the player moves ahead. If they were fibbing, the player moves their own pawn the number of spaces on the die backward while the accusing player moves their pawn forward. Again, you only move pawns based on the actual die and not what was declared.

This is just a look at how the two pieces of the shaker fit together

There are a few special spaces on the board:

  • Double and triple point places. If you land on these by exact count then on your next turn you can double or triple your movement (unless, of course, you fib and are called out)
  • Lose turn. These spaces cause you to lose your next turn. You can move away from them by making accusations prior to your next turn.
  • Slide. If you land by exact count on a Slide space then you can immediately move to the end of the slide.
The board background is blue with mostly pink and orange spaces, a few blue and purple
A look at the board as we were starting out. Fun, right?

These special spaces demonstrate that if you fib about your roll, you might not always be trying to make it higher. You might be trying to land somewhere beneficial to you.

NOTE: Even though the pawns are oh-so-stackable, pawns can’t share a space. If you would land where a pawn already is, you go behind it instead.

The four pans stack easily on top of each other. They resemble pieces from Topple
These are begging to be stacked.

The first player to land on the Finish space by exact count wins FIBBER!

how it went

We played four player with our regular game group. FIBBER! is a simple game, so we were off and running almost immediately. I am a terrible, horrible, can’t-stop-laughing bluffer. But I think that actually served me well. I was constantly getting accused of fibbing when I really just roll sixes a bunch!

The inside of the box has spots for everything
Satisfying, is it not?

It helps to keep a close eye on where your fellow player pawns are. They are not likely to risk their own skin accusing you if they are on a Double or Triple, for instance. You can always do the obvious bluffing stuff like examining the game board before you state your die roll. There are lots of ways to mislead, but the game does not move any more quickly as a result.

We had a pretty good time but there are a few drawbacks to this game.

  1. You will likely see this in other reviews and comments on FIBBER! but the gameplay gets a bit monotonous. That road to Finish is a long and winding one.
  2. If you decide for whatever reason not to fib or accuse people, you have a pretty good shot at maintaining a strong lead. Even if you roll small numbers sometimes, you are guaranteed to move forward and not backward.
  3. In our game, we all stacked up at the end. I would assume this is common. Even my little pawn, pulling up the rear for most of the game, managed to catch up and sit in line waiting for the perfect die roll. So in the end I had just as good a shot as anyone at winning.

You would have to be nuts to fib on your final die roll to make it to the end. So we just had a few rounds of people rolling and then passing. Finally Bill was able to get his perfect roll and Bill won FIBBER!

3 of the 4 pawns lined up before the Finish space
Here we are in line at the end. It looks like my pawn wasn’t there yet, but I promise I got there.

BGG users frequently describe FIBBER! as Liar’s Dice Light or Liar’s Dice with a board. That seems fair, if they mean very light. I don’t think I’ve played Liar’s Dice since Red Dead Redemption, but I remember it as an elegant game where the rich get richer. Liar’s Dice adds an element of the unknown to play that FIBBER! is missing. Lying about my own roll is fine, but having to lie about yours too? That is interesting. I can probably even do it without laughing.

play or pass

Pass. Despite the cuteness of the cover and the dice shakers, FIBBER! is not immune to the drawbacks of roll and move. I bet it would be a fun game to grow up with, but I thought that our one play-through was enough.

Newer Posts
Older Posts