Friday, 12 September 2014

Review - Ingenious: Travel Edition

Ingenious: Travel Edition

Ingenious: Travel Edition
Published by The Green Board Game Co.
Designed by Reiner Knizia
For 2 players, aged 8 to adult

Ingenious: Travel Edition box
It isn't much to look at, I admit...

I've heard about this thing called a vacation, and recently I've been thinking it might be nice to try one.

As a novelist, freelance editor and writer, blogger, dad, and husband, free time isn't something I tend to have in huge quantities.

Now, don't get me wrong; I've done that thing where you go to another country. For example, for Christmas 2013, I took my daughter to Disneyland Paris. It was the most magical experience, and the look of sheer delight on my daughter's face as we passed through the main gates into a world of larger-than-life Disney characters and artificial snow is something I hope I never forget.

It even made going to France tolerable.

(I'm joking. I'm joking.)

(Nothing would make that tolerable.*)

However, going to Disneyland wasn't exactly a vacation. It was a week of running to get to different rides, running to beat other people to the queue to see the princesses, running to find somewhere to eat that wasn't booked solid, running to get a good spot before the parades started, and just running to fit as much as possible into each day.

Endless running.

I still have this recurring nightmare where Mickey Mouse chases me down a long corridor that goes on forever.

But that's besides the point.

The point is, when I was packing for my trip to Disneyland, I optimistically slotted a few games into my luggage, hoping that I would have some time to play games with my wife in the evening while my daughter slept.

What was I thinking? My daughter didn't sleep.

The games never even made it out of the luggage.

But one of the games I packed was Ingenious: Travel Edition. A cute, portable edition of the classic abstract game by Reiner Knizia.

Ingenious is a simple game in which players use tiles shaped like two hexagons fused together with a symbol on each hexagon. At any one time, a player has six pieces in hand, and on a turn, players simply place one piece on the board.

Ingenious: Travel Edition pieces
The cute playing pieces.

Scoring is just as straightforward. When you place a piece, each symbol has up to five adjacent spaces, and these represent the directions in which it is possible to score. You add up all the symbols in a continuous line, in each of the five directions, that match the symbol on the piece played. You score that many points in that colour.

Ingenious: Travel Edition rules
A diagram for scoring, because my description isn't very good.

But here's where it gets really fun: At the end of the game, your final score is your lowest score out of the six different symbols. That means you need to constantly balance what you are doing. Sure, you could score 18 points in blue stars over the course of the game, but if you only score 10 purple rings, then your final score is 10.

Ingenious: Travel Edition playing pieces
More of those cute playing pieces.

The only other rule of note is that, if you score 18 points in any symbol, you get to shout "Ingenious" and place another piece, creating the opportunity to string together combos and really get ahead of your opponent.

And that's basically the whole game. Super streamlined, easy to teach, and about as clever as it gets.

Considering the game boils down to the simple act of placing a single tile, there is an incredible amount of strategy and tactics. Do you play a tile to block your opponent from scoring? Do you race to score lots of points in a single symbol in order to get bonus turns? Do you try to keep all your scores level so you can string together an epic turn where you hit 18 points with multiple symbols one after another?

And when it is your opponent's turn... Oh, the agony. That moment where you know the piece you want to play. You know where you want to play it.

And then your opponent reaches for a tile...

Not there. Don't place it there. Not there. No.



Infuriating, hilarious, and yes... ingenious.

I have had my copy of Ingenious: Travel Edition for some time now. It was bought for me by a good friend, and I have played it a lot. It has a lovely moulded plastic board, with cute moulded pieces that lock into place so nothing moves around while you are travelling; and it has sweet scoring pegs that remind me of that old game Mastermind.

Ingenious: Travel Edition board
The board, moulded in plastic to prevent pieces sliding around.

Unfortunately, being a travel edition, everything is very small. The pegs are difficult to manipulate, and the playing pieces aren't big enough to feel substantial as you drop them onto the board.

Worst of all, the travel edition is restricted to just two players.

That is why I didn't hesitate to buy the "full-scale" version of Ingenious when I found it in one of my local charity shops (still sealed, and priced at just £3, which is silly). Since then, the travel edition hasn't had a look in, and to be fair, I cannot see myself fumbling around with those little pegs anymore.

As such, despite being a superb game, Ingenious: Travel Edition is not staying in my collection.

I mean, sure, I could keep it for when I go on a vacation sometime. But really, when is it likely I'm ever going to do that?

* Honestly, I am joking. My time in Disneyland Paris was an absolute joy, and the people there were amazing.

I'm going to ramble now... You don't need to read this; it has nothing to do with games.

Every day I queued with my daughter to see a princess. For anybody who has never done this, it involves waiting for around two to three hours in a long corridor with no seats. At the end of the corridor, there are two different screens, and behind each screen is a princess. You get to see one of them, and you do not get to pick.

My daughter had been pestering me to see Rapunzel every day.

Every day we saw Not-Rapunzel.

On the very last day, we got up to the screens, and the woman working the gate smiled and told us we would be going through the screen on the left. While we waited, I took the chance to talk to her, and explained that we really wanted to see Rapunzel, and so far we had not been able to. She smiled kindly at my daughter, and them motioned me towards the screen on the right. Not the one on the left.

We rounded the corner, and there was Rapunzel. My daughter nearly died on the spot. I almost burst into tears. And as Rapunzel chatted to my daughter (and my daughter explained how her favourite princess was Aerial!), the woman who had guided us to this screen popped her head around to see how much happiness her small act of kindness had generated.

I never got to thank that woman. I don't even know her name, and I doubt she will ever read this. And she has probably done the same thing for thousands of families, and for her it might not have been a big deal. But that woman made my daughter's holiday complete, and she enabled me to do something that every dad wants to do for his kids... Make a dream come true.

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