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PC Review - 'Ingenious'

by James King on Aug. 10, 2007 @ 2:22 a.m. PDT

Based on the work of internationally renowned game designer Reiner Knizia, the board game version of Ingenious has been an international best seller. Incredibly easy to learn and just as addictive, Ingenious provides hours of challenging and thrilling fun for one to four players.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: ShadeTree Games
Developer: ShadeTree Games
Release Date: June 19, 2007

Created by Reiner Knizia, Ingenious is a tile-based board game that involves placing pairs of hexagonal tiles onto a hexagonal grid. The objective is to have the highest score at the end of the game, when no more tiles can be placed on the board. The PC version allows players to compete against the computer or play online against other people.

There are six colors in the game: red, green, blue, orange, yellow and purple, each with a distinct associated shape. The board starts with one of the six colors in each of the corners of the board. On the first round, you must place a tile next to one of those pieces, but after that, you may place them anywhere on the board. A larger board is used when playing with three or four players. You accumulate points by placing like colors next to each other, and every consecutive piece of the same color earns a point. Points can be accrued in any of the six directions around the hex, although they're not earned by the piece you actually lay down. For example, if you place two reds, they don't count toward each other when scoring.

An interesting aspect of Ingenious is in how the scoring is determined. A score is tallied for each of the six colors, with 18 points being the max for any one color. You automatically win the game if you earn 18 points in each of the six colors; otherwise, your overall score at the end of the game is determined by the most points in the lowest-scored color, which is a unique twist that forces players to look at the whole board and adopt a balanced play style that focuses on everything, instead of dominating one color.

The mechanic that tallies your lowest-scored color drastically changes the game and adds new depth to what otherwise would have been fairly simplistic. For example, you could watch your opponent's score to see what s/he needs and place tiles to block the accumulation of that color. At the same time, you must watch the whole board and be concerned with your own score in every color. To account for this, you have the option of swapping out all of your tiles for a new set of tiles if you don't have any pieces for your lowest color. A player always has six tiles, and at the end of his, he must draw tiles to replenish the ones that were placed, until he's back up to six. A player is granted an extra turn when he earns 18 points in a color.

For those who wish to really study it, Ingenious seems to have a good bit of depth and strategy involved, but it isn't quite as intensive as other games, like Chess or Go. The game doesn't focus on look-ahead strategy quite as much, simply because you don't know what tiles your opponent(s) may have, and tiles are randomly given out to players. This makes it not quite as worthy for tournaments and competitive play, but more approachable for casual players.

Ingenious has essentially three game modes. You can play a normal game with anywhere from two to four players, you can play two-versus-two team games, or you can play in single-player mode. The games can be played against the AI or against other people over the LAN or Internet. The computer AI has three difficulty settings, and while the beginner level is relatively easy, the two other difficulties significantly ramp it up. In the single-player mode, you are given one random tile to place during each turn, and the score limit for each tile is set to 36 points instead of the usual 18. In this mode, you attempt to earn as many points as possible. The online component is fairly lackluster, offering up friends lists, chat rooms, and leaderboards.

The graphics in Ingenious are not exceptional, but they're sufficient for a computerized incarnation of a board game. Everything is very clear and easy to see, the interface is easy to use, and nothing gets in the way of the game. One drawback is that the game must be played in full screen; a windowed mode would have been a nice addition for those people who want to multitask while they play.

As with the graphics, the sound is passable, but nothing special. The sound effects are a simple arrangement of beeps and other noises when you place or rotate pieces. Clapping can be heard when you make a large-scoring move or if you hit 18 points in a color. The background music is very low-key and is best described as techno elevator music. The basic approach to music is probably to the game's benefit so that it doesn't distract the players' thought processes.

The main problem with Ingenious is the lack of content and value, even for a budget title. For $20, you get a simple tile-based board game, whereas you can go online and play free versions of games like Chess, Go, Checkers, and Bejeweled. Playing the computerized version of the game also takes away from the social aspect of playing a board game with real people. If you're crazy about Ingenious or tile-based games like it, then this might be worth the purchase.

Score: 6.5/10

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