Abstract Distraction--A Review of Ingenious

Look, I like theme as much as the next guy. But sometimes a game comes along that doesn't need any dumb old theme getting in the way of the slick gameplay. Well the venerable Reiner Knizia has designed a game that is just that with his abstract Ingenious. Let's take a look...

The Components

  • 1 game board--hexagonal spots create a hexagonally shaped board. There are three color gradations on the board for 2, 3, and 4 players. Ingenious!
  • 120 tiles
  • 1 bag
  • 4 racks to hold the tiles
  • 4 score boards
  • 24 scoring counters

The Setup

Lay out the board. Shuffle the tiles in the bag and give each player six tiles and a rack to hold them on. Finally, give each player a score board and a set of scoring counters. 

The Gameplay

Simple: Play a tile. Score a tile. Draw a tile. 

Yeah, that's it. 

You choose one of the six tiles you have and place it onto an open space on the board. On the very first round you have to play next to one of the six preprinted spaces on the board (each with a different one of the game's six colors/symbols), but after that you're free to place wherever. 

Each tile has two symbols on it. They might be the same and they might be different. You score each of the symbols separately by going out in a straight line from the symbol in five directions. (You don't go in the direction of the other symbol on the tile.) You get one point for each matching symbol in a straight line from the symbol on the tile you played. You stop counting if you hit an empty space or a different symbol. Then you move that color counter up that many spaces. And then you do the same thing for the other symbol on the tile. Finally, you draw a tile to replace the one you just played.

If one of your scoring counters reaches the 18th and final spot on the score board, you call out "Ingenious!" and get an immediate bonus play of another tile--which you also score. Then you refresh your hand back.

Before you refresh your hand, if your rack doesn't have a tile with any of the colors currently in the lowest position on your score board, you can show your opponent, set those tiles aside, draw a whole new batch of six tiles, and then put the old ones back in the bag.

I'm not Ingenious!

I'm not Ingenious!

Why would it matter what you have in your lowest position? I'm glad you asked...

Dr. Knizia is known for many things. And one of those things is a cruel, clever, and confounding scoring mechanism he devised, wherein your final score is whatever your LOWEST value is at the end of the game. So if five of your six colors are on 16, but one is on 3, your final score is 3. Go cry in the corner.

 The game ends when you can't play any more tiles to the board, or (rarely) when someone maxes out all colors. That person wins, and is awesome at games. Or you're terrible at them. Maybe both. 

Your score is the color in your lowest position. If there's a tie, the next-lowest score is used, and so on. 

The game also includes rules for a 4-player partnership version (which is excellent), and a solitaire version. 

The Verdict

The game is aptly named. What makes it so ingenious is that he does so much with so little. It's an easy little abstract, right? Well, sure. Except there's actually a lot to think about. First, you're trying to get points for yourself. But not just points, but points in certain colors. But how much is enough? When do you "cap" a color to keep your opponents from capitalizing on it? How long can you hold off on that color? What if it's not available later? There's lots of risk management going on here, but it's hidden in a "simple" game that has broad appeal--from nongamers all the way through to hardcore gamers. 

It plays quickly. It scales well. The partnership version is terrific. 

The only downside is that you're tied to the tiles you draw. If you never draw the color you need, you're in trouble. But you can swap tiles, so that helps. Still, it's very, very tactical. 

Firestone's Final Verdict--If you like abstracts at all, you owe it to yourself to pick up this gem. It's great as a gamer's game, great as a gateway game, and just a great game wrapped up in a "simple" package. It really is ingenious. 

Title - Ingenious

Designer - Reiner Knizia

Publisher - Fantasy Flight Games

Number of players - 1-4 (I would say it's best with either 2 or 4 with the partnership version.)

Ages - 10 and up (I think an 8-year-old would do just fine with this.)

Play time - 45 Minutes (This is about right for the 4-player game.)

Category/Genre - Tile-placement/Hand-management


  • Easy to teach.
  • Interesting choices.
  • Cool and frustrating scoring mechanism.
  • Room for clever play.


  • You're at the mercy of the draw.
  • Cool and frustrating scoring mechanism.

Good for...

  • Family? Yes!

  • Youth Group? Not really! But only because it plays a small number, and kids like theme.

  • Gamers? Yes! It's a meaty filler with interesting choices.
  • Nongamers? Yes! This game is completely approachable.


* Firestone: 8.5

A terrific abstract that's clever, quick, and full of choices.