Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Inkognito, by Ares Games

I picked up Inkognito on sale at my Friendly Local Game Store. To be honest, it was my wife's idea, and I went along with it because the art is lovely and the theme is interesting. Who doesn't love hidden information and espionage in Venice? 

I was hooked as soon as I opened the rulebook, and absolutely shocked that the game was originally released in 1988. Despite being almost as old as I am, the rule book, game design, flavor, and mechanics are as captivating as anything you'd see released today. Allow me to introduce: Inkognito!

The goal is to be the first team of spies to identify each other and complete your team's agenda, defined randomly when the game begins, and hidden from all players until discovered during the game. It's not unlike a game of Clue, except you're working as a part of team, and you begin the game without knowing which player is your teammate. 

On that note, Inkognito is all about hidden information, and a little bit about hidden movement. There are 4 secret agents, 4 "body types", and 4 lettered cards (A, B, C, D) that are randomly distributed to each player when play begins.
Two agents are good - Lord Fiddlebottom and Colonel Bubble, and are always on the same team. The other two agents are bad - Agent X and Madame Zha Zha - and are also always on the same team. As an example of gorgeous theme and design, the rule book includes descriptions of the four agents, as well as a special quirk each of them displays, which players can mimic in an attempt to communicate with each other... or confuse the other players. 

Each player has 4 pieces on a map of Venice, each piece representing one of the 4 body types (tall, short, big, little). The body types aren't meaningful for game play unless an agenda specifically says "land a piece on this agent" or something that requires you identify which body type a person is (this happens about half the time or less).
Each player is also dealt 4 cards in his/her color that correspond to the 4 identities, and another 4 cards that correspond to the body types. Each player will receive 11 cards - 8 cards in his/her color, plus three grey cards - the player's actual identity, body type, and agenda. 

I want desperately to paint the tall, thin red one with
horizontal white stripes. 
On a player's turn, he or she shakes the "Phantom of Prophecy", one of the coolest things about the game - a plastic, masked figurine with 10 colored marbles inside it. Each turn the active player shakes it, and the three marbles that come out determine the player's available movement for the turn.
Whenever a player lands one of his/her pieces on the piece of another player, the active player can ask about "identity" or "body type". If Identity is asked, the chosen player must privately reveal two identity cards and one body type card, one of which must be true. If asked for body type, the player must reveal two body type cards and one identity card. A player can choose to show any/all of his/her grey cards instead (if he/she is pretty sure the reveal is with a teammate!)

Here's the catch - a player can never reveal the same set of three cards. Players actively keep track of what cards have been revealed to them (and which cards they've revealed to each player) to avoid the penalties that come with a mistake, and to obfuscate information for as long as needed to win the game.
There's a neutral piece on the board called "The Ambassador", that allows for more efficient information gathering. If a player lands on the ambassador (or moves the ambassador to land on his/her piece), the active player can choose any other player and pick identity or body type, and the chosen player must show only two cards, one of which must be true.

In this way, information is gained reasonably quickly about the players around you. Once a teammate is found, players should share their agenda cards (with the letter A, B, C, or D on them) to figure out the team's victory condition. 

There's a lot to love about this game: the board and pieces are beautiful, the game play is interesting (it reminds me of Einstein puzzles) and it goes quickly as information gained tends to accelerate the game towards the finish faster than I'd expected.

I'm a big fan of Inkognito and I think it's a GREAT addition to my library, and would be good for any group of 4 who love hidden information/deception games, or just like acting like spies!

JR Honeycutt is a full-time husband and game-player, and co-host of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter at @JayAhre or at a Friendly Local Game Store in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.