Saturday, July 19, 2014

Game of Stones

Reiner Knizia is in the upper echelons of German board game designers. His games usually have only the thinnest veneer of flavor or story, but typically have clever mechanics to make up for it. In that respect, Indigo is a bit of a misfire for him.

Indigo is a tile-laying, "track building" game -- a crowded genre that includes Metro, Linie 1, Tsuro, and more. Players take turns adding tiles to a board. Those tiles create pathways along which moves a series of "gem stones" of three different values. You're trying to direct the most valuable gem stones into one of your own bases, while keeping them away from your opponents.

Indigo has really only a few wrinkles to differentiate it from those other "track" games I mentioned. Where the others are played on grids of squares, Indigo uses a hex grid. The impact this has on strategy is subtle, but there. More uniquely, the players share each base (on the outer rim of the board) with another player. You can't score in this game without also scoring for one of your opponents; the trick is to try and spread your conquests around so different opponents benefit each time, leaving you to seize the victory alone.

It's a neat idea in theory, but in practice the game did not impress me as much. The board struck me as too crowded with the maximum four players, and it was too unwieldy to literally share every scoring opportunity with a rival. Watching three opponents interfere with your plans before you could make one single attempt to get things back on track seemed to make Indigo less a game of "who will win?" than "who will lose." Because make no mistake, if the other three players decide you're not winning this game, you won't.

However, I would be interested to try the game out with just three players. Not only would that leave you just two foes instead of three to manage, it would seriously change the nature of the six "bases" on the board's outer edge. In that format, you have three bases, sharing one with each opponent... and having one entirely to yourself. To me, that would greatly increase the strategic considerations. Should you even try to claim solo victory points, knowing your opponents will probably ally to stop it? Should you try to sneak low value scoring in there, figuring your opponents might let you have it, so long as you're not going for the high-valued stuff? Since my gaming group invariably provides at least four players, I may never get to find out -- yet I still suspect that it's with three players that Indigo might thrive.

But as a four player game? I wasn't really impressed. In this genre, I prefer Metro -- a game where each player has enough places he can score that getting screwed in one of them isn't fatal. Indigo, putting only 12 chances to score for all players for the entire game, sets the stakes too high. It simply doesn't take much to put you hopelessly out of contention. It's fast and simple enough that I can see my way to giving it a C, but I really wouldn't recommend it.

At least, until the day I get to try it with just three players...

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