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Review: Inkognito

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inkognito-boxcover

A twist of light. A turn of shadow. Was that your partner waiting to meet you, or was it one of your sinister opponents trying to undo your schemes?

There is a carnival in Venice, and amidst all the bright lights and festivities, you have a mission to accomplish. Thanks to the carnival, it is easy for a mask-wearing spy to blend in, undetected, with the mask-wearing masses. The problem; thanks to the carnival, everyone is wearing a mask, and you can’t be too sure who to trust. The other problem: you only have half of the mission. You need your partner to decode the rest. You must gather information to find out who your partner is, who your enemies are, and what you need to accomplish – before the other side gets their mission done first.

Are you a master spy, or will you play the fool? This is the world of Inkognito.

How It Plays

Inkognito is a game about deducing information from limited clues given by the other players. Each player is assigned 1 of the 4 identities, 1 of the 4 body types, and 1 of the 4 mission cards. Each player is equipped with a team of 4 masked spies matching in color spread about the streets of Venice, and is tasked with discovering their partner, trading mission information with them, and then accomplishing the mission. Each Identity is linked to another specific identity – Lord Fiddlebottom is always partners with Colonel Bubble, and Madame Zsa Zsa is always partners with Agent X.

inkognito-board
Welcome to Starship Venice. Er… whatever.

On a turn, a player uses the Phantom of Prophecy to determine which sort of actions he or she can take. The Phantom reveals 3 colored balls, each corresponding to a specific type of movement, some of which allow the moving of opponents or the Ambassador.

Players want to move their spies onto other players spies, so they can ask that player a question, and then move that player’s spy anywhere on the board. Players moving to the Ambassador get to do the same thing, but get better information.

The questions are simple – you can either as about the player’s Identity, or Build type (which I like to refer to as body type, it confuses people less). Using a set of generic cards (one card for each identity and body type), the targeted player must show 3 cards (only 2 if they’re being questioned using the Ambassador), one of which must be true, and 2 of which must be of the type questioned. Players must be careful not to show repeat sets of cards to the same opponent, or they’ll be forced to remove one false card from the mix.

These are what you use to answer questions
These are what you use to answer questions

Players can also choose to switch out one of the cards for their Mission card, in order to show it to the other player – necessary if those players are partners and trying to share mission information.

Players have a convenient notepad to mark down clues they’ve received in attempts to deduce which player is which, and discover their partner. Then there is an alternative way to communicate their identity to their partner – each spy has a specific “tell,” such as pulling their left ear lobe or frowning compulsively, but any player can use any tell to communicate or confuse opponents, so care must be taken not to trust someone based simply on a tell.

Once you discover your partner and your mission, you must accomplish it. Missions are generally pretty simple, and involve getting one piece to a specific location or other piece. Once it’s finished, you offer your hand to your partner and say “Mission Accomplished!” ending your game in victory – unless, of course, you were wrong about your partner or the mission, or the person refuses to shake your hand, in which case you lose!

Mission accomplished!
Mission accomplished!

A 3-player variant tasks the player without a partner to first discover they have no partner and then escape the city by making it to a certain space.  A 5-player variant assigns the 5th player to the role of Ambassador, whose task is to deduce the identities of all players and if successful, can claim victory after one set of spies accomplishes their mission.

Carnival of Fun?

Inkognito is an interesting and enjoyable game that takes all the best parts of Clue (deducing information based on what other players show you), replaces the dull parts (rolling and moving? Ugh), and adds an intriguing and dynamic interplay between all the characters. But, it is not without its flaws.

The fun of the game is the thrill of not knowing anything for sure, and the tension of racing unknown opponents to learn what you need to know. You may think that player is your comrade, but are you sure? Are you SURE? Do you reveal yourself to them? Probably not – it’s too soon. But what if the other team has found each other already?

"Hey, what do you think about the new guy? Did you SMELL his lunch today?"
“Hey, what do you think about the new guy? Did you SMELL his lunch today?”

It’s not impossible to logically deduce your opponents, and once you figure out one player it becomes much easier to discern the identities of the other 2 players. Usually it takes a bit of luck; a few uninterrupted turns with the Ambassador, or  having a player show you 3 cards of which 2 are your own; since they don’t know who you are yet, it’s blind luck if this happens.

The game is pretty exciting during this whole process. There’s tension and intrigue and discovery and confusion and it’s easy to taunt and talk with the other players while the game is going on.  You’ll do your best to mislead others, knowing all the while you may be misleading your own partner. All of this experience is smartly contained in a straightforward rule system that is easy to manage; once you get into the game with a few completed turns, you’ll be focusing on deducing your opponents not deciphering the rules of the game.

A conversation with the mighty Ambassador
A conversation with the mighty Ambassador

There are a few flaws that detract from the fun, though. Once you know another players identity, it is very easy to narrow down the others, find your partner, and share your identity with them, to the point that it creates an imbalance in the flow of the game near the end. In every experience I’ve had, one team has figured out their partnership and mission and completed it while the other team is totally in the dark.  This is in no small part influenced by the fact that when you know who someone is, it becomes much easier to answer their questions in a way that is intentionally misleading or confusing, which slows them down even as your information gathering speeds up. If you get lucky early on and someone shows you two cards that match your own identity, you will control the entire game from start to finish and the other team has almost 0 chance of winning, and they won’t even know if til the end.

This issue is somewhat mitigated by the fact that missions are generally simple, one-step goals (usually “get X piece to Y piece”) which can be completely relatively quickly after partnerships are discovered, so at least the imbalance doesn’t drag on and on. It’s just a bit anticlimactic. It seems like you’d want most games should end in a dramatic race to see who can complete their mission first; instead, one team will get the disappointing news that they were nowhere close to being competitive because they didn’t even know who their partner was.

It was Colonel Bubble in the Billiards Room with the....
It was Colonel Bubble in the Billiards Room with the….

Another issue with missions is that they seem a bit unbalanced. When one team has the mission of “get the Ambassador to Space 3” and the other team has “get any piece to the Ambassador” – well, it doesn’t sound that imbalanced until you realize how difficult it is to get the Ambassador to a numbered space. You have to question the Ambassador to move him close to the space (which, incidentally, requires moving a spy to him – oh look, if you had the other mission, you would have completed it!).  But the Ambassador moves back to the Embassy unless that space is blocked by another piece, so you’ll need to get one of your guys there.  Then you’ll need luck of the draw, as moving the Ambassador is only 1 of the 5 possible actions, and has less than 1 in 5 chance of coming up.  In the meantime if an enemy pawn is close to the destination space, moving the Ambassador nearby makes it even easier for opponents to accomplish their mission.  So, I suppose if there was a tense race to complete a mission as both teams discovered their identities near the same time, one team would have a decisive advantage.  Other missions require different amounts of knowledge about your opponents – in some you don’t need to know anything, in others you need to know a specific opponent’s identity and build type.

A complex network of spies on a complex network of streets
A complex network of spies on a complex network of streets

The remaining flaws lie in the components. The board looks beautiful, depicting a stylized map of Venice with colors that are easy on the eyes… but the paths connecting different locations are often obscured by buildings and tightly wrapping around other paths, making it difficult to discern which paths connect to which locations.  This can easily ruin plans as players have limited actions to move and going to the wrong place at the wrong time could easily cost an important round of questioning.

The other component flaw is the distinct lack of player aid. Players have screens which have the chart of missions on them, but there is nothing that reminds players of the action colors and the tells of each spy; in fact, I have players write down the tells so they have a chance of remembering and using them. A card with this information on it for new players would be oh-so-useful and I don’t understand why they weren’t included.

Now that we’re on to components, though, I will say that the board despite its flaws is very nice looking, and the rest of the components (that are there) are FANTASTIC.  I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the images of this post, but if you have, you may have noticed how adorable these little spies are.  They’re simplified caricatures, not detailed miniatures, but they have a TON of character and I think they add a lot to the game. Their faces are little pieces of square plastic but somehow they just look… right. They fit the theme of the game perfectly.

The Phantom of the Prophecy is here!
The Phantom of the Prophecy is here!

The Phantom of Prophecy token is a little funky looking, but a cool gaming tool that is fun to shake around to reveal your actions, so… well, lets just leave it at that. It’s a fun inclusion.

A quick note on the 3 and 5 player variants. They’re basically worthless. Okay, you might use them if you love this game so much you just have to play it but don’t have exactly 4; but they just sort of miss out on a major part of the fun. 3 players leaves one player without a partner, which is much harder to figure out (and will almost guarantee the partnership figures you out first then leads you on). 5 player lets one player control the ambassador, which removes the part of the game where you try to obscure your own identity, and their goal is less than exciting.  Not to mention the fact that the already slow-paced game will just drag with an extra player in the mix. Stick with 4 players, people.

It looks like a lot of possible missions, but reversed letters have the same goals, just slightly different backstories
It looks like a lot of possible missions, but reversed letters have the same goals, just slightly different backstories

Let me wind down with some final thoughts. The rules are nicely crafted. They do feel a little clunky to explain, but it basically takes one turn for each player to ‘get’ it and be able to focus more on deduction than how they get to ask a question or what cards they have to show. Sure, there are plenty of rookie mistakes to be made – allowing people too much access to the Ambassador, or moving player pieces too close to other spies to allow them too much questioning at once – but the basic rules get nailed down quickly.  Within those rules is a world that is interesting, fun, and filled with intrigue and tension.  Goals are pretty clear, but still a challenge to accomplish. It’s a battle of wits and luck and deduction; a gentleman’s or lady’s game of spies. If that sounds appealing to you, Inkognito will bring you a lot of enjoyment, a lot of laughs, and sneakery to your hearts content.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Ares Games for providing a review copy of Inkognito.

Summary

  • Rating 7.5
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Summary

Pros

  • Filled with Intrigue
  • Pretty easy to learn
  • Exciting, mysterious tension
  • Fantastic components

Cons:

  • Missing a player aid
  • Can drag on a little long
  • When a player figures out their partner, they can control the game pretty easily
  • 3 and 5 player variants almost worthless
7.5 Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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