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Subject: Have You Seen My Friend? He's About Yea High... rss

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Jim Cote
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The streets and canals of Venice are alive with the sights and sounds of Carnival. Four secret agents, and all their decoys, are using the masked event for cover in an attempt to find their respective partners and to complete their missions. The catch is that none of the agents know what their partner looks like, and each agent only knows half of his or her secret mission. It's going to take some carefully crafted encounters and clever deduction to find your partner and complete your mission before the other agents do the same.




Components (Rio Grande, Winning Moves, Venice Connection)

The 6-sectioned board is big for boxes of this size. It is fairly busy looking, but has clear land (red) and water (blue) connections, and large plain circles for locations.

The randomizer used to determine your possible actions is the Phantom of Prophecy (aka Man in Black,or Evil Nun, or Mene Tekel). It is a large creepy hollow plastic head with 10 colored balls inside (2 red, 2 blue, 2 black, 1 yellow, 3 white), and 3 small holes for balls to appear in.

Each player gets 4 plastic pawns in their own color, which must be put together before the first game. Each pawn has two halves, a base, a hat, and a mask. Each set of pawns of the same color are differentiated: short, tall, skinny, fat. There is also a black plastic Ambassador pawn.

There are 4 thick cardboard player screens. These are the thickest player screens in any game I have seen. On the back side are printed all 24 possible missions in German, Italian, and English. This is all very nice, but there are 2 problems. One, the screens are not beveled on the bottom, so they do not lean towards you and tend to fall as you are writing or if you bump them. Two, what would really be nice instead of screens is some kind of pad you could hold in your hand while you write, with a flap to hide your sheet.

Finally, as is typical of deduction games, there is a pad of sheets that are used to keep track of information as you acquire it. It's not clear from the rules exactly how to use these sheets; each player develops their own system. I'll show mine in the play example below. The game includes no pencils.




Setup

The board has 16 locations colored in the 4 player colors. Each player chooses a color, and places their 4 pawns on the 4 locations of their respective color however they like. The Ambassador pawn is placed on the Embassy location. Each player gets a set of 8 cards (4 identity, 4 attribute) in their color.

Shuffle the 4 secret identity cards (Lord Fiddlebottom, Colonel Bubble, Madame Zsa Zsa, Agent X) and give one to each player. Do the same with the 4 secret attribute cards (Short, Tall, Skinny, Fat), and the 4 secret mission cards (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta). An example setup of secret cards might look like this:

RED: Lord Fiddlebottom, Tall, Delta
GREEN: Colonel Bubble, Fat, Alpha
BLUE: Madame Zsa Zsa, Short, Charlie
YELLOW: Agent X, Skinny, Bravo





Objective

The two pairs of secret agents are trying to discover who their partner is, what the other half of the secret mission is, and complete their mission before the other team does. Using the above example, the Fiddlebottom/Bubble mission is Delta/Alpha which is "Land any piece on Mme Zsa Zsa", while the Zsa Zsa/Agent X mission is Charlie/Bravo which is "Move Mme Zsa Zsa to space 4".

Fiddlebottom and Bubble are always partners, as are Zsa Zsa and Agent X. However, you do not know which player is which role. In most cases, it is also important to know which attribute each player is because only one pawn of each color on the board actually represents that player; the other 3 of each color are decoys. In both missions above, Mme Zsa Zsa refers to the Short blue pawn only.

If you have deduced things correctly and succeed in your mission, you and your partner win. If you made a mistake, you and your partner lose.




Play

On his/her turn, a player shakes the Phantom of Prophecy depositing 3 balls into the holes. The colors of the balls represent available actions:

RED: Move one of your pawns 1 space along a road.
BLUE: Move one of your pawns 1 space along the water.
YELLOW: Move one of your pawns 1 space along either road or water.
BLACK: Move the Ambassador 1 space.
WHITE: No action.


Movement must conform to the following rules:

+ You may move pawns multiple spaces by using multiple actions.
+ You may not move the Ambassador to a space containing another player's pawn.
+ You may not move your own pawns to the same space.

After all movement has been carried out, if there are any pawns on the same space, you have the opportunity to ask for information:

Another player's pawn: You may ask that player for either Identity or Attribute information. The player must pass you 2 cards of the requested type and 1 card of the other type. At least one of the passed cards must be true. After recording the information, you send the player's pawn to any empty unnumbered location.

The Ambassador: You may ask any one player for either Identity or Attribute information. The player must pass you 2 cards of the requested type. At least one of the passed cards must be true. After recording the information, you send the Ambassador to any empty colored location or the (empty) Embassy.

If you meet multiple pawns on a turn, you can ask multiple questions. However, you cannot ask 2 questions of the same player in the same turn. If you do not wish to get information at an encounter, you can forego the query and move an additional location (must be empty). It is not uncommon that you will be unable to make any pawns meet on your turn. In this case, simply position yourself best to be able to do so on your next turn.




Communicating With Your Partner

As soon as you have deduced which player is your partner, it is important to exchange information quickly. If your partner queries you during a normal turn (he/she may not know that they are your partner yet) you may replace 1 or 2 of the cards passed to him with your secret cards. One of the normal cards must still be true (but why would you lie to your partner?).

Once you get any secret card from a player, they should be your partner. You should now pass them your mission (and your Attribute if possible) the next time they query you.

Habits

The official rules list the habits of the secret agents:

Lord Fiddlebottom: Winks
Colonel Bubble: Pulls his ear
Madame Zsa Zsa: Blows kisses
Agent X: Raises his eyebrows


If you think you know who your partner is, you are supposed to use your gesture to signal him/her without getting caught by the other players. I find this part of the game to be silly. One, it takes away some of the deduction and positioning in the game. Two, guys blowing kisses to each other is usually really creepy.

Why the Map?

It's completely understandable for a new player of Inkognito to think that the map (and movement) is too random and a waste of time. Games like Sleuth, Mini-Inkognito (card game), and Black Vienna offer more pure deduction and less downtime. However, in Inkognito, the goal is not to "guess the answer"; the goal is to find the answer and complete your mission.

Missions are always spatial: move some pawn to another pawn, or move some pawn to a specific location. Missions do not have to take place solely once you have ALL the information. Say you are Madame Zsa Zsa with the Bravo mission. Your 3 possible missions, once you get your partner's mission information, would be:

"Land any piece on the Ambassador."
"Land Madame Zsa Zsa on the Ambassador, or vice versa."
"Land any piece on Lord Fiddlebottom."

Therefore, from the start of the game, you can be positioning your pawns and the Ambassador so that any of these missions could be completed in a single turn. The third mission, of course, requires that you find Lord Fiddlebottom's Attribute so you know which pawn is him.

Deduction

The deductive part of Inkognito is very simple. It is much easier than Sleuth or Black Vienna. You can often find out every player's role with only 3-5 queries total.

Say you are Lord Fiddlebottom, and Tall. You ask a player for Identity and he passes you Fiddlebottom/Zsa Zsa/Tall. You know he is not Fiddlebottom or Tall, so he has to be Zsa Zsa. Now if another player later passes you Zsa Zsa/Tall/Short, you know they are Short.

Every time you know something about a player, then you also know that the other 2 players are not that. Therefore, you don't have to query a specific player to obtain information about them. In fact, you can get their Identity and Attribute without ever asking them anything. However, once you know a player's Identity and Attribute, it serves no purpose to query them any more unless they are your partner and you need their mission information.




Information Sheet and Sample Play

I fill out my sheet as follows. Each large section is for information about each of the other 3 players. Each time I make a query, I put marks across a new row for that player showing what they told me. Once I know a fact about a player, I circle it and scribble out that column for the other players. Say I am Fiddlebottom, Tall. I get the following cards over several turns from the various players:

GREEN: Fiddlebottom, Short, Fat (Now I know GREEN isn't Skinny, because he has to be Short or Fat)
BLUE: Bubble, Agent X, Short
YELLOW: Short, Fat (Now I know YELLOW isn't Skinny, therefore BLUE must be)
BLUE: Zsa Zsa, Bubble, Fat (Now I know BLUE is Bubble, my partner!)


F Z B X T Sk Sh F
========= ================= =================
|GREEN | |x*x| |xxx| | |xxx|xxx| * | * |
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx| |xxx| | |xxx|xxx| | |
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx| |xxx| | |xxx|xxx| | |
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx| |xxx| | |xxx|xxx| | |
========= ================= =================
|BLUE | |xxx|xxx| * |x*x| |xxx| O |x*x|xxx|
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx|x*x| * |xxx| |xxx| |xxx|x*x|
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx|xxx| O |xxx| |xxx| |xxx|xxx|
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx|xxx|xxx|xxx| |xxx| |xxx|xxx|
========= ================= =================
|YELLOW | |xxx| |xxx| | |xxx|xxx| * | * |
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx| |xxx| | |xxx|xxx| | |
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx| |xxx| | |xxx|xxx| | |
| | ----------------- -----------------
| | |xxx| |xxx| | |xxx|xxx| | |
========= ================= =================


See how much information I collected using only 4 queries? On subsequent turns, I will try to find the Identities and Attributes of the enemy team just in case we need that information to complete our mission. In this case, asking YELLOW for Identity works best; Since YELLOW hasn't shown me any Identity cards yet, he/she will likely have to tell me something useful. If my partner queries me, I will pass him my secret mission card, and secret attribute card (if possible).

Three-Player

There's an official variant so you can play with 3 players. The 2 players who are partners play as normal and must complete their combined mission. The 3rd player has no partner, has to figure that out, and escape from Venice by one of 4 locations (shown on the mission chart) based on his/her single secret mission card. I have never tried it, so I don't know how balanced it is.

Speeding Up Play

One of the bad things about Inkognito is that while a player is considering their options, everyone else is just sitting there waiting. Deductions are so easy, you basically do them as you note the information on your sheet, so there's really nothing to do unless a player queries you. To speed up play, I recommend the following things:

+ Once a player has passed you cards, pass the Phantom of Prophecy to the next player. Do your writing and thinking on their turn. Near the end of the game, if you think you might be able to claim victory, you may need to stall.
+ When a player shakes the Phantom of Prophecy, help them find possible moves to make pawns meet. This is usually what players spend the most time considering.

I think this game can go relatively fast if all players have played a few times recently. The game does not have to progress intolerably slow.

Summary

If you like light deduction with a little extra going on, then this game is for you. The only game that comes close to Inkognito in terms of mechanics is Mystery of the Abbey, but I have not played the latter. I am sometimes tempted to just use the sheets and take turns asking questions, but that removes the "secretly finding your partner without the other team knowing and completing our mission" fun. In some games you will find your partner/mission early and spend a lot of time trying to complete the mission. In others, it will take a while to find your partner/mission, but then complete the mission very fast.

I think Inkognito would work with almost any player who plays games at all, but is probably not that great a gateway game (not too interactive, and some downtime). The level of deductive brain power required is not even as high as Mastermind. For serious gamers, it qualifies as a "heavy filler".

Components:
Rules:
Fun:
Luck:
Complexity:
Replayability:

Overall:


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Sue Hemberger

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Thanks for the very complete explication of rules. We played (my older German edition of) Inkognito last night for the first time and suffered from intolerable downtime as well as the very bad/incomplete English ruleset available online. I wish I'd read your description first, but we ultimately reached the same conclusions about how to play next time.

Despite a not-so-great first outing, I am eager to play again. In addition to Mystery of the Abbey, the two other games Inkognito reminds me of are Warumono 2 (which I've played and may like better) and Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg (which I haven't played yet but which also requires you to figure out who you partner is).
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Sue Hemberger

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Oh yeah and one translation I read says that Zsa Zsa's habit is "disdainfully lifting her nose" -- which would spare you the air kisses, LOL!
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Scott Nelson
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Newest version says she is a snob and the stuck up nose effect is her habit. I'm glad someone got to that translation before I acquired my copy. According to the "old" rules, my 1 yr old niece must be Zsa Zsa.
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Jim Grosch
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Quote:
However, you cannot ask 2 questions of the same player in the same turn.


Is this accurate? I know you cannot have two of your pawns meet up with another player twice, but can't you meet the ambassador with one pawn and another player with a second pawn and ask both sets of questions to the same player (one would require 2 cards, the other 3)?

I think I like your interpretation better, as when we played, this happened often and you would always ask the 3 card question first and then the 2 card question so that the player could not respond with the same two cards just shown in the 3 card question.
 
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Jim Cote
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magicode wrote:
Quote:
However, you cannot ask 2 questions of the same player in the same turn.


Is this accurate?


It is not stated plainly in the rules--only implied. Still, I think it's good to keep a player from getting too much info about another player on a given turn.

"When showing your cards to another player whose figure has met the Ambassador, you are not allowed to show a pair of cards that is part of a combination of 3 cards that you have shown that player before."

 
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Martin Cassel
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ekted wrote:

Habits

(...) I find this part of the game to be silly. One, it takes away some of the deduction and positioning in the game. Two, guys blowing kisses to each other is usually really creepy.



I always found this the funniest part of the game, when you know who your partner is and try to contact him by doing the "habit", kicking him under the table, passing your character card under the table, and so on, since the deduction is really not what keeps the game interesting.

Good review though!
 
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Andrew H
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I was under the impression that you were allowed to put on the affectations of other players characters to confuse your opponents into thinking that you are their partner. Is this true or not?
 
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Ronald Tweakston
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That's my impression, too, just from reading this review. How funny...
 
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Hunter E
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I like the habits thing, it reminds me of the signals in Mus...
 
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