Today was our first game of Inkognito. It was between myself, Krishna, Eric, and Isaac. We played the German Milton Bradley version and it's utterly beautiful with cool plastic miniatures for all the figures, and a big scary devil box as the marble roller. But I'm sorry to say the pieces didn't make the game for me. (We also had some problems with rules, since we just had a German rulebook and a "summary" of the rules available here on the Geek; hopefully we got everything right.)
Inkognito has a neat premise, that each of the four players has a partner and you're trying to discover your partner, then put together the two halves of your mission, then complete the mission (usually moving some pawn to a certain place). There's a catch, which is that each player has 4 pawns on the board (tall, short, fat, thin) on the board, and only one of them is them. So, besides figuring out who is who, you also have to figure out which "aspect" the real them is--basically meaning you have to figure two items (aspect, ID) from a set of four for each player. Sort of, because you don't always need to know aspects, or even everyone's IDs.
So, I got my initial set of cards and discovered that I was "B"ubbles (ID), that I was "short" (aspect), and that I had the "A" mission. Then I set out to move about and try and discover who else was who.
This is where I ran into my first problem with the game, the movement system.
You move your pawns (or the ambassador) based on which marbles show up in the devil box. You get to see 3 marbles in the devil box, and their color tells you who & where you can move (yourself on streets or canals, the ambassador to anywhere adjacent, or not at all). On my first turn I threw two white balls out of the three marbles, and the white balls are of course the "don't move" marble, meaning that I only got one move on that first turn. This general trend continued throughout play, with one or two white balls showing up on most turns, often leaving me with nowhere to go. I'd later learn that my partner was having the same problem early in the game. It was very frustrating, especially since there was notable downtime between turns.
If you move one of your pawns onto someone else, you can ask them a question. This deduction portion of the game is interesting and works well. You either ask someone for "aspect" or ID", and then they either give you 2 aspect cards and 1 ID card or the converse, and one of the cards must be true. (You have a set of all 4 aspects and IDs, so that you can offer up truth or lies, as you see fit.) If they keep showing you the same set of three, they have to tell you which is true after the third time.
You can also talk to the ambassador who lets you get just 2 aspects or 2 IDs from a player, making the guess a bit easier.
So on my second turn I managed to roll just one white ball through skillful use of the devil box, and I managed to get in touch with the ambassador. I then asked the player to my left, Eric, about his ID. He handed me two ID cards, Mr. X and Mdmse Z. I immediately realized that this was the right technique. You see, X+Z are always partners, as are B+F. By handing me X+Z he made it so that I'd know he was my partner if Ihewas and otherwise I'd just know he wasn't. In other words that pass was guaranteed to give his partner 2x as much info as it gave me.
Later when Krishna quizzed my identity through the ambassador I used the same method, giving him the B+F cards. It turned out that he was indeed Mr. F, and so he knew I was Mr. B. When I later quizzed him he snuck his mission, B, into the set. I now knew our mission was A+B and thus our opponents was C+D.
Unfortunately, our mission was a lot harder than our opponents. We had to hit Mr. X, which means that we not only had to identify who Mr. X was but also what his aspect was; our opponents meanwhile just had to get Mr. X to a certain space. Therefore, we had two whole extra deductive steps, which would have taken several more turns, especially if the marbles stayed against us, which our opponents never needed. It was a terrible, terrible imbalance.
I'd done a little bit of work on this additional deduction. I knew the person to my right, Isaac, was tall. And that Eric, my other opponent, to my left, was either fat or thin. Unfortunately, this turned out to be all wrong, because I kept getting thin+tall confused, likewise fat+short. I found them really hard to tell apart when they weren't next to each other. My understanding of Isaac's aspect had been based on him handing me my own aspect, short. But it had actually been fat that he'd handed me.
It turned out not to matter. We couldn't effectively guard the #2 space where Mr. X was supposed to go because we didn't know who Mr. X was. Isaac dropped his correct pawn onto the space and said, "Mission Accomplished". We were still nowhere near figuring out which of them was Mr. X and what his real aspect was (though we probably would have gotten it wrong due to my problem with the aspects).
On the whole, I was unimpressed by Incognito. The deductions were interesting, and allowed for a lot of thoughtful insight and cascading eliminations, as you see in Sleuth. It was so hampered by a random, frustrating movement system and bad balance in the missions, however, that I didn't think it was actually a good game.
If I were to rate the game using the RPGnet scale I'd give it a high "4" out of "5" for Style, with the similarites of the four aspects causing enough usability problems to be an issue. I'd give it a middling "3" out of "5" for Substance. The randomness can be forgiven if you accept it as only a family game, but that seems a bad match for the high level of deduction. I'd need to scour through all of the missions to see how endemic imbalances were.
Even though you did not know the identity and aspect of each opponent, couldn't you have narrowed down their mission to one of two options and judged which they were going for then moved your pieces into that area to nab anyone who came close?
I don't know if that works since I haven't played though.