While Gamewright is a publisher of what are ostensibly family games that you can play with your kids, perhaps because many of their games aim to cultivate the mind, they have found a wider audience of all-ages that enjoy stimulating tabletop games. In this household, we’re already fans of three eminently intriguing and mentally nourishing games, not only Dragonwood, which I’ve previously reviewed, but also Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert.
Our most recent acquisition from Gamewright is Imagine, a game that dropped just this month during GenCon. It is described in its press sheet as a game that “transcends language and culture…which came to us from Japan via our French publishing partners” and allows players to “combine, overlap, and even animate the special transparent cards” in order to “convey your chosen subject without saying a word.” These are bold and ambitious promises, and Gamewright makes good on them with this curiously amusing card game.
To set up Imagine, you simply put all 61 transparent cards in a series of circles on your tabletop, so that all players can easily see them. Then you shuffle the Enigma cards, and place those and the score tokens within easy reach of everyone.
Here’s how you play one round of Imagine. On your turn, you grab an Enigma* card, which has eight different enigmas with corresponding clues. Any other player then tells you a number between one and eight to determine the enigma of that round, you provide the other players the associated clue, and then the hinting and the guessing begin. At this point, you can use any of the transparent cards, in any quantity, to communicate your hint. If no one gets it, you can build onto that hint, or you can scrap it and start over, whichever you prefer. There’s no set time limit either, and the players can decide when they’ve had enough. If no one guesses correctly, then no one scores, but if someone does grok what you’re trying to do, both that player and you get one point. Yes, Imagine rewards both good hinters and good guessers, which can encourage a quick game.
As for a more specific example of play, first take a look at a sample Enigma card:
When this card game up during a game, someone called “six,” so that my enigma was “hula hoop,” and their clue was “Sports and Leisure.” I only needed two cards here, and the hinter and I scored after about five seconds.
No, it isn’t a perfect hint—there are only 61 transparent cards after all, so your selection of imagery is limited. I had wanted someone to call “five” so I could play these three cards as “Captain America”:
These two are probably among the easiest enigmas in the game. More than most games, Imagine has a learning curve, as while there is a limited arsenal of symbols, there are still 61 different cards to absorb. As the Imagine “alphabet” is learned, the game will become quicker as the players will be able to rely on a more articulate memory of the cards and not play “hunt and peck” as they pore over and over again looking for cards they don’t yet know by heart. After my first time playing this game, my second thought was the hope that there will be expansion packs with additional transparent cards, as 61 shapes are not enough for some enigmas. (My first thought was that I was looking forward to introducing this to other friends that play tabletop games.)
Three to eight players can play Imagine, and I can tell you that unlike games that break down in games with a low player count (I’m looking at you, Spyfall), my wife, daughter, and I played a very satisfying three player game. Footage of our game play could have been used for a TV commercial, as there was a lot of laughing, loud banter, hilarious clues, and amusing guesses.
I really only have one criticism of Imagine. The game rewards bad hinters and bad guessers, not just good guessers and good hinters. However, this flaw may assist the game in securing mass appeal, as it levels the playing field.
You see, Imagine doesn’t end until every player provides two good hints that are guessed correctly by another player. In one game, a player provided two good hints within three moves (the seventh play overall), while it took six moves (the fifteenth play over all) for the player whose second hint ended the game. The superior hinter hit the hint quota early, and would have won if the game ended then; the inefficient hinter didn’t meet the quota until eight plays later, and because the game ended at that moment, the bad hinter scored the game point with her second good hint. Hence, Imagine rewards bad hinters by letting them enjoy a prolonged game with more scoring opportunities, as well as one of the two points given out in the final scoring opportunity.
As to rewarding bad guessers, this same player, instead of using thoughtful guessing, would throw out dozens of guesses at the rate of two a second, using the “throw everything until something sticks” strategy. This scattergun approach is as effective as you would expect, and, pragmatically speaking, more effective than thoughtful guessing when the thoughtful guesser is drawing a blank. Twenty bad guesses have a better chance of getting a right answer than no good guesses at all.
The bad news for those that like the casual analytics of tabletop gaming, or even those that overcome the learning curve involved with grasping the language of 61 symbols in Imagine, is that their acumen will not be much of an advantage over the bad hinters and bad guessers. The good news is that if you’re bad at hinting and guessing, you may still do well at Imagine, and you even get a slight advantage in being one of the two final scorers in a game.
As Imagine not only has a strong premise, enjoyable game play, high replay value, and a level playing field, its potential audience is huge, and I expect Imagine to have strong word of mouth that will sell hundreds of thousands of copies.
*”I, Enigma” is also an anagram of Imagine, which may or may not have influenced the translators during their localization of the game.
Gamewright sent a review copy of Imagine. Board of Life uses affiliate links. Cross-posted on NerdSpan.com.