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Inotaizu

Reviewed by Joe Huber

(Takamagahara, 3-4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; 38 Euros)

 

Once, fifteen years ago, it wasn’t easy to get many of the beset games in the United States. There were a limited number of importers and even learning of them took some doing. There were a number of American companies such as Avalon Hill and Mayfair producing various designs – including the first few German titles – but many of the best games were difficult or impossible to obtain.

inotaizu1Fortunately, this situation has changed dramatically in the last decade. Not only are notable German games being produced by various domestic publishers, but the most notable designs from France, Italy, Poland, Japan, and elsewhere are appearing in short order. Even older titles are finding American publishers, providing a plethora of excellent titles for gamers to choose from.

This excellent development has had an interesting consequence: it’s hard to find a hidden gem anymore. Even the smallest of publishers to attend Essen can get the word out and any hits will attract the attention of multiple publishers. As a result, most of the hidden gems I’ve found in recent years haven’t been older games – just as fun a journey though it often leads to recommending games that are quite difficult to obtain.

But now and again, there is a good game that escapes the Essen radar. Inotaizu is just such a game. I heard about it, after the fact, thanks to Lorna Wong; based upon her description of the game, I decided to order a copy from the designer, Kenichi Tanabe.

The game is themed around the mapping of the Japanese coastline around 1800 AD, a unique and appealingly fresh subject. The name of the game is derived from that of the cartographer Tadatak Ino, who very accurately mapped the Japanese coast over the course of four journey at that time.

Inotaizu is played over the course of five turns, each consisting of six phases. In the first phase, players play cards onto a four row by five column matrix. After playing a card, a player may select a row of actions. In the second phase, the actions are carried out, column by column, so that each player gets one action at a time (or no action, if no card had been played). There are four basic types of actions: track advancement, cash, placement of assistants or completing mapping work. Track advancement allows players to advance on either the Ino track, which provides a small amount of income and victory points or the Government track, which provides a lot of incomes but which is rest after the second and fourth turns. Cash is necessary for both placing assistants and for mapping the coast.

In the third phase, Ino helps complete mapping work, which can accelerate scoring. The fourth phase is a scoring phase in which complete mapping work is scored. Each project scores points for everyone who contributed to the effort and advances players on the Ino track, the Government track, or the Farmer track which scores a large number of victory points for the leader at the end of the game. Income is distributed during the fifth phase. During the second, fourth and fifth turn, interim scoring then occurs. At the end of the fifth turn, the Farmer track is scored and a bonus is given to the player with the most money along with a penalty to the player with the least. The player with the most victory points wins.

Inotaizu arrived a week after I ordered it, complete with English instructions. Kind of. The instructions are in translated Japanese and are amusing to read through for it. I am fairly certain that, in the end, we correctly interpreted the iffy English rules correctly but the rules could use a re-write by a native English speaker and more illustrations.

inotaizu2Having come to an understanding of the rules that fit with the available clues, we started playing. And we discovered, much to my delight, a fascinating and innovative game. Because all of the cards are positive, the differences tend to come from creating a row with the right mix of actions and timings – and correctly choosing when to select an incomplete row. There are viable strategies focusing on the Ino track, the Government track, or a mix of the two with the Farmer track. The rules of the game encourage diversity; a single piece of work on four different maps is always better than completing four segments of work on a single map – which in turn encourages player interaction.

What really makes Inotaizu stand out, however, is the interaction between the card play and carrying out the actions. Unless you choose the row you played in immediately, there’s no guarantee that you will have the opportunity to use the card you just played – and having only one of each card, there’s no opportunity to create an equivalent sequence elsewhere. The difference between the first and fourth row can also be enormous. Often, multople players are attempting to complete work on one map segment and only the first will have the chance.

Inotaizu won’t appeal to everyone. The random help of Ino will sometimes have a significant impact on the game; this offers the advantage of giving players an option to play for but won’t satisfy those bothered by randomness which they can not react to. And while I find the theme of mapping the coast of Japan to be very engaging, I’m sure it won’t appeal to everyone. Perhaps the biggest concern for most will be the price. Getting a copy shipped to the United States – most easily accomplished by sending a mail on BGG to the designer (username: Tanayan) – ran 38 Euros. While I’m comfortable with that cost, given the quality of the production, it’s not inexpensive.

While Inotaizu is not dissimilar to many European games, it is different enough not to be an obvious choice for fans of that style. And it’s definitely not a game for wargamers or fans of fancy components – the pieces are merely functional. But unlike many games where you may be able to try a friend’s copy or try the game at a local convention, it’s likely you’ll need to acquire a copy if you wish to play it. For those who can’t stand some randomness, that’s probably a poor choice. And while there is a fair degree of interaction, Inotaizu isn’t going to satisfy those who wish to directly attack an opponent’s position. But for those who like to try something new and different, Inotaizu will be a wonderful find.

 


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