What a klutz, you've knocked a bottle of ink over the note you were given to decipher. You were told that it contains codewords on it. But ,alas, all seems ruined, as surely it's unreadable now? You turn your head from side to side, and squint ... hmmm is that a N, or perhaps a Z laying on its side? Perhaps there is hope after all!
Game Time: 20 minutes
Inkling is an innovative word game from Osprey Games, designed by John Keyworth and illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya. It was the winner of the Best Party Game category at UK Games Expo 2021.
The aim of the game is to communicate your secret clue words from your word list to the players on your left and right, whilst also deciphering their words in return. Players use a hand of 'ink' cards, each featuring a letter from the alphabet. You'll not always have all the letters you 'need', so have to get creative with your cards. The game is played over three rounds, and ideally you want to try to convey as many of your clue words as possible to get a chance of maximising your points.
Play starts by dealing one clue card to each player; the words on your clue card are your clue words for the three rounds. Each player is dealt a starting hand of eight ink cards that they can arrange to spell out their words. You can use as many or as few cards as you like in your arrangements, and you keep your ink cards for future rounds (other than some you may swap out between rounds). If you are particularly cunning, you can convey multiple words at once in a single round.
Here are some ways of using your ink cards:
Placing cards in any orientation you like, e.g. a 'C' could become an 'n'
Covering up part of a card with another card, e.g. an 'E' could become an 'F'
Combining letters to make a letter, e.g. two 'V's to represent a 'W'
Deliberately misspelling a word
Placing cards face down for missing letters
Leaving gaps in words
Making a crossword pattern to use a letter multiple times
Once you have completed your arrangements during a round, try and guess the clue words that the players on your left and right are trying to communicate to you, secretly writing down your guesses on your scoresheet. You can make multiple guesses each round, but to a maximum of seven over the course of the game. So there's no sneakily erasing your pencil scratchings if you run out of guesses hoping other players don't notice, and be careful not to get too many bad guesses to have none left in the final round!
Once everyone has completed all their guesses, you draw more ink cards for the next round. Return all your ink cards from the table to your hand, then you may choose up to two ink cards to place at the bottom of the deck, swapping out that number from the top of the deck. Then draw three more ink cards.
After the final round, it's time to reveal your clue cards and calculate the scores. Using the points values from each word list, players score points for each of their neighbours words they guessed correctly (the guessing score) plus each word they successfully communicated to their neighbours (the ink score). The winner is the person with the most points, and in the event of a tie it's the player who made the fewest overall guesses, and then if still tied it's a shared victory.
I love the box art and the overall colour scheme. Visually it is a very beautiful and enticing game. The game box and cards are of a sturdy quality. The box has an insert so that the cards fit securely and neatly, and are easy to get to due to the bevelled edges. I know that Chris would have a niggle that it wouldn't be easy to sleeve the cards due to their non-standard dimensions, but I feel that they would stand the test of time and play.
Whilst it's not pocket-sized, it is compact and easily portable, and as such would be a good game to take with you on your travels. Bear in mind, however, that it does need some table space for laying out cards. I'm never a huge fan of any finite components in a game, and I can see that you could easily run out of score sheets, particularly if you were to play a lot of six-player games. That said, a sheet of paper each would work fine.
What did we think?
As with most games that involve drawing cards, there is a luck element. Sometimes you end up with a hand of unhelpful letters, or lots of multiples. In one game the hubby got lucky and had all the letters for one of his words, whereas another player had five of the same letter. The scoring system can be a bit frustrating, if one of your neighbours struggles with the concept of the game, or is dealt a bad set of letters then this can lead to you scoring badly too, beyond your control. It can take a bit to get your head around the fact that your scoring is dependent on your neighbours, but the scoresheets are designed with helpful arrows on them to help you understand this.
It's a good little party game, and I'm not surprised it won an award accordingly. It works best with four players and up. Whilst you can't strictly play two-player, you could always do so for fun or for practice games without there being any scoring. Theoretically, you could play it with more than six players but could run out of cards between you, unless you were to use multiple boxes of the game or to play in teams.
There is a good number of clue word cards, meaning it would take a long time before you had come across every single card. Osprey Games could have perhaps introduced different levels of difficulties of cards where players could choose their own difficulty e.g. cards with longer or more unusual words that could be difficult to depict but would score highly. There is also theoretically nothing to stop you from creating your own wordlists, but you might find this difficult to balance as I imagine there was a lot of playtesting before the designer finalised the selection of clue cards and ink cards.
Whilst the box does say ages 14+, I would say it is family-friendly and that literate children under 14 could still enjoy the game, and it could be used in a school setting. It's definitely not a game for everyone. Lots of us at the DoaLG team love it, but when the hubby and I played it with some family members, one of them really struggled with the concept, adding an accidental additional layer of complexity to the game whereby they were creating a word that would hint at one of the words from their word list rather than making the shape of the word itself. That said, if you played the game so much so that you'd all memorised all of the words that idea could be an interesting variant.
Overall, an innovative and visually pleasing word-based game that works nicely in a party setting, for warming up a games night or in between some heavier games. It's certainly fun to play and get creative in but not one for people who prefer only heavier, e.g. 4X-style, games as there's not a huge amount of depth to it and personally it's not a game I would want to pay again and again.
Your resident Word-nerd
*If you're wondering why this has been posted as DoaLG as the author, we're experiencing technical issues at the moment with the blog meaning that I cannot select myself as the author.