Full disclosure: A review copy of Einstein was provided by Artana Games.
You’re probably going to see a number of reviews popping up over the next couple weeks as I work my way through my queue kind-of-aggressively before the holidays. I’m still riding a bit of the wave after BGG.CON, and I’m getting a bunch of review copies in to review before the end of the year, which is always exciting. Did I overcommit a bit? Yes. Is that my problem and my problem exclusively? Also, yes. What a time to be alive.
Anyways, personal tidbits aside, let’s take a look at Einstein: His Amazing Life and Incomparable Science, which I am continually fascinated by as a tagline. In this, you play either Einstein at different stages / phases of his life, or multiple Einsteins from different timelines in the multiverse come back to decide who is the greatest Einstein, once and for all. I prefer the latter canon, but you can decide what you believe it is; it’s literally your game, now. Will you be able to science the best?
A game of Einstein is remarkably easy to set up. First, give out the four Einsteins (in this order):
And give each player the tiles corresponding to their color:
You’ll find a number of cards:
The colorful cards are known as Inspiration cards. Give each player the Inspiration cards of their Einstein’s color:
Shuffle those, and draw 3. There are also Major Theory cards to shuffle:
Place 3 face-up in view of all players.
Dump out the stars / Prestige Tokens somewhere nearby:
Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start! The youngest Einstein goes first.
As I mentioned, the game is about trying to prove you are the greatest of all Einsteins, and the only way to do that is to prove things with science. On each turn, you can play your tiles (Ideas) to the center and attach them to other Ideas to create shapes pictured on your Inspiration cards. These ideas come from all over science, so there are four types of tiles:
When you attach them, you must place them adjacent to another tile such that at least one of the white lines from that tile continues onto the tile you just placed, like so:
Also, you must play two Ideas every turn. When you complete an Inspiration, you reveal it and place it face-up in front of you. It shows how many points it’s worth, so you don’t need to take any tokens. However, even though you are fighting for Einsteinian dominance, you are still a scientist and must begrudgingly provide attributions for your Inspirations. If your completed Inspiration uses other players’ tiles, give each player who has a tile in the Inspiration a Prestige token:
A few rules on placement / Inspirations:
- No overlapping. All tiles must be flat on the table.
- You must place your tiles adjacent to other tiles on the board. The only exception is the first tile placed, as there are obviously no tiles currently on the board. I know I already mentioned it earlier; it just bears repeating.
- You must match the Inspiration card exactly. Rotations are fine and totally legal; mirroring it is not. There’s no penalty for being wrong other than some minor embarrassment, though.
- You must have placed one of the tiles in the Inspiration this turn. You can’t say “oh, it’s already on the board and complete, so I just get to take it.” You have to be the science you want to see in the world.
In addition to the Inspirations, you may find that you’ve completed a Major Theory:
You may take those as well and add them to your scoring area. Unlike Inspirations, other players cannot earn Prestige Tokens if you use their tiles to complete a Major Theory. That’s okay! Just tell them that they can be second author on the paper. I’m sure they’ll understand.
End your turn by drawing back up to three Inspirations (if you played any), refilling the Major Theories (if you took any), and then play continues with the Einstein on your left.
The game ends in one of three ways:
- Any player has only three Inspirations left (the draw pile is depleted).
- There are only three Major Theories left (the draw pile is depleted).
- Any player has only two types of Idea tiles left.
When that happens, play continues until the oldest Einstein (the last player in the round) has taken their turn. Tally up scores and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I think it’s not bad at two, but I find that I spend a lot more time building in my own space and only venturing to the other player’s tiles when they’re very close to building something I need. At two, every point you give to the other player is essentially you losing a point, so collaboration isn’t super advisable.
At three, you need to be careful of the Third Player Problem, in which one player might just not participate in the Big Idea and build off on their own, which might swing the game out of balance. I guess that happens at four, too, but I haven’t seen it as much.
At four, there’s a lot of chaos, so it’s hard to guarantee that you’ll be able to make your Inspirations playable without relying on another player. It’s a little more chaotic, but it’s definitely more satisfying to see the Big Idea in its full glory on the table. Also note that it might not get much bigger (since one of the end game activation conditions is Major Theories, which don’t scale upward with player count), but it’s definitely more colorful, which is fun.
I probably prefer this at higher player counts, as a rule.
- You need to score multiple cards per turn, if you can. Obviously the more points you score, the more likely it is that you’ll win, but you need to be pulling Major Theories and Inspirations if you want to be the best Einstein. If you’re not scoring on a turn, that’s probably pretty bad. There’s actually a Major Theory for completing two Inspirations in one turn, which means you might be able to have a 13-point turn, if you’re really looking to show that you’re the best Einstein in town.
- Don’t bother trying to block people. At two, it might be useful to block people, but there’s almost no chance you’ll know what they’re trying to do, so it could just be a huge waste of your time. At four it’s basically impossible. Just try to focus on scoring better; you’ll naturally accidentally block people as you play the game. They’ll hate you for it, but you’re not here to make friends with other time-displaced versions of yourself. You might be able to block Major Theories from other players, if you feel like that’s how you want to play.
- Similarly, don’t worry too much about giving out Prestige Tokens. If you can avoid it, you should, as they sometimes decide the game, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend not scoring an Inspiration just because you’re going to give the next player a point. Especially if you’re scoring a 5-point Inspiration.
- The “place four of an Idea type” Major Theories are really easy to score if you have nothing better to do. Sometimes you can’t really score that much, so just take something.
- Depending on when it comes up, the first player has a natural advantage for the “connect 5 of your Ideas together” Major Theory. They just have the opportunity to play 5 Ideas before anyone else, so if it’s the first card you may want to try to segment their ideas off, if you can.
- If you place a lot of tiles all over the place, you have better odds of getting Prestige Tokens. If you’re placing all over the board you increase the likelihood that people are going to build off of your tiles and give you Prestige Tokens. If you earn 7 or 8 points in a game off of them, that might be enough to get the win! I can’t recommend this as like, your only strategy, but it might not be the worst play you could make.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Plays fast. It’s a very, very quick game, mostly due to some of the end game activation conditions not scaling upwards with player count. That’s not bad, though!
- Easy to learn. You connect the tiles to match the shapes. There’s not exactly rocket science happening, here.
- Cute art. It’s nice and whimsical. I appreciate it.
- Really cool core concept. The idea of a massive semi-cooperative tile-laying game with everyone contributing to the center is pretty neat. It’s great, provided everyone participates.
- The way the pieces fit together is very satisfying. They really don’t look like they could fit together the way that they do, but they do, and it’s just oddly satisfying.
- I don’t really understand the theme, so much. I’m like, 95% sure it’s time-displaced Einsteins battling for supremacy, but there’s no Evil Goatee Einstein or an Einstein with an eyepatch from The Bad Future or something. Maybe they’ll be in the expansion?
- Major spatial component that may not be for all players. Unlike the tile-placement aspects of Between Two Cities or Carcassonne, the geometry of the placements matters a lot. This may be very difficult for players who don’t like spatial games or who are spatially challenged.
- The rulebook is cute, but it’s occasionally hard to find information you’re looking for. It’s kind of laid out as a narrative, which is neat, but it might have been good to have a reference or an easily-indexed way to look for relevant information. Just my minor nitpick.
- Many games can be decided by just one solid turn. If you score 13 points in a turn (reasonable, if you get lucky), it’s going to be very hard to catch up. While this might be more frustrating in a longer game, honestly, it’s a 15 – 30 minute game, so that’s not the worst thing in the world. Longer game probably would have put this more firmly in the “Cons” category.
- Highly vulnerable to analysis paralysis. I mean, it’s a tile-laying game with a geometric component. I’ve seen people agonize over their plays. It might behoove you to play with a timer, as while it’s not quite as bad as, say, Word Domination, it can still really agitate some people.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Einstein is a neat little game! I personally really like the spatial and geometric components of the game (which is good, because that’s the core of it), but it’s probably a bit light for me given the amount of analysis paralysis inherent to it. That said, I am happy to play this game, as long as people are okay with me hustling them a bit on their turns to finish quickly. I think it’s a great game for a Casual imprint (which it is), and I think it’s a wonderful game to get people into tile-laying / geometric games (especially given the odd geometries of the tiles). It would probably make for an excellent family game, as well, especially given the light / whimsical nature of the subject matter. If you’ve got a group that plays quickly (or doesn’t mind a timer) or you’re looking to introduce someone to tile games, Einstein’s a … smart choice!