#236 – Einstein: The Genius Expansion [Expansion]

Base price: $10.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ~45 minutes.
BGG Link
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 5

Full disclosure: A review copy of Einstein: The Genius Expansion was provided by Artana Games. 

Whew, getting expansions reviewed is difficult. I forgot how long it takes to get a game group comfortable enough with the base game to want to try the expansion, and how long it takes for me to get comfortable enough with a game to want to try the expansion. I just recently polished off Dokmus: Return of Erefel, and now we should dive into another expansion I got around the same time for Einstein: His Amazing Life and Incomparable Science, my current contender for Longest Name of a Board Game I Own.

In The Genius Expansion, you’re gonna dig in a bit more to the strategy side of Einstein, with an entirely new scoring system, some new cards, and new rules. Will you be able to make Einstein proud of your knowledge and mastery of chemistry, math, physics, and philosophy? Or is your success purely theoretical?

Contents

Setup

The game is generally set up like the base game, but with one major exception and a few major additions. The first one you’ll notice is that there are four new Einstein cards; give each player one:

New Einsteins

You might not notice the difference (I didn’t, at first), but they each have a symbol corresponding to one of the Scoring Cards that gives them an extra point in that category. More on that later.

Instead of giving each player their own deck of Inspiration cards, set the Inspiration card decks for all players in the center of the play area, and flip one card face-up in front of the decks. Also do the same for the Major Theory cards, and the new Insight cards:

Insight Cards

Take the new scoring cards for each category and add them near the player area, as well:

Scoring Cards

Now, each player makes a hand of three cards: one Insight card, one Major Theory card, and then one Inspiration card in their color. That’s about all the changes! The Youngest Einstein will again start by adding two tiles of theirs to the Big Idea in the center.

Setup.jpg

Gameplay

Gameplay 0

The game plays fairly similarly to the base game, as well, but there are some major scoring differences to keep in mind.

As in the base game, you play two tiles from your area into the Big Idea in the center, connecting them to other ideas that are already in play. Unlike the base game, however, once you run out of ideas of a certain type you may use another player’s ideas of that type, if you’d like.

If you fulfill an Inspiration or a Major Theory, you reveal the card and place it face-up in front of you. To fulfill an Insight card, you must place a piece such that it legally connects to a piece of the type and color on the card that is already on the table. If you do, reveal the card and place it face-up in front of you. Like Inspiration cards, you must give your opponent(s) a Prestige Token for each piece of theirs you used in order to fulfill the Insight Token (you might assume it’s only one, max, but you might have had to use another player’s piece to connect to it).

Gameplay 1

Once your turn ends, you may discard any number of cards from your hand (by returning them to the bottom of their respective stacks) and draw any face-up cards you’d like. Once you’ve done so, you may refill the missing spots. You cannot take from the deck, normally; only from the face-up cards.

Play continues until any two stacks of cards are depleted or any one player has used up two types of tiles in their area. Once the oldest Einstein (the last player to start) finishes their turn, go to scoring.

Gameplay 2

Scoring

So, unlike the base game, you only score in the expansion by competing for Scoring cards. The point values on the cards / Prestige Tokens will not count beyond helping you get Scoring cards. There are six categories, and each Einstein helps you get one of the Scoring cards by offering you one “point” in one of four categories. Each player will present their “score” for a category and be assigned a Scoring card relative to their ranking in that category. Note that you must have at least one point in a category to receive a Scoring card for that category.

The first and easiest scoring thing to do is Prestige Tokens. The player with the most gets the highest Scoring card, the player with the second-most gets the next-highest, and so on. Once you’ve done that, you may return the Prestige Tokens to the Supply; you might need them for later, but they’re not worth extra points.

Next up, score Major Theories. Add the total value of the points (the number in the star) on your collected Major Theory cards (not the ones still in your hand) and add them. Again, the player with the most gets the highest Scoring card, the player with the second-most gets the next-highest, and so on.

So, last up, you notice how there are four types of Insights and Inspirations? They match four of the types of scoring cards: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, and Philosophy. Similar to Major Theories, add up your totals for each category and assign Scoring Cards.

Gameplay 3

Once you’ve done that, add up your total score by summing your (hopefully six) Scoring cards. The player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

The major difference in player count is the increase in Inspiration and Insight cards. It also lets you spread points around a bit better by giving you more options as to the player you want to give Prestige Tokens to, as opposed to the zero-sum game at two players.

Also, at higher player counts, more tiles get added, so the overall Big Idea starts to look a bit more visually interesting. Analysis paralysis can get a bit worse, though, so you might see the game drag a bit at higher player counts.

I have a bit of a soft spot for four players, but I don’t have a ton of preference for player counts, here.

Strategy

The strategy from the base game isn’t too dissimilar, but the major scoring changes create new incentive structures, so I’m adding new stuff here. Your mileage may vary with the base game’s strategy tips.

  • You really need one of everything. You do not want to get locked out of a scoring card tier. Even if you only get two points in that category, sometimes that’s enough to get you third (or even second) place! It’s not usually enough to win you the category, but you never know.
  • Keep an eye on how your opponents are doing. Ideally, you barely edge them out in every category. It’s not going to make you a lot of friends, but, well, you know. Just try to maintain some awareness of what areas people are focusing on and scoring. Is it nice to know what cards they have? Sure. Can you reliably memorize them? Not really.
  • Winning a category by a lot is not only meaningless; it’s actively harmful. You’re effectively wasting turns if you do this, since your scores in each category only count towards getting the Scoring card. If you get 1st in one category and 4th in the other five, you are likely not going to win. I’d even say it’s mathematically guaranteed.
  • If you have the option, spread the Prestige Tokens around. You would prefer to force other players to fight for the Prestige Token Scoring card, so just make it a bit easier for them to be pitted against each other. You’re not a monster; you just are helping incite conflict.
  • Having your own Insight cards is pretty good, unless you need Prestige Tokens; then leave them for someone else. If someone else uses your Insight cards, you’re guaranteed one Prestige Token, which might be helpful. If you use yours, you get two points in the category and you don’t have to give any Prestige Tokens to anyone. One might seem better or worse, depending on where you are in the game and what’s happened.
  • Watch out for the 5-point cards; they’re usually more difficult to get (and expensive, time-wise). I’m not saying they’re bad, just that they’re hard to put together and sometimes you can get two 3’s before you can get a 5, which is just more efficient. Try to see if you can build them quickly off of another player’s tiles, otherwise it may not be worth it.
  • It’s difficult to want to bother with Major Theories unless you can definitely get them on the next turn. A lot of the Major Theories are kind of … specific? Like, complete two Inspiration cards in one turn. Sometimes it’s not worth the hassle to mess with them, but you’ll often end up with at least one in your hand, due to just questionable luck. If you can get them really easily, go for it. Otherwise, getting rid of them is easy, too.
  • Discard aggressively. You should be clearing your hand all the time; not only is that a good way to get in fresh new cards, but if your opponents want to run out some piles they’ll eventually have to go through your trashed cards. Give them the worst stuff possible.
  • A lot of the time the simplest cards are the most valuable, especially if you can score multiple in one turn. It’s about getting the most points in a category, so you’re going for efficiency. Don’t be afraid to grab some easy cards and just bust out a bunch of points across a few turns.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Really makes the game feel less basic and more strategic. It takes a pretty good family game and turns it into a very strategic semicooperative tile-laying game. It’s a very drastic change, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s just … not the same game as the base game, even though it plays similarly.
  • Makes the game a bit more interesting than the base game at two players. The competition aspect of it (and the more zero-sum game bits) really take it to another level, for me. In the base game, two is kind of basic since you don’t really have an incentive to build on theirs and devalue your own stuff, so you tend to build very segregated Big Ideas.
  • Less luck of the draw. There’s still some, but the face-up cards let you be a bit more mindful about what you take. You can also essentially sift through the various decks by drawing and then discarding on subsequent turns. There’s a strategy to that that isn’t quite as present in the base game, in my opinion, and I’m a big fan of the upgrade.
  • Essentially requiring players to take other players’ cards increases the interaction between players without it being too aggressive. This is one of my favorite things. Since you have to pull other players’ cards (somewhat), you’re forced to interact with their pieces more (via the Insight cards), so the Big Idea tends to be more diverse and mixed, which I really think is a superb upgrade. It’s part of why I think this is a better two-player game than the base game, since the output is much more varied.
  • You can just teach this version to new players if they’re interested in a more strategic game. That’s always kind of interesting, but it’s similar to Pandemic: On the Brink, in that it’s a significant enough change that I just kind of teach it as its own thing. I haven’t seen a lot of games that make significant alterations to the base game, or at least, not to the degree that I’ve seen in Einstein. It’s kind of fascinating; it’s like using the framework of the game as scaffolding to build an entirely new game.

Mehs

  • The Insight cards can be a bit annoying if you can’t get lucky enough to draw yours. It’s occasionally frustrating to have to give another player a point when you only get two, but at least you’re scoring in different categories, so it doesn’t feel quite as bad.
  • Players who have good memories can get to the point where they know every card in other players’ hands. This doesn’t seem especially likely, so I’m going to leave it in the Mehs column, but the opportunity is there for this to happen. I would say just play with hands face-up, but that would be a disaster for AP, if I’m being real.

Cons

  • The new scoring will severely throw people off if they’ve played the base game. We got the entire scoring system wrong a few times and have only recently gotten it sorted out. This is part of the reason it’s taken me so long to review this (just like Return of Erefel). Getting a game and its expansion at the same time is tough, because you essentially have to teach the original game, but if you play that with different groups, then you have to wait until those groups are ready to try the expansion (which may be a long time). Thankfully, as usually the only common thread, only was seriously thrown off by the scoring changes from the base game. Hooray.
  • Doesn’t really do anything to help with the base game’s AP problem. If anything, it can aggravate it between turns when you’re trying to decide which cards to take into your hand. The game’s always had some analysis paralysis issues, though, so this is a soft con, if anything. It just would have been nice to see a way to make it easier for players to make decisions in this game. I mean, there’s always a timer.

Overall: 8.5 / 10

In Progress

Overall, The Genius expansion is a really good expansion! It lets the game occupy two spaces; in one, it’s a family-weight game with some nice semicooperative components, and in the other, it’s a light strategy game with some interesting zero-sum scoring mechanics and a lot of decisions. It’s not quite hitting The Lady and the Tiger with its preponderance of different games in the same box, but it’s a good angle for it to strive for. Naturally, Kwanchai’s art is always a welcome addition, as well. I’d be kind of interested in seeing a few more family games try out something like this as an expansion, as the additional game (essentially) in the same components seems like the kind of thing people might be interested in. It honestly is an expansion that I’ll usually suggest when the base game is played. If you’ve already got the base game and you’re looking for ways to make it feel a bit more strategic, this will definitely do that, in my opinion, and that’s a cool angle for an expansion to go for.

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