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Card Game Review: ‘IOTA’

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IOTA from Gamewright is a game for those who like mental workouts. On the one hand, it is a simple matching game. On the other, players need to keep track of three categories at once, making it the equivalent of jogging, dictating, and avoiding mousetraps at the same time.


Gamewright calls it the “great big game in the teeny-weeny tin,” and teeny-weeny it is. A little bigger than a box of Tic-Tacs, it is one of the few games that can easily fit in a pocket or tuck into a bag without much notice of the weight, most of which comes from the classy tin case. Yet, as tiny as the game is in storage, IOTA becomes expansive as the cards begin spreading.

IOTA consists of 66 cards, which makes for about a 30-minute game. Alternate rules are given to make the game shorter by using half a deck. It could even be made longer by adding a second set of IOTA cards without any hassle. Doing so would create a marathon of mental exertion keeping the cards straight and calculating moves, and it would require a fairly large table to hold the expanding lines of cards, but it is certainly possible.

The rules are straightforward. Each player gets four cards, and a card starts out the table. From this starting card, players must add new cards according to the GuideLines or Pass, which gives a chance to dump cards and draw new ones. Having a terrible hand can hamstring a player, particularly as drawing something new requires a turn, which means no points that round. The most points at the end of the game wins, and it would be hard to make up a whole lost turn. Better to play what can be played and hope for good draws.

The real trick to IOTA is following the GuideLines. Cards are played building Lines in which each card must be either all the same or all different from the other cards’ colors, shapes, and numbers.  The process requires a lot of checking and re-checking, but the final build gives great satisfaction. Eventually, each Line will evolve into a Lot of four cards, which doubles the score of anyone who fulfills it. The real mental grunt-work of IOTA is maximizing score.

Each turn, a player earns the points for a Line to which he or she played a card. This means that if the card fits into two Lines, he or she gets points for both. If a Lot is created, the points for that entire turn are doubled. Not only must a player calculate out whether or not a card fits, he or she must also calculate what would be the most advantageous place to play as many cards as possible. In addition, if a player puts down all four cards, the points are doubled again. A single turn could result in three points for laying down a single card or as many as 3,200 points for playing all four cards and creating four Lots.

The game ends when the deck runs out of cards and a player lays down his or her last card. The high score wins, but with the wide span of potential points, victory is anyone’s until the very end. IOTA is a great game for two to four players ages eight and up who love logic puzzles as well as competition. It has already won awards from Mensa, Tillywig, and Parents’ Choice. While it may not hold the attention of many children, IOTA will thrill brainy kids and adults alike.

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.