Iota: Tiny but Mighty

Reading Time: 2 minutes

iota

Iota is a tiny little game from Gamewright that comes in a little metal tin. It’s just 66 square cards (2″ across each) with little shapes in four colors and marked with numbers 1 to 4, but don’t be fooled by its appearances. It’s like Set and Qwirkle had a baby.

Iota retails for $7.99, is for 2 to 4 players ages 8 and up, and takes about half an hour to play. Here’s how it works.

Everybody gets four cards dealt to them, and then one card is turned face-up on the table as a starting point. On your turn, you either play some cards to the table or pass and trade in any number of cards to draw new ones. You’ll need pen and paper or something to keep score.

Whenever you play cards, all of your cards must be in one row (although that row can be played next to other cards, thus forming multiple matches, as in Scrabble). The cards in any row or column that you affect must be in a “line,” meaning that each characteristic (color, shape, number) has to be the same on all the cards or different on all the cards. A 4-card line (the longest possible) is called a “lot,” and doubles your score for that turn.

Once you’ve played your cards, you total up all of the numbers in all of the lines you’ve formed (cards that are used in two intersecting lines are counted twice), and double the score for each lot you formed. You also get to double your score if you played all four cards from your hand.

The game ends when the draw pile runs out and somebody runs out of cards, earning them double points for that turn, too. Highest score wins!

iota play
That highlighted row isn’t a line—it has two circles and a plus. But nobody caught it at the time. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

I’m a big fan of Set—I remember the concept of a set was a little tricky to explain at first, but even when you’re familiar with the idea it can still be tough to see one even when it’s sitting in front of you. Iota turns that around by having you build a set (or a line), trying to maximize your score by finding the best spot to make multiple intersecting lines.

And the scores add up quickly! If you manage to play all four cards in your hand, that’s already at least a quadruple score (double for playing the lot, and double for using all your cards). But let’s say your lot also completes another lot going in the other direction—you’ve just doubled again. While it may seem better to just play one card to get a few points while you can, it can be really advantageous to trade in cards until you have a lot in your hand, and then look for the perfect place to play it.

There’s not any sort of theme—it’s an abstract strategy game—so if you need a storyline to go along with the game this may not be the thing for you. But if you like games like Set and Qwirkle then this is a great blend of the two. Plus it’s cheap and you can keep it in your pocket for on-the-go gaming. (Although I should note that it can take up a bit of table space.)

Overall, another winner from Gamewright. Iota delivers on its tagline: “the great big game in the teeny-weeny tin.”

Disclosure: Gamewright provided a review copy.

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