Missing Pieces: Inner Circle (Retro Review)

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Image: Randy Slavey
Image: Randy Slavey

Every week in Missing Pieces, we explore the thrift store shelves, searching out games from yesteryear that trigger our nostalgia, pique our curiosity, or just make us say, “What were they thinking?!”

Inner Circle

Hello again loyal GeekDad reader, and welcome to the inaugural Missing Pieces. This week, we’re traveling back to the best of times, 1981, with the Milton Bradley classic Inner Circle. Recently, my wife and I had been trying to think of games that the whole family could enjoy, or that she and I could play when it was just the two of us. We both loved Inner Circle as kids, and we had been keeping an eye out for it at garage sales, so when we suddenly came across it at our local Savers for only $3.00, we snatched it up.

The primary game play of Inner Circle is simple enough: move your pieces step by step around the board until all the holes are filled, remove the top board, and repeat until there is just one piece standing. To move, players choose one of their colored piece and move it the number of dots on the circle beneath that piece. You can only move in a straight line, and once you pick up a piece, you have to move that piece, or if it cannot be moved, forfeit your turn. If you can maneuver your piece to the middle circle, you can then move it outwards in a straight line any number of circles. Players take turns trying to position their pieces into the holes on the board. Once all of the holes are taken, the board is removed and along with it every piece that didn’t find a hole. Play continues through all four game boards until one piece is left standing in the inner circle.

What makes Inner Circle one of those games people play over and over again is that it grows with you. It’s simple to play and quick to learn, but the more you play, the more you come to realize the levels of strategy involved. Working through four game boards, planning moves ahead, all while trying to remember what numbers are underneath your own pieces as well as the pieces of your opponents, makes this game almost like, dare I say it, 4D chess.

Unfortunately, the waiting involved in three other players memorizing and strategizing can be a bit boring for some. One option is to use a play clock. Just like speed chess is strategically different from regular chess, setting a time limit on each player during Inner Circle vastly changes up the game. Now, the strategist who likes to plan five moves in advance loses their advantage to the player who can quickly flesh out multiple options.

The only downside to Inner Circle is that, even with four boards and six different orientations for each board, believe it or not, the game is essentially solvable. If it continues to be a hit at our house, I’m tempted to print out some overlays with different numerical values to change things up. If you get the chance, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this game, especially if you can get it for just a few bucks.

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