Two seahorses, a plane in flight, a crocodile, and the pyramids of Giza. Which of these images has something in common with a Christmas tree? You will decide it, trying to exploit the same logical connections hopefully possessed by your fellow players, in Ensemble, an innovative family and party game, where the team should face all the challenges proposed by beautiful, illustrated cards, acting together as musicians in an orchestra.

Ensemble: : an innovative family/party game.

Ares Games is bringing this Italian cooperative game which has already hit the shelves in Europe and Japan to the English-speaking market worldwide. Designed by Luigi Ferrini (designer of The Golden Ages) and Daniele Ursini (co-designer of Zagor - American Odyssey) and developed by Ergo Ludo Editions, Ensemble is a fun game which gets two to ten people of all ages engaged around the table.

The rules are very simple and are easily learned or explained while playing the game. During the game, the goal is to think like the other players, synchronizing the image choices without communicating while facing increasingly more difficult challenges. Players must secretly choose the picture that matches the current challenge, then simultaneously reveal their choices. Only a close-knit group can win by passing level 9; otherwise, they all lose as a group.

A board with spaces numbered from 1 to 9 is placed on the table and the game starts from level 2, thus placing two cards (the “remembrance” cards) on spaces 1 and 2. A third card is placed at the bottom and is the "challenge" card - the one that players will have to combine with one of the two cards above. Without consulting each other, each player secretly chooses which of the remembrance cards best matches the challenge card (thematically, chromatically, analogically, or by any other criteria that makes sense).

In Ensemble, two to 10 players are challenged to “think” in syntony with each other.

To accomplish the challenge, every player must vote the same card: if this doesn't happen, players lose a life (the number of lives available corresponds to the number of players to make the game fair); if all players' choices match, they can shout "Ensemble!" and advance to the next level as well as recovering a lost life. In both cases, the challenge card is discarded and replaced with the most voted remembrance card, then the queue is replenished up to the level reached.

The rules are all here, except for a couple of special cases that can also be explained while playing, such as the allowance for games with higher player counts, which allows to pass the level even if not everyone votes in the same way, or another for the cases when there’s a tie among the most voted cards: when it happens, these cards will all constitute the new challenge – which will further increase the difficulty, as players have to match two or more images with only one of the remembrance cards on the display.

However, where the game is at its best is in the phase following the vote, when players can finally speak freely and justify their choice. Thus, it turns out that a connection that is obvious to us is not so obvious to other players, or that there is always someone capable of surprising us with unexpected reasoning. It is in this phase that the game also shows an "educational" aspect, because this passionate and amusing discussion reveals the other players’ way of thinking; so, turn after turn, the group gets to know each other a little better, to climb the next levels of the game more easily.

If the group becomes close-knit to the point you think the game no longer poses much of a challenge… no problem! Ensemble also includes three sealed additional decks to be opened only after the group successfully fulfill the conditions shown on the first card: each contains new remembrance cards to add to the game, and special rules to spice up the challenge.

Ensemble is a constantly changing experience for the players and a great way to find out the “tune” among close friends, but also to get introduced to new ones in a different way, with laughs guaranteed. Will you and your team be able to reach the final level and claim victory?

* This article was originally published by Game Trade Magazine, issue 278 (April 2023).

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