A strong gust of wind blows through your beard, but your eyes do not waver from the opposing chieftains. In the shadow of the citadel built on the highest point of the highlands, you stand, your clans at your back and her clans at hers.
From the ramparts, yet another chieftain looks down at standoff from the safety of the citadel, anticipating bloodshed. You’re no stranger to fighting, but with every day that passes you value the next more and more. You won’t back down from this fight, but you’re open to talk of peace.
Your grip on your weapon’s handle tightens and you step forward. Your opponent follows suit. There will be songs about this day, songs about the day peace prevailed, or songs to honor the fallen.
You step forward. You’ve always considered yourself a good chieftain, honorable and fair. You will make for a fine King. These new lands will be a fine land for your clans to flourish. You are determined, this will be your Inis.
How it Plays
As the leader your clan, it’s your goal to prove yourself worthy of being called High King over a newly discovered island. You will achieve this feat by having clans in at least 6 territories, being the chieftain over 6 opposing clans, and/or being present in territories with a combined total of 6 or more sanctuaries.
Every round begins with a draft of action cards. Every player will begin the draft with 4 action cards, select one, and pass the rest to the next player. When you receive the 3 action cards from your neighbor, add the card you previously set aside back to your hand. From those you will select 2 and pass the rest on. The draft continues in this way, being able to pass cards you previously selected on the next player, until everyone has the set of 4 action cards they will use in the Season phase that follows.
During the Season phase, players take turns and can either pass, play a Season card, or take a Pretender to the Throne token.
Passing is as simple as it sounds. If have nothing to do on your turn, you must pass, but you can also choose to pass whenever you want. This will not end your turn for the round unless all other players subsequently pass, at which point the round ends.
Most of the cards in the game have a Season symbol on them and can be played on your turn. When played, you simply carry out the actions as described on the card. The actions include such things as adding clans to the board, moving clans, building structures and discovering new territories. Often, when moving into a territory where enemy clans reside, a clash will occur.
When a clash begins, defenders have a chance to move units behind the walls of any citadels in the territory, where they will be safe from battle. After that, all players with exposed clans figures enter the fray.
In order, players can either retreat or perform an attack maneuver. To attack, you simply choose a player and that player must either remove a single clan figure from the territory or discard an action card. Play continues until there is only one side left or a truce is called. You see, before retreating or attacking, players must discuss the idea of peace. If all players in the clash agree, the clash comes to an end and everyone gets to remain on the territory along with any units that were behind the safety of the citadel walls.
The final option you have on your turn is taking a pretender to the throne token. You can only do this action if you currently meet one of the victory conditions. When it comes time to check whether someone has won the game at the beginning of the next round, only players who collected a pretender token are eligible to win. But having the token doesn’t guarantee victory; during the time you collected the token and the next round, you may no longer meet the victory conditions and will not win.
Inis or Out?
Comparisons between Inis and Matagot’s other mythical battle games, Cyclades and Kemet, are bound to be made. They all involve little plastic soldiers calling on the powers of their respective gods in order to control specific geographical locations. On the surface, these similarities lend themselves to easy comparison, but in reality they aren’t justified. Each game stands on its own as a unique experience. Cyclades is a tense auction game, Kemet is a tight area control game, and Inis is a clever drafting game.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a draft quite like Inis’s before. It’s a pretty simple tweak on a standard card draft, but being able to pass along cards that you had selected previously is a significant change. It allows you to alter your strategy during any round of the draft, and in a draft where you end up with only 4 cards, this is crucial. In a standard choose-one-and-pass, it would be very easy to have 1 of the 4 cards not fit your strategy. That’s 25 percent! Inis’ method alleviates this case, at least for the most part.
As for the card themselves, huge kudos to the publisher for having the actions written out. I understand why many games opt for symbols, but I will always prefer written instructions over trying to decipher icons.
The instructions are incredibly clear and spell out exactly what to do, allowing new players to learn the game easily. That also makes for a handy reference even when you’ve become more experienced. There are only 17 action cards in the game, and they all get used in a four player game, though one will be randomly set aside each round. The fact that almost every card will be used every round coupled with the low number of cards means that you’ll be able to internalize them about halfway through your first game.
The limited action card pool does three things. First, it allows you to draft cards with the full knowledge of the actions available. If you need to move your clans this turn, you will know what cards will be available to facilitate it. If there is only only one specific card that will work for you, then maybe you can finagle a way to make sure you get that card.
Secondly, it allows you to plan the timing of your card play. Once you’ve drafted your 4 action cards, it’s up to you to determine in which order to play them. Playing the right card at the wrong time is just as bad as playing the wrong card in the first place. Let’s say, for example, you want to move your clans into a neighboring territory, but doing so would make you vulnerable to attack. Your best bet would be pay attention to your opponents and make sure all the attacking cards are played before you make the move.
Lastly, the limited card pool allows you to effectively deny cards to your opponent during the draft. Denying cards has always been one of my weak points as a player. Keeping tabs on my own cards is hard enough! In Inis, however, I felt like I could identify which cards would be beneficial to my opponent and keep those for my own uses.
You might think that with only 17 action cards, the gameplay would get stale, but I haven’t even mentioned the Advantage and Epic Tale cards.
Each territory in play has an advantage card associated with it. Whoever has the most clan figures in a given territory will take control of the associated advantage card. These cards work just like action cards, and are added to your hand. Additionally, there are epic tale cards that can be gained through play of the action cards or even some of the advantage cards. These are like action cards except they can be carried over from round to round.
The power of these particular cards stems from the fact that they give you extra actions in a given round, and the actions they give you are different from the normal fare. They allow for flexibility, and add an element of surprise to your turn. It’s pretty easy to get familiar with the 17 action cards. Much less so remembering 30, plus they are drawn in secret so you’re quite sure sure what an opponent with an epic tale card is capable of. They are a fine spice to the main dish of action cards, enough to make things interesting, but not so much as to overpower the dish.
The normal action cards are used to add a few clans to the board, build citadels and sanctuaries, and move your clans around. These additional cards allow splashier actions such as moving opposing clans, saving your clans from a clash or removing clans from the safety of a citadel. There are 30 epic tale cards and 16 advantage cards to really mix things up. They are indeed powerful cards, but they are balanced by either needing to control a territory or being very specific in their use.
Often when gaining an epic tale card you’ll contort your strategy to put yourself in a position to make use of it. It isn’t always easy to make use of these epic tale cards, but it’s incredibly satisfying to be able to get yourself in a spot and pull something off that no one else in the game can do.
Though Inis is heavily card driven, that’s just half the story. Games that hide the players behind a hand of cards or individual boards can often silo players in their own little worlds to maximize their own efficiencies. I’ll admit to having some fun with such games, but the ones that really light my fire manage to facilitate meaningful interaction between the players at the table. That’s where Inis’s puzzle-piece board comes in. All the cards you draft and play are in service to your overall objectives of having your clans in the right position. Your clans will grow and spread. They will fight and die. The board will expand slowly and buildings will populate the landscape.
As armies amass in territories, unease sets in; everyone knows a clash is near. The Conquest action card is played, and it’s time to clash! Players’ eyes dart back and forth. There may be blood, but there may not be. You see, total annihilation isn’t always the goal. At times, the larger force may actually want a call for peace, even when victory is clear, so that they can claim chiefdom over the enemy and be one step closer to victory. Thus, Inis reveals a little more of its subtlety.
Even more subtlety is required to attain final victory. The paths to victory are clear and straightforward; even meeting the conditions isn’t too difficult. The problem is that in order to take the throne, you must have the pretender token in your possession. When you grab the token, you are essentially announcing to everyone at the table that you are in a position to win and you intend to end the game. At this point, you had better believe everyone else at the table will do whatever they can to stop that from happening. You’ll quickly learn that you have to be more clever. You have wait for the right moment to strike. Watching the other players and determining what they are capable of while keeping your own intentions close to the vest is paramount to emerging victorious. While I have seen victory through overwhelming numbers, more often than not it was clever play and good timing that proved to be the winning strategy. Ganging up on the leader has the potential for frustration and will definitely put some players off, but Inis manages to minimize irritation by teaching players quickly. There is no better teaching tool than slapping away victory from your grasp. Inis walks the razor’s edge of frustration and encourages better play.
Ending this review without talking about (i.e., gushing over) the artwork would be a grand oversight. You might recognize artist Jim Fitzpatrick from his iconic portrait of Che Guevara, and he lends his distinctive style to the game. It’s bold, audacious, and slightly psychedelic. All the cards in the game are much larger than need be in order to showcase the artwork.
This dedication to excess is apparent throughout the production of Inis. From the wild territory silhouettes to the multiple miniature sculpts, Inis is an attention grabber. It’s all wholly unnecessary, and I love it. Certainly, a lower price point could have been attained with lesser artwork and pieces, but it would have been a lesser product. I’ll never fault a game for upping its production game in order to provide an aesthetically pleasing object.
The 1 hour playtime of Inis is indicative of its more intimate and subtle gameplay when compared to its spiritual ancestors, Cyclades and Kemet. It manages to blend card drafting and area control in a smart and beautiful package. Best of all, it engages all the players on the board in a battle of the wits. The most clever player will win and not the just the one who managed to draw the best card or go unnoticed. So anyone looking for a bit smashing fun would do well to pick up a copy of Inis.