Review: Inis

BGG Rank #282 – 3/21/2017

For months now, I’ve been pursuing the goal of playing every game in the BoardGameGeek Top 100, and chronicling the experience in this blog. I’ve really been enjoying it so far, and I’ve got several of those reviews in the works as we speak. This week though, I’ve just got to talk to you about Inis, even though it’s not quite in the Top 100 yet. It’s an outstanding 2016 release that has quickly become my personal favorite game of the moment. Without further adieu, let’s jump right in and check it out!

First Impressions

I first got a hold of Inis back in January. Even upon unboxing it and going through the contents, it was immediately apparent that a lot of love went into this game. The box artwork is absolutely stunning, and perfectly evocative of the Celtic theme. The equally beautiful cards draw from Celtic lore, and the rule book even goes into further explanation of the key characters and events from this mythos. It’s that type of attention to detail that shows designer Christian Martinez’s passion for the theme and allows players to share in that excitement. Love it.

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Most importantly of all: the TILES. They put the once-iconic hexagons of Catan to shame. These gigantic, vividly illustrated tiles are in the shape of a Triskel (a Celtic symbol featured prominently in the game), with craggy edges that fit together like the most metal jigsaw puzzle ever. The publisher could have easily gone with standard hexes to cut production costs, but they went the extra mile and it shows.

The plastic miniatures are also a nice addition to the components, and I’m glad that there are a variety of characters even though they all have the same use. If there’s any gripe about them, it’s that some of the plastic appears to have bent, with a few limp spears and some characters looking like they’re doing Michael Jackson’s gravity defying Smooth Criminal lean. Not a big deal to me, but those who paint their miniatures may be slightly bothered.

An Epic Tale Indeed

Inis is not just a beautiful work of art — it’s also a great game with crisp mechanics. It tends to run about 45 minutes, though some games can be more like 90 if players are more defensive. I’ll give a general overview of the mechanics and gameplay, though this is not meant to be a full rules explanation.

At its core, Inis is a game of area control. Players are vying to perfect their claim as King, through achieving one or more victory conditions. There are three possible victory conditions:

  1. Exploration – Venture out and place your “clans” (individual units) in six or more territories
  2. Domination – Concentrate your forces in key battleground areas so that you are the dominant power (“Chieftan”) over six or more opposing clans
  3. Cultural – Through careful placement of cultural sites (“Sanctuaries”) and your clans, simply be present in territories totaling at least six Sanctuaries

If a round ends and a player meets more victory conditions than anyone else, they become King and the game ends. If two or more players are tied at the top and one of those players is the current “Brenn” (decided each round by control of the Capital territory), then the tie is broken in favor of the Brenn. Otherwise, the game continues on to another round.

IMG_2626The actual gameplay involves two phases. The first phase involves a pick-and-pass drafting mechanic, where each player ends up with four action cards. These cards are then played in the second phase. There are 17 green Action cards, and each has a unique action. Generally, the cards let you do things like discover new tiles, place structures on tiles, place or move your clans, draw additional cards, or start a clash.

“Clashes” are battles triggered by a clan traveling to a territory containing opposing clans. If any defensive buildings (“Citadels”) exist in the territory, players may be able to post clans there, allowing them to live to fight another day. Any players with “exposed clans” (not hiding in Citadels) then take turns attacking opponents, causing them to either remove a clan or discard an Action card. On their turn, a player may instead choose to withdraw his forces to a neighboring territory he controls. Some cards may also be played during a clash to provide an advantage. The clash continues until only one player’s clans remain in the territory, or all players agree to end the hostilities. In my experience, the clash rarely ends with a truce, and more often ends with one or both sides fairly decimated.

For all its player-to-player conflict though, Inis somehow manages to avoid having a runaway leader problem. Its victory conditions are quite clever, in that a dominant military is not necessary to win. In fact, if you kill too many of your opponents, then you’re actually reducing your chances of a military victory. Furthermore, broadcasting your strategy can provide your opponents with a blueprint of how to stop you.

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Each Epic Tale card depicts a specific Celtic legend

So how do you approach victory covertly? A big part of that is through acquiring additional cards. There are two other types of cards which can aid you in the action phase. The yellow Advantage cards are awarded for being Chieftan of a territory, with a unique card for each territory. Some are quite useful, and others (like the Swamp card) are a mere door prize. The red Epic Tale cards can be drawn after certain actions, and they are probably my favorite part of the game. They each reflect a specific character or event from Celtic lore, and each one is unique and quite powerful when used properly. Epic Tale cards foil an opponent’s plans, or even turn an impending defeat into a surprising turnaround victory.

I love games that are not decided until the final moment, and the Epic Tale cards do an incredible job of capturing that magic for Inis. I’ve been on both sides of games where one player seems well positioned and appears to have victory well in hand, when another player pulls off a move that totally turns the tables and steals the win right at the death. Whether I’m the one stunned or jubilant, it’s always a fantastic moment to be a part of, and one that is remembered and talked about long after.

I love games that are not decided until the final moment, and the Epic Tale cards do an incredible job of capturing that magic for Inis.

In particular, I think the most memorable ending was a game with my friends Josh and Catie, where I had things well in hand and even held an extra Epic Tale card as added security. The round was almost over, with Josh out of cards and Catie and I each down to one. My plans suddenly unraveled when Catie revealed her Epic Tale card which allowed her to steal mine, which she then used against me to snatch the victory. It was one of the most stunning conclusions I’ve experienced not just in Inis, but in any game.

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Final Thoughts

Inis features all the things I want in a game. It’s got a rich theme and beautiful artwork that pull you in. The crisp and clear mechanics ensure that you stay engaged throughout. Most of all, the consistently thrilling endings keep you coming back for more. This 2016 release has not yet climbed into the BGG Top 100, but I fully expect it to get there in due time. What’s more, I’ve added my own 10 out of 10 rating to its cause.

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6 thoughts on “Review: Inis

  1. […] Inis (#255) Back when I posted my January Recap, Inis was ranked #445 on the BGG rankings. A lot has changed since then. One thing hasn’t changed though: I still absolutely love this game. In fact it’s the first game outside of the Top 100 that I rewarded with a full review. […]

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  2. Inis sounds great, I’ve heard a lot of good things about it and your review really makes me want to try it! However, it isn’t the easiest game to find here in the UK. Do you think it would play well with just 2 players?

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  3. Alex- Glad you enjoyed the review! Inis is still pretty difficult to find here is the US too. I’ve played Inis with 2, 3, and 4 players — while each player count feels somewhat different strategically, I find that they all work well. I’d still recommend Inis even if you plan to play primarily with 2 (though it’s worth trying with a full 4 if you get the chance!).

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    1. Good to hear that it works well with 2, I’ll keep an eye out for a reasonably priced copy. As it’s been so popular hopefully it will get a reprint before too long!

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