INIS Review - A Clash Of Styles

INIS (the Irish/Celtic word for Island apparently) was a miss for me at Essen 2016. But I was involved in a game with 4 of us and nobody to teach who understood the rules. Seriously a note to publishers, if you're going to make a big deal about particular games at a convention, make sure your volunteers know the game inside and out, just saying. So it was essentially self taught by me and we ended up calling it mid-way anyway. Since then I wasn't paying much attention and I figured I'd wait until full retail release to look at it properly.

Well that time has come and yeah I got to admit, I can see why people struggle with the box cover, but we'll get on to that later. Reading the rules within my personal mind palace made for a much easier learning experience and reminded me of some aspects that I do recall liking from my initial demo - a twist on the drafting mechanic, gorgeous land art, tactical gameplay, multiple winning conditions. . . . did a poor demo drive me away from a potentially good game?




Designer: Christian Martinez
Publisher: Matagot
Age: 14+
Players: 2-4
Time: 60-120 Minutes
RRP: £42.99



From Board Game Geek

Inis is a game deeply rooted in Celtic history and lore in which players win by being elected King of the Island (Inis). Players can try to achieve one of three different victory conditions:
  • Leadership: Be the leader — i.e., have more clan figures than any other player — of territories containing at least six opponents' clans.
  • Land: Have your clans present in at least six different territories.
  • Religion: Have your clans present in territories that collectively contain at least six sanctuaries.
Over the course of the game, players also earn deeds, typically chanted by bards or engraved by master crafters, that reduce by one the magic total of six for any condition. While one victory condition is enough to claim the title of King, a game of experienced players usually has a tight balance of power, emphasizing the leadership of the capital of the island.

At the start of each round, players draft a hand of four action cards (with 13 action cards for three players and 17 for four players) during the Assembly. Action cards not played at the end of one season are not held for the next. Players also have access to leader cards for the territories that allow it and where they were elected leader during the assembly. Each Assembly reallocates those cards. Finally, they collect "epic tales" cards that depict the deeds of the ancient Irish gods and heroes, like Cuchulainn, the Dagda, Lugh and many others. These will be kept and used to inspire the clans and achieve extraordinary feats...under the right circumstances. The cards provide a variety of actions: adding clans, moving clans, building/exploring, and special actions.
Careful drafting, hand management, bluffing (especially once players understand the importance of passing their turn), good timing, and a precise understanding of the balance of power are the keys to victory. After a discovery game you'll be ready for a full and epic game, where an undisputed player will be king by the Assembly for his merit and wisdom.


EYE OF THE GIANT BEHOLDER


The components we'll get out of the way quickly, they're very good as typical of Matagot. You get different sculpts of the clan miniatures, large sized cards with clear text and some very unique looking map tiles that fit together seamlessly despite their jagged look. Sleeves are recommended though as these cards are going to handled a lot especially the green Action cards, but this is typical of any drafting game.

The artwork is the big debatable subject though. There are two distinct styles being used, one for the cards/box and one for the map tiles/location cards. The latter is beautiful, no doubt about it, I love the look of these locations and it never ceases to make Inis a visual spectacle on the table. The former depends on your preferences. It's a unique style that fits the theme well, but it's very divisive. I understand why it's used and for what it is, it looks fine, but I'm not the biggest fan of this style and I feel it clashes too much with the beautiful map tiles. I would have preferred a consistent approach and used the same style for everything (the map style obviously). It is however purely a subjective view to art styles and not enough to break the game for me.


MEAN SPIRITED DRAFTING


The goal of the game is essentially area control regardless of which victory condition you go for and you cannot win without breaking a few heads along the way. Inis will ensure that you get in each others faces promptly with deterministic combat meaning you're not getting away with a lucky die roll. So it can be pretty mean even though there is a rule in place for if you're totally wiped out and if that's not your cup of tea, this might put you off.

But let's focus on the Action cards, which are the real meat of Inis. Players draft these each round and you're probably familiar with the general concept, but here it's a little different. You don't place your chosen card aside, rather you keep it in your hand and then select a higher number of cards from the next hand (i.e. you choose one, then you'll choose two, then three). What this does is gives players a higher degree of tactical flexibility each round. You may start off choosing certain cards only to then come across others later that influence your plans so you can decide to pass the original cards over. Most of the time you will likely stick to your guns from start to end, but it's nice that you get the choice and I want to see this twist repeated in more games.

There's a reasonable amount of variation in these cards, but this could be improved upon maybe with an expansion later. You'll find that several cards will relate to the same theme, such as a move and fight, but just have the odd subtle difference. I would have perhaps liked a bit more distinction, but the plus side is that it doesn't take long to grasp what these cards can do unless you really struggle with reading card text.

The cards for controlling a location are a nice bonus as well and you can see their abilities ahead of time so sometimes you might base your plan on obtaining one of those cards. Plus they feature the same brilliant artwork from the tiles themselves. The Epic Tales are like the normal Action cards, but more powerful........sometimes. There's a lot of them in the deck for great replay value, but some are certainly more handy than others at first glance because many appear situational. Thankfully you can't use them as a damage soak unlike the normal Action cards so you can't just make yourself nigh invincible by drawing a ton of them.



SURVEY THE BATTLEFIELD


Inis is a tricky one to play strategically. You can't simply pick a winning condition and say "that's what I'm aiming for". The game state can change radically with a couple of cards or clashes and thus you have to play tactically. For me that's a huge plus, I've always enjoyed games with tactical depth where you can change up your gameplay midway without compromising your chances of success. "Curses, the Capital is getting too heated, I'm not going to win as the chieftain. We'll abandon that area, let them fight and spread out to explore more territories to cover more ground" - literally that was my thought process in my last game (except for the use of "curses", I used a slightly less refined word) and I ended up winning in the end by doing so.

The game length and downtime is hard to pin down. The box says 60 minutes flat, which is only true if you're going to be playing with 2 players, maybe 3 if you're super quick. Games can take up to 2 hours though especially with 4 players depending on how long it takes for someone to hit a victory condition. Because there's no set game timer, you may have a super fast game or one that drags out and overstays its welcome.

A lot of this comes down to how long it takes for a player to draft their cards. If you're quick at absorbing and understanding card text, you should do fine, but I've seen some people freeze up and waiting for them can get a little annoying. Other than that downtime isn't usually a problem as actions are resolved pretty quickly even if a clash occurs. Blow all your cards early however and you'll be waiting a while before everyone else around the table has finished the round. But on average I find games taking about 90 minutes which is a decent length for the engagement.




THE KING IS PROBABLY DEAD!


A small issue I do have bring up and one which has surfaced in more than one game already is the Kingmaking issue. Because you have multiple players and multiple winning conditions, it's not uncommon for two players to be in a winning situation with Pretender tokens. And on those occasions a player will not always be able to stop both players from winning and therefore will be forced into a King-Making position (where your action determines which player other than yourself will win the game).

I've seen people react badly to this situation as it can become very "meta" in how it's resolved. Normally my personal solution can be summarised as a mini flow chart.

(1) Does my action increase my final standing in the game further than before (i.e. 3rd place to 2nd place?)

If Yes - Choose this action.
If No  - (2) Does my action adversely affect the current leader's position in the game?

If Yes - choose this action
If No - choose either action as it makes no difference.

By sticking to that, I don't tend to encounter too many issues. But Inis has a defence mechanism against this. There's no 2nd, 3rd or 4th place. And also there's no "leader" per say as if two players are about to win, they are both leaders. So you literally have to just pick and choose and let the game end or mutually call it a tie. How each group will deal with this situation is unique, but have fair warning that this WILL occur at some point.





VERDICT ON INIS


My initial demo at Essen 2016 didn't win me over, but further plays in my own controlled environment have shown me the potential of Inis. Bringing some of my favourite elements from board games and then adding a unique twist to make it fresh and different. It's definitely a mean affair, constantly you'll be in each other's faces and sometimes a best laid plan will get ruined, but a lot of the time, you likely deserve it. Kingmaking can be a potential issue though and you better have some safe means to confront that.

The artwork is going to be a subjective point for many, for me it's hit and miss, but I respect it for going for a style suited to the theme, even though when it all comes down to it, Inis is a fairly dry affair. But Inis is a game you play to enjoy drafting, hand management and area control all in one within a fairly short space of time compared to other Euro's and it handles these mechanics incredibly well.

I wished there was a bit more theme present and some differentiation between player clans though, and there will come a time when it's going to need more variety in its Action cards to keep up the replay value. But for now it's a very solid strategy game, one which doesn't require me to sacrifice a whole game night to enjoy and I hope for some more content in the long run.




BROKEN RATING - 8 EPIC CELTIC TALES





YOU WILL LIKE INIS IF:



You love drafting and like the sound of the added twist here.


You like a game that relies on tactical decision making and clever hand management.


You prefer deterministic combat resolution to die rolling.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE INIS IF:



You're really put off by the artwork from the Action cards and box cover.


You hate "mean" games - here you're in each others face all the time, deal with it!


You hate the possibility of Kingmaking.


0 comments: