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Subject: Inis - A long winded review rss

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Scott Sexton
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The thing thought that jumped out at me after my first play of Inis was that Inis FEELS very similar to Cyclades. Both games are of course "dudes on a map" style area control games. Both games utilize victory conditions instead of Victory Points to determine a winner. Both games have evolving board states that make the Victory Conditions easier for players to obtain - meaning that the board state acts in a manner as the game's timer. Ultimately though, two elements really set these games apart. First, Inis has replaced Cyclades' auction with a card draft. Second, and perhaps most interesting of all, Inis places a significant focus on Cohabiting areas with your opponents figures. I've not seen any reviews that really point this out, but I believe that perhaps the strongest element of Inis is this idea of jointly occupying territory with your opponents.

Before you read this review I would encourage you to go watch a game play video or read a review that dives into how the game is played (I'm not going to address those issues in this review).

What do I like about Inis?


Inis straddles an interesting place between action selection and card drafting mechanisms. Yes, Inis has a card draft. The card draft allows players to obtain 4 cards that give them actions to take during the round. At a glance, this sounds a lot like Blood Rage, however, Inis' draft feels nothing like Blood Rage. In Blood Rage, you are drafting cards that will make your clan different from your opponents. In Inis, you are drafting the actions you take, and in practice, this feels much more like an action selection game (think San Juan, Race for the Galaxy, Roll for the Galaxy, and so on) minus the ability to follow the actions your opponents choose. Mechanically, Inis' draft is more closely related to Cyclades, where you are bidding for one of 5 Gods/Actions you can take in the given round. Inis expands the Actions you are chasing from 1 to 4, and this makes to an interesting change of pace. When drafting aciton cards in Inis, it feels like you are crafting a customized round of action for yourself. This sense of player control feeds in to the general strategic feel of the game. I would argue that Inis is one of the most heavily strategic dudes on a map games I've played in recent years. So many games of this type often balance strategy AND tactics. Inis though is quite light when it comes to tactical elements. This isn't a bad thing at all, and in fact, it helps make Inis feel like its own creature.

I am, of course, not arguing that Inis LACKS tactical elements because the order of the cards you play, when you pass, and how you maneuver your units all are crucial tactical elements of this game, however, the true meat of Inis lies in the "long game" that houses the rich strategic depth found in Inis. To follow this point, lets discuss how Inis really works. Like Cyclades, Inis is a victory condition game. You have 3 victory conditions that require you to either control or occupy certain areas of the game's variable map. At the start of the game, there are simply not enough clans, sanctuaries, deeds, and territories for any player to claim any victory conditions. As the game progresses though, players will inevitably add those 4 elements to the game state. By adding these things to the board, the game becomes not only possible to win, but it becomes easier and easier for players to claim any one victory condition. The evolving game state acts as the built in game timer. This game timer acts as an almost elemental force that players must plan around. Here is where the strategic elements come into play. Players must understand how the victory conditions work. How they become easier to obtain as the game progresses. The player must develop a strategy (of pursuing certain actions and in certain orders) so that they can position themselves to grab the victory conditions once they are in reach, or better yet, to have the ability to grab those victory conditions several rounds BEFORE their opponents can.

Something worth noting at this point that really sets Inis apart from other "dudes" games, is that combat itself has nothing to do directly with any of the victory conditions. Take a moment to let that soak in. Inis is a "dudes on a map game" that can be won without anybody actually fighting. Such an outcome is highly unlikely, but it is possible. There is a very heavy tension throughout the game where players have to weigh the value of controlling territory against the value of keeping opposing clans alive (because having opposing clans in territories you control is a victory condition). On the flip side though, you can use small tactical strikes as a way of earning "deeds" (which in turn make it easier to earn any victory condition). The end result I've found is that Inis encourages a Cold War type mentality where nobody wants to get into big fights, but rather they may try to set the stage for smaller skirmishes. Something similar is tried (and fails) in the game Scythe. Scythe tries to create a Cold War as a way of keeping combat in check, allowing players to ignore combat and still win. It does this by making military strength a resource that is very easy to deplete. The end result is that players are less likely to attack anyone, for fear that they would then leave themselves vulnerable to a third party who would attack them. Making matters worse, winning battles awards victory points AND can end the game. This means that all too frequently you'll see games of Scythe play out almost exactly the same way, with players building up military, and never fighting, blocking movement, until the end of the game when someone launches a sudden final assault to end the game. The problem with Scythe is that it becomes formulaic and boring. The game state becomes somewhat fixed after a certain point and the game grinds to a halt at its inevitable and often unsatisfying climax.

Inis' Cold War works because there are so many interesting decision points when players can gain mutual advantage through not fighting. This is not to say that the game is in any way cooperative. Players have room to talk their way out of problems, but sometimes a bit of trouble is exactly what you need to fit the last peice of the puzzle into place. The theme of Inis shines through brilliantly throughout the game. You feel like a tribal leader struggling to unify one people under a single king. History has taught us that it is never as simple as "kill all who oppose you". You can't win the game just by steamrolling. You win by carefully position your clans and/or controlling specific locations when your opponents lack the ability to attack you. Inis is a far more satisfying experience then what you will find in games like Scythe because Inis requires you to be something more then efficient. Inis demands that players navigate the elemental forces of the game system AND play the players at the table, all at the same time.

The last thing I want to mention about the mechanisms I'm happy with is how combat works. Combat in Inis is weird and unlike just about anything I've seen in a "dudes" game. Let me give you a sense:

Player 1 plays a card moving 3 clans into an adjacent territory where Player 2 has 2 clans.

Player 1: I don't want to fight you, I'm just passing through.

Player 2: Too bad, I want to fight.

Player 1: Ok, I'm going to attack you.

Player 2: I'm going to discard an action card (as attrition). Ok, now I'm going to attack you.

Player 1: I'm going to lose a clan (as attrition).

Player 2: Wait a sec, I'm going to play this cool card as a reaction to you losing a clan. I gain a deed token.

Player 1: Ok, are we cool now, can we stop fighting?

Player 2: Yeah, that sounds fine.

The clash ends. There is no dice chucking, there is no playing of power cards (although there is some card play and hand management). Combat feels more like aggressive negotiating with some attrition thrown into the mix. Some fans of combat games aren't going to like this at all. I personally find this take on combat to be quite interesting and innovative. Just like in the game Cry Havoc, combat becomes more about playing head games with your opponent, and often times, something more important then just "killing dudes" is going on when players are fighting.

I want to conclude by discussing my thoughts on the art found in Inis. First, I absolutely love that Matagot depicts women in positive, and non-objectifying ways throughout the game. There are no chain-mail bikinis or overtly sexualized/objectified women depicted in the game. Second, I LOVE the highly thematic art. I realize that unless you are familiar with traditional Irish/Celtic folk art, the art in the game may come off as a bit like an acid fueled painting you'd expect to find on the side of a van. For me, the art is extremely evocative of the theme and I would have been disappointed if they had done anything differently. Finally, I am a bit disappointed in the tile art. As others have pointed out, I would have preferred to have an overhead view of the tiles rather than showing first-person perspective views of the land. It is gorgeous as is on the table, but I feel like it is a missed opportunity.

What doesn't work?


Inis feels tightly edited. VERY tightly edited. So much so that you know Matagot is going to be releasing additional content for it in the coming year or so. We've seen this with Kemet and Cyclades both. I want to be clear that I believe that the base game of Inis is a complete game in and of itself, HOWEVER, I also feel like Inis could be significantly improved by having another expansion for it.

Inis feels epic, but never heroic. Inis' rule book goes out of its way to drive home the theme that the game is set during an age of mythology, just like Cyclades, Kemet, and Blood Rage. Those games drive this point home by allowing players to fight with monsters and classic heroes. There is nothing like that in Inis. The only hint of Celtic mythology is found in the games many red cards which work as overpowered although very circumstance dependent actions you can collect during the game. Thematically, you are collecting favors from the gods/heroes of myth to pull off really cool feats. This is easily the least thematic element of the game though. I never feel like the gods are running around wrecking havoc. I never feel like anything more then a mere mortal human. A leader of people perhaps, but nothing more.

Inis runs long in teaching games. There is a LOT of stuff going on in the game and to properly absorb everything, new players are going to be slowed down as they read through EVERY CARD. New players will have frequent questions as they try to figure out how exactly the timing of certain reaction cards work (it can get a bit complicated). The Clash mechanic, for battles is so innovative that it will take a bit for new players to fully grok.

Final thoughts.

If you are a fan of "dudes" style games, you've probably already bought the game or have tried it out. If not, you need to give the game a try immediately. If you are new to the hobby, this probably isn't the right game to try as your first dudes on a map game (Nexus Ops is what you need). If you are a fan of Matagot's other dudes games (Cyclades and Kemet) this is probably a must buy. Inis feels like it belongs in the Matagot library and offers enough excellent mechanisms that it is worthy of owning in a private collection for anyone not turned off by dudes style games. Like many games, Inis will flourish if you have the right group of players at the table. This is a great game to play with people who are able to take quick turns and can also share in witty table talk. This game doesn't fire any dudes on the map games from my collection, and it doesn't top my list of favorite games, but it does make for a nice change of pace game to add to my rotation.
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Christian
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Scott,

Thank you for this excellent review and very detailed analysis.

One thing I would like to share with you...
You say
Quote:
I never feel like the gods are running around wrecking havoc. I never feel like anything more then a mere mortal human. A leader of people perhaps, but nothing more.

Well, that is totally the intent!
Epic Tales are, well, epic tales, they are told by the people and the bards and relayed by craftmen and everyone... They inspire the clans, it is their culture, their stories, their story...
Ultimately, Inis is the story of men, and of the stories they created.

So, when you play an Epic Tale card, what does really happen?
If you play Manannan's horses, do your clans ride foam horses or do their shared tales about Manannan give them inspiration to ride like the wind, unnoticed?
Do the Cuchulain Tale lets Cuchulain fight at your side, or do you battle with fury when outnumbered, in honor to the hound of Culan?
Who are the Children of Dana, a forgotten clan of the old age, creatures from the sidhe, the heirs of the Tuatha dé Danann?
It is yours to decide, either explanation is ok. But do yourself and other players a favor and tell what happens... and you'll see that this part is one of the most thematic in the game.

Inis is a game where politics and myths are intertwined... for a reason!

Cheers!

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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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Scott, this is an admirable review, in my eyes: it does give a clear view of what playing Inis feels like.

Now, I am not fully sure to get the point about the draft making the game strategic, because there are many drafts in the game, so I previously understood that each draft was more of a tactical process. If you can elaborate on this, that'd be great.
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Scott Sexton
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lebigot wrote:
Scott, this is an admirable review, in my eyes: it does give a clear view of what playing Inis feels like.

Now, I am not fully sure to get the point about the draft making the game strategic, because there are many drafts in the game, so I previously understood that each draft was more of a tactical process. If you can elaborate on this, that'd be great.


Normally, drafting in any game is a very tactical experience. I get x cards, I keep the best one, and pass the cards to the next player. Inis doesn't quite work that way for 2 reasons:

1- You have a lot more control over the contents of the hand you draft because you can keep and throw away cards from round to round of the draft. You aren't forced to keep the card you choose from the first round of the draft. By giving the player more control over the hand of cards they keep, the draft becomes more strategic. You are effectively allowed to shape your entire turn (and even future turns) based on long term decisions you make before the draft even starts.

2- Cards in Inis aren't used in the same way they are used in traditional card drafting games. In Inis, the action cards are variants on a small set of actions (like in an action selection game - like San Juan). You can build, recruit, move, clash, explore, and draw legendary cards or Deed tokens. Every card is a variant of those 6 basic actions. Because the cards effectively serve as a "pre-programming" of your turn, it makes the draft more of a strategic process then your normal draft. I don't just take a card because its the best card among those I've been given. I take the card(s) that best accomplish whatever I'm trying to do that round in the game or that best set me up for future rounds.
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Alexandre Santos
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Wonderful review, thanks for the contribution!

I have one question : don't you have the feeling that legendary cards ruin the strategic value of the card drafting? This is a common criticism that I don't think you addressed, and I would be interested in your opinion about it.
 
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Alexandre Santos
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Also, what about the issue of the title of Brenn being a bit too easy to keep for the player who gets it at the beginning of the game?
 
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Scott Sexton
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AlexFS wrote:

Wonderful review, thanks for the contribution!

I have one question : don't you have the feeling that legendary cards ruin the strategic value of the card drafting? This is a common criticism that I don't think you addressed, and I would be interested in your opinion about it.


I haven't had a game of Inis where the Legendary Cards lessened any of the strategic aspects of the game. If anything, the Legendary Cards are a foundation upon which you can build grand strategies. Often times I like to grab up Legendary cards for this purpose, and if I don't like the card I draw, I can "burn" it for a Deeds token (comboing it with the appropriate action card). The Legendary Cards make for a nice bit of icing on the cake in my experience.
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Scott Sexton
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AlexFS wrote:

Also, what about the issue of the title of Brenn being a bit too easy to keep for the player who gets it at the beginning of the game?


This is something I think that saavy players will look out for once they've played a learning game. The Brenn player makes a dangerous trade off when they decide to become the Brenn. The Brenn (in my experience) often spends a lot of their game locking down the Brenn-ship and often gets boxed in. Opponents should mitigate the Brenn's advantages by not allowing them to spread out. Always kill off the Brenn's clans when they move out of the Capital.

Being the Brenn can be a very powerful advantage for a player, which is why it should put a target on their back. When I teach the game, I always make a point that the Brenn and any players who are gathering Deeds should be viewed as an immediate threat.
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Jim Marshall
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Very interesting review and considered follow-up responses.

I played my first game of this last night, and while one game isn't enough to become fluent in the intricacies of the game and player interaction, many of your points ring true.

I definitely agree with your comparison to Scythe, a game I quickly tired of for the reasons you state: boring, predictable resource / action efficiency shuffling with perhaps one or two attacks at the end (unless someone has forgotten to turtle-up and allows some weak pieces / resources to be nabbed). Fine for many, but not for me.

The point about the Brenn being a target was amply demonstrated in my game when I grabbed the position on the first turn and then spent the rest of the game defending it while I lost control of the other tiles I originally held.

The rule that allows you to start again with two clans when you've been eliminated from the map ability came into play. It meant the player I'd taken the Brenn space from on turn one spent the rest of the game in suicide attacks in the Brenn space, being knocked down to no clans each turn then continually repeating the attack with two fresh clans (plus any others he could muster through cards). While it kept us both out of the running, he felt he couldn't win (wrongly I believe, it was only turn 1) so he found entertainment in dicking me as I'd taken the Brenn from him! Not sure if this is an example of reading the others, or just that it was a learning game for all of us!
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Matt Halowell

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Nice review Scott!

I just got a chance to play Inis this past weekend. I definitely agree with you that the game almost feels like an action-selection game. I really enjoy Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition) and Raptor and felt like this game definitely had some similarities in the card play. I really enjoyed my one play of this game, and am hoping to get my own copy eventually. Very clever game.
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