In Inis, you play a band of Celtic warriors, competing to claim ownership of a newly discovered island. This is achieved using cards to recruit and move troops, explore new parts of the island or of course, through war!
The artwork on both the box and cards is very unique, bright and distinctive, which really brings Inis to life. In addition to the cards, there are a set of 12 plastic figures for each of the four players, a few citadel and sanctuary buildings and some beautiful island tiles. These are in a strange pseudo triangle shape that tessellate together in the style of a jigsaw.
There is a small, clear rule book and set-up is really quick, involving nothing more than the shuffling of cards and island tiles.
Each round begins with the assembly phase, which kicks off by determining the Brann – the person who has the most clans (making them chieftain) in the capital.
Then you check to see if there is a winner. There are three different victory conditions. You can achieve these by having at least one of your clans in six different areas, by having clans in areas containing six sanctuaries or being chieftain in areas where they rule over six other clan members.
Whoever solely achieves one of these wins, or if multiple people have achieved victory conditions, whoever has achieved the most of these conditions wins. The Brann will always win a tie, and with them going first each round, it makes this a desirable position.
Then we're on to the main thrust of this phase, the drafting of the action cards. This is where you select one from your starting hand of four and pass the rest on, before passing two from four and finally three from four, leaving you with a hand of four cards.
You can then go into the main part of the game; the season phase.
As mentioned above, the Brann will go first and then a disc is flipped to see which direction play proceeds. At this stage a player can pass (although if everyone else passes, the round ends), play an action card or claim a victory token if they've met a victory condition.
The action cards fall into two types, Triskel and Season. Season cards are those you can play as your action, which will generally allow you to recruit troops in some manner, move your clans (which may start a battle), explore a new tile on the map or gain an epic deed card.
The Triskel cards can be played at a time specified on the card and include effects such as cancelling another player’s action, or gaining advantages in battles.
Some cards will start battles. Firstly the attacked player may hide troops in any citadels present, otherwise you take turns attacking (which results in the attackee discarding an action card or losing one clan) until either the players agree a truce, or one player emerges victorious.
Battles can be important in determining chieftains, which not only helps you on to your way to one of the victory conditions, but gains you an advantage card. These are cards specific to each territory which is claimed during the first phase by the chieftain of that territory. They range from pretty useless (I'm thinking of you, swamp) to allowing you to swap an action card, or gain an advantage in battle.
Epic cards can be gained through advantage or action cards and give further one shot powers, often assisting in battle. As these are hidden and unknown, they can really sway the outcome of a battle.
Deed tokens can be gained through certain actions and allow you to use them to reduce the victory target (i.e. instead of requiring you to have people in six different areas, you could have four with two deeds tokens).
So it is any good?
Inis is a really brilliant game that I can't recommend highly enough. Whilst it may initially appear to be a war game (especially when played with just two players), it soon becomes apparent with higher player counts that a long protracted war will often leave those players affected at a significant disadvantage to the other players.
The rules are pretty simple to learn, but there is a huge amount of strategic depth to the game, and the three different victory conditions mean that most players are fairly close to winning when the game ends. There is very little downtime between your turns as well, and plenty of interaction between the players.
The drafting mechanic works well. All actions cards bar one are used in every round, so you know which other cards are held by the other players, just not which player has which card and every round has tough decisions. Which card do you play? Some cards have two very valid options. Will they agree to a truce if you invade or is it going to result in a brutal war? In a war, should you throw away that really useful action card or lose your last man?
The fact there are so many cards in the game (especially the epic deed cards), means that battles are far more complicated and surprising than counting the number of troops involved or getting lucky with die.
Inis is one of those games that you play and then can't stop thinking about afterwards, running new strategies in your head for that next game and everyone who I have introduced this game to, no matter their gaming experience, has thoroughly enjoyed it.