TL;DR

What is it? A competitive strategy game about card drafting in Celtic Ireland (yeah, that’s a lot of board game jargon, so not for the faint hearted)
How many people? 2-4
How long does it take? 60 minutes
Who is it for? Those looking for a more serious competitive board game
Buy it: Support Best Play and get Inis here on Amazon.

The Gist

Why we recommend it

Inis is special. It’s special because it feels like every piece, every card, every rule is so wonderfully balanced. Almost as if it came into this world fully formed. I’m going to do my best not dive deeply into every single rule – I don’t think that’s exciting to read – but just know if you have reservations at first that every rule makes sense and has a rightful place. What I want you to get from this is why it makes my brain happy and why I think (if you love board games) you need to own this.

It’s a game about exploring and controlling the island to become King of all clans. There are a few ways to win and they almost all contradict each other. One involves having lots of your clansman in one place whilst the other requires them to be very spread out. It’s the push and pull nature of these objectives that makes your decisions feel tricky and satisfying.

For example in my first game there was an all-out war whilst we all fought to control one area, knowing if we could just conquer it we’d win. Then someone decided to just opt out of this battle and instead spread out as much as they could and gazump us. Any of us could have done the same. Any of us could have even recognised sooner what was happening and stopped it. But we didn’t. We became so focused on the battle, we forgot about the war. The great irony of that metaphor is that Inis has one of my favourite rules when it comes to combat: you can all just agree not to fight. That’s just lovely isn’t it?

The challenge with any strategic game is how to balance complexity and choice. Too much complexity and it can feel overwhelming, meaning turns take forever, you overthink and feel unable to make the right call. Too little and you feel like the decisions make themselves. Inis at every point gives you only a few decisions to make but each adds up to a larger whole. Meaning you feel you have all the information you need and can focus more on why you should do something, not what you could do.

Take for example how you do anything at all in the game, like moving, adding more clans or building things. You do it by playing a card, but you can also just choose to pass. The further you delay taking an action, the more information you’ll have to make your decision. Yet what if someone moves first and blocks your plan? Or, worse yet, if everyone passes and that’s the round over before you’ve even done anything? You need to judge what everyone else is likely to be doing. “Do I go or do I stay?”

These cards they come from a draft. At the start of each round you take all of the cards and pass them around, deciding what to keep and what to leave for others. It gives you some agency over your actions, but also means you have to react if you can’t perfectly achieve exactly what you want. At any one point you’re only considering 4 cards. This means you never feel underwhelmed by the options available and can spend your time thinking about the deeper things. “What card do they want?” “How can I best use this?” “How do I win?”. It then means your actions for the round are locked in and limited. You can then just focus on how to make the most of what you have and not have to consider 100 other possibilities.

For me that is what makes Inis so brilliant. Moment to moment it feels like you can understand everything available to you and therefore to everyone else. You are only focusing on one area and possibility space at a time.

That’s not to say the game doesn’t make room for surprises; a special deck of cards with unique abilities is also involved. They add that element of the unknown and for quite a few games will keep catching you off guard or helping you create a new line of attack you hadn’t considered. They don’t overwhelm though, as it’s unlikely for there to be many of these surprise cards available at any one time.

I promised I wouldn’t go deep into the rules – you can read the rule book if you want that – but I just want to highlight one more simple thing that helps with your cognitive load. To win the game, you have to tell everyone you can win the game. I know that sounds daft written down. In most games you’re building to the finale, trying your best to keep everyone’s scores in your head. “How close is Joel to winning?” Then out of nowhere someone just shouts “I win!” and that’s it, it’s done. In Inis, when you are ready to win you have to declare it and take a token – then wait until the end of the round before you actually win. That means everyone knows you’re about to win and can react to it, trying their best to stop you or even countering it by also “winning”, forcing a stalemate and another round.

It all just makes sense. This is how a great strategic game should feel. Approachable, deep, surprising and satisfying. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

Support Best Play and get Inis here on Amazon.