Dale Yu:  Essen Preview of Inis


  • Designer: Christian Martinez
  • Publisher: Matagot
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 60 mins
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Matagot/Asmodee


In Inis, players try to become the high king of the ancient Celts by settling unknown lands and controlling them with their troops.  New territories are jagged triangular-ish shaped pieces that nestle together nicely.  Each territory comes with an Advantage card which is given to any player which has sole control of the matching territory.  The game starts with a number of territories (randomly selected) as the number of players.  The matching Advantage cards are also placed on the table.  Each player will get to place two of their twelve army tokens on the board.  One of the territories is noted to be the capital territory and marked with the a capital token.

The game is played over a series of rounds until a game-ending condition is met.  In the start of each round, the Brenn (starting player marker) is assigned – this goes to the player who controls the Capital territory.  To control a territory, you must have more people there than any other color.  If there is a tie, the Brenn token simply does not move.  Then, you see if the game ends – I’ll get back to how the game can end later.  Finally, players take the Advantage card of any territory they have control of; again, that is any territory where they have more armies than any other player.  The current holder of the Brenn then decides turn order by flipping the turn order token.  One side has a clockwise arrow, the other is anti-clockwise.  Whichever side is face up after the flip determines the playing order this round.


There is a deck of 17 Action cards, and drafting action cards for the round is the next step.  Each player is dealt 4 cards (and the remaining one is left on the table).  Players look at their hand, keep one card and then pass three to the next player – direction based on the coin order flip.  Players then pick up the card on the table, add the 3 new cards, and then choose two to keep from this set of four.  Pass two cards, pick up all cards, and then keep three of those four.  The final card is passed on, and that card completes each player’s hand of four cards.

example of action card

example of action card

The game now moves into the action phase.  The Brenn goes first, and he is obligated to play a card from his hand (may be an Action card, may be an Advantage card, or it could be an Epic Tale card).  The card is played face up, read aloud and the card is then discarded.  Each of the three types of cards has a separate discard pile.


Each player turn after the first then has three options: Play a card, pass, take a Pretender token.


To play a card – just do as above. Play a card. Do the action on the card. Discard the card.

Some of the cards let you place or move armies on the board.  Others let you add new territories to the board.  Some let you place sanctuaries or Citadels on the board.  Others let you draw Epic Tale cards – these are cards with more powerful actions that are one-time use.


If you move into a territory with opposing armies, there is a clash.  All non-instagating players – in turn order – can choose to move into an empty citadel in that territory.  An army that is in a Citadel is essentially out of the clash and will not have any effect in said clash.  Then, all exposed armies must fight.  Starting with the instigator, players either attack, retreat or play and Epic Tale card.  If you attack, you choose an opponent who then either removes an army OR discards a card from their hand.  If you retreat, you move one or more of your armies to an adjacent territory that you control.  The clash ends when one player remains OR all active players agree to mutually end the fight.  At the end of the clash, all armies hidden in citadels are then placed back in the territory.

example of epic tale card

example of epic tale card

To pass – you say pass and do nothing.  This does NOT necessarily end your action in the round.


To take a Pretender token – you must meet a victory condition.

  • You must control territories where there are 6 or more opposing armies under your control
  • You must be present in territories with 6 or more Sanctuaries combined in those areas
  • You must be present in 6 or more territory tiles


The round continues until all players pass in consecutive order.  In this way, you could possibly pass earlier in the round and try to save your cards for a time when they will have more effect later in the round – but if everyone else passes, then the round ends and you won’t get to play your cards at all.


So, now let’s go back with how to win the game.  Remember back in the setup phase – you check for game end right after determining who has the Brenn token?  Well, at that step, you look to see if any player(s) have Pretender tokens from the previous round.  If so, check to see if any of them still meet any of the three victory conditions.  The player that meets more of those three than any other player is the winner.  If there is a tie for most conditions met, and one of them is the Brenn token holder, then the Brenn wins.  If there is a tie that doesn’t involve the Brenn, no one wins and another round is played.


My thoughts on the game


This is a very interesting area control game – when I first read the rules, I thought it was going to be too attack-y for my tastes.  But three games in, I’ve realized that it’s more about tactical card play and clever army maneuvering, and less about actual attacking.


There are a number of interesting mechanisms that add up to a unique game.  First, the drafting mechanism is a bit different than most; you pick up your reserved cards at each stage – thus, if you are given a more interesting set of cards, you can reset your strategy at any point and keep different cards.  Second, the random turn order direction determination is new to me, and it really helps keep you on your toes as your whole approach to the round might change whether you end up second or last in order.   The battle system offers some interesting possibilities, as you can stay in a fight longer by discarding cards.  You can possibly win a fight, but when you discard cards you reduce the total number of actions that you might be able to take in a turn.


Finally, the victory condition determination is unlike any other euro-game that I’ve played.  It allows room for clever plays that can suddenly grant you one of the conditions.  If this happens, and you can survive an entire round, you can then take a Pretender token.  However, you have to also be strong enough to still be in a winning position at the start of the next round in order to win.  There is also a big advantage to bring the Brenn, as this breaks all ties for the win, which adds another level to the strategy when the end of the game is near.


The action cards  are mostly straightforward, but there are many synergistic combinations between them.  You can hold Epic Tale cards from round to round, so there is definitely a viable strategy in collecting them until you can used them well together with your other cards.  You can also get a numerical advantage over other players by controlling more territories than your opponents.  Having a card advantage will either let you take more actions than your opponents OR they can let you hang in clashes longer than your opponents because you have more cards to discard than they do.


The pieces are well done, though I’m not sure the territory tiles really need to be as large as they are.  The game barely fits on our normal gaming table, and there honestly isn’t any useful information on them other than the title of tile (so that you can match up the correct advantage card to it).  I might have preferred a slightly smaller tile, but that’s personal preference.  The large format does allow for some more area for the beautiful game art.


Overall, Inis is a fascinating game that I have liked far more than I would have expected from the first glance at the rules.  There are three or four unique mechanisms at work in the game which combine to make a engaging game experience.  The variable game end timing also helps keep the game super tense once at least one player is close enough to take a Pretender tile.


Provisional rating: I like it.


Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor






About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2016, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Dale Yu:  Essen Preview of Inis

  1. ianthecool says:

    Interesting what you say about the victory conditions and how you can find clever ways to clinch victory as this is a feature of both Cyclades and Kemet as well (mostly Cyclades).

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  3. I simply cannot put a game which looks like that on my table.

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  6. RJ Garrison says:

    This is such an awesome game. I don’t yet have it, but (pre-COVID) always looked forward to having a chance to play it with my gaming group.

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