Dale Yu: Review of Inside Job

Inside Job

  • Designer: Tanner Simmons
  • Publisher: KOSMOS
  • Players: 3-5
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Thames&Kosmos

Inside Job is subtitled “A Game of Teamwork and Deception”.  The publisher has also called it “The Mostly Cooperative Trick-Taking Game”   “You are a group of secret agents and must work together to complete your missions. But beware! An insider is hiding amongst you, sabotaging you at every turn and collecting secret information along the way. In this (mostly) cooperative trick-taking card game, you slip into undercover roles. Who is acting suspiciously? Who can you trust? Complete a mission with each trick and find out who is the insider.”

This game first arrived on my radar at SPIEL 2022, but the game was in German only, and I decided to wait out the already-announced English edition, which finally arrived in late Spring 2023.  The game sounded very similar to The Crew – which was a big hit around here – with the addition of some hidden identity thrown in to spice it up.

At the start of the game, players are dealt a role card with one player getting the Insider card and everyone else getting an Agent card.  The goals of each role are different; the Insider wants to gain a certain number of Intel tokens while the Agents want to complete a certain number of missions.  

The overview card for the number of players in the game is placed on the table as a reminder of the rules.  The deck of 52 cards (4 suits, numbered 1 to 13) is shuffled and dealt out as evenly as possible; any remaining cards are set aside unseen.  Each player also gets one Intel token to start the round.  The deck of mission cards is shuffled and placed in the center of the table. The game now plays out following many of the rules of the trick-taking genre.

The starting player (first trick is the left of the dealer, otherwise it is the player who won the previous trick) first draws two cards from the mission deck stack and selects one of them to be the active mission.  The active mission is placed face up on the table and the unchosed mission is discarded unseen to the box.  Each mission card has two pieces of information: 1) the rule about what must happen in the trick, and 2) the color of the trump suit for this particular trick.  

Once the mission card is seen and read by all players, the starting player now leads a card from his hand to the trick.  All of the agents must follow the lead suit if possible, and if they do not have the lead suit, they can play any other suit, including trump.   There is one other option – an Agent can wager intel by following suit and then placing one of their previously earned briefcases on their card, changing the color of their card played to the trump suit.

The Insider does not have to follow suit at all.  Once all players have played a card, the table checks to see if the mission was completed.  If so, the mission card is placed next to the overview card (to keep track of how many have been completed).  The winner of the trick takes one intel token from the supply (as well as any wagered intel briefcases) and then discards all the played cards to the box.  The card which wins the trick is the highest card of trump, and if no trump, the highest card of the lead suit.  If there are two cards of the same color/rank that would win, the later played card wins.

Now, quickly check to see if either side has won the game. The Agents win if the required number of missions have been successfully completed.  The Insider wins if he has enough Intel briefcases collected – he reveals his identity as he does this.  If both win conditions happen at the same time, the Insider wins.

If the game is not won, then the winner of the previous trick draws two mission cards to start the next trick, and the game continues following the same pattern.  Players will never play all of their cards – the overview card tells you that the game automatically ends when players have either one or two cards left in their hand.  

At this point, the game moves into a special voting stage.  Before the vote, all the players are allowed to openly discuss their suspicions on who they think is the insider.  When all discussion is done, there is a count to 3, and all players point a finger at the player they accuse of being the insider.  The Insider is revealed if they have a majority of fingers pointed at them (and if so, the Agents win).  In all other cases, the Insider wins.

Once you have played a few times, and only if you have four or five players, there are more complex special Role cards which can be used in place of the standard roles.  It is recommended to only use one or two of the special roles in a game.  If you use special roles, make sure that they are explained fully at the start of the game because it’ll be kind of obvious in the midst of a hand if someone asks for a clarification on their “hidden” role.   You can also change things up with four special Risky Mission cards which can be added to the deck; these cards make it a little easier for the Insider to win.

My thoughts on the game

Well, if you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know my feelings on trick taking games (generally I’m a big fan!), and you’ll also know my feelings on semi-cooperative games (umm, not for me).  So how does this collision of two opposite forces work here?  Better than I expected to be honest, but this game still hasn’t helped me figure out how to be the traitor and not completely give it away.  This is obviously a failing on my part as a game-player and/or a liar; but I’ve just never been good at the traitor role.  Here, at least the games are short, so I don’t have to sweat it out for too long!

People will inevitably compare this game to The Crew; and while there are plenty of things that look similar – I think they play quite differently.  First, and obviously, there is the whole semi-cooperative thing.  Players are not united by the same win condition; and if you use the special roles, the Agents themselves might not even have the same goal…  Second, the “Missions” only last for a single trick.  In The Crew, you have an entire hand to play through to succeed at a mission, and the team often has to plan for that entire hand to make it work.  In Inside Job, the mission requirement is only in place for a single card play for each player.  Additionally, the game is not lost if you can’t fulfill the mission – so there is less pressure to make it happen on every card play (and in fact, based on the cards in your hand at the time, it might simply be impossible to make it happen).

Inside Job kind of pulls your brain in multiple directions.  For the Agents, you’re trying to complete the missions, and you’re honestly also trying to win tricks – after all, if you’re an Agent, each trick that you win means one less briefcase that the Insider can’t win.  As you play, you’re also looking at what other players are playing to try to determine who is working on sabotaging the game.

The Insider has a lot more flexibility on what they can do as they are not bound to follow the lead suit. Players might eventually catch on to the Insider’s identity if they didn’t have Blue early on in the game but then played a Blue card later…. Of course, it might be too late at that point as the Insider may already be well on the way to winning enough briefcases to end the game…  Additionally, as you never play all the cards, you could play an off-suit to an earlier trick and then hide the cards that would give it away as the ones never played in that particular hand.  Of course, while you’re doing this – you need to not make it obvious that you’re setting cards aside and not take too long trying to figure out your plan or else the jig will be up!

The extra role cards are available to spice things up – but they are not for me.  They make the game a bit more complicated that I want it to be.  We have also not added in the Risky Mission cards at this point as we feel the Insider role wins its fair share for now, so we don’t need to add in cards that make it easier for the Insider to win.  Of course, in your group, YMMV, and it’s nice that these cards are available to change the game as needed.

Thus far, I have liked my games of Inside Job, especially when I’m just an Agent.  I’m not very good at playing as the Insider, and I haven’t liked those games as much, but as the roles are dealt out secretly, I just have to make the best of it.  As each game is only the duration of a single hand, I find that we often play a few games in a row, and I have yet to be the Insider in consecutive games!   In any event, with each hand taking 15-20 minutes, (as opposed to the 75-90 minutes in Shadows over Camelot), my personal torture isn’t too long, so I just try the best I can, and I really do think that someday I might actually win a game as Insider – though it’ll likely be through sheer force in winning tricks and most certainly not through a vote!  :) 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale (when an Agent)
  • Neutral Dale (when the Insider)
  • Not for me…

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.
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