Don’t bare your teeth until you can bite.
– Irish Proverb
Ireland has always been fiercely contested. For the past several centuries Ireland’s main conflicts have been between the Irish, the English, and the Scottish settlers who immigrated to Ireland when it was under English rule. In the Middle Ages, the Irish were attacked from all sides by Viking raiders and invaders. The board game Inis takes place even before then, at a time when the Celts had just arrived, at a time when the battles were fought by clans of demigods and demi-demons whose names are handed down in fragmentary mythological tales. And Inis becomes available in North America this week.
In our first preview of Inis, we looked at the game’s elegant combination of card drafting and area control mechanics, and how the gradually-revealed landscape of the Emerald Isle affects gameplay. Our second preview looked at some of the Epic Tale cards that grant you the tools and abilities of legendary figures like Maeve and Manannan Mac Lir. In this final preview, we look at the battles you will fight on your quest to become the island’s High King.
Putting Up a Fight
Clashes are frequent in Inis, but whether or not a clash erupts into violence is up to you. Whenever someone move a clan into a territory where at least one opposing clan is present, a clash begins. Whoever invaded the territory is called the “instigator,” since it was their movement that created the clash. But before the instigator can attack or negotiate, the clans already in that territory have a chance to take shelter in any Citadels, and thus escape being destroyed.
Starting with the instigator, each player then chooses to attack, withdraw from the territory, or play an Epic Tale card. Attacking another player means forcing them to either discard an Action card (and likely lose an action that turn) or destroy a clan in that territory. The clash continues until there are no more clans left in the territory except for those sheltered in Citadels, or until all players simply agree to end the clash, which can happen at any time. Until that agreement is reached, however, you must attack, withdraw, or play whatever Epic Tale cards you can.
Here, the green player has chosen to invade a territory held by the orange. Before the green clans begin their onslaught, the orange player sends one clan to take refuge in a citadel. The others are exposed, and the green player immediately attacks, forcing the orange player to lose a clan or a card — he chooses to lose a clan. The orange player immediately attacks back, but the green player chooses to discard an action and attacks again. Once more, the orange player chooses to destroy a clan and retaliate. Green is unwilling to sacrifice another card, so she loses one clan and offers to end the clash, with neither player able to claim the title of that territory’s chieftain.
Clashes can, and often do, involve more than two players, but the mechanics are basically the same. Here, the blue player invades. Both Green and Orange have a chance to place a clan in a Citadel before Blue attacks Orange, who loses a clan. With that blow, Orange’s role in the clash is over. Green could attempt to stop the clash then and there, but instead she attacks Blue, who sacrifices a clan rather than lose a card. Incensed by the loss, he now attacks Green, hoping to finish the clash by eliminating her clan — but Green desperately wants to hold the territory, so she loses a card and proposes a truce. Blue refuses and attacks again, draining Green of her last card and provoking another attack from her. Blue now realizes that he cannot win this battle, that the invasion was a mistake. He loses another clan and agrees to a cease fire. Green takes control of the territory and will become it’s chieftain during the assembly phase of the next round.
Wielding the Land’s Weapons
As shown above, whoever enters a clash with more clans and more cards has the upper hand. In addition, if you happen to the chieftain of a territory, you have the landscape itself on your side. Some Advantage cards enable you to thwart your attacker’s plans or change the very nature of the oncoming clash. The Hills, for instance, protect their chieftain, making it harder for an invader to attack. The Highlands allow you to look over the surrounding area, and use what you see to your benefit by allowing you to choose the instigator after a clash is initiated — you might even take on that role yourself, and so ambush a witless invader. The Iron Mine makes your attacks more deadly no matter where in Ireland you are, forcing a player you attack to lose both a clan and an Action card.
Epic Tale cards are another strategic tool. You cannot discard them to save a clan, as Action cards can, but you can often play an Epic Tale instead of attacking or withdrawing. Battle Frenzy is one of the few that cannot be played during battle, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful It is best in the hands of an invader or instigator. It renders Citadels useless, so that no one can take refuge from the battle, increasing your chances of eradicating an enemy’s presence in the area.
Tale of Cuchulainn, however, can be played as a maneuver. It fills you with the might of Ireland’s most famous mythical warrior, the Hound of Ulster, the son of the sun-god Lugh, so that you can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Or you may be granted the eloquence of the Ogma, Lugh’s defender and the inventor of the Irish alphabet. He enables you to immediately end a clash, saving any of your clans that are in danger and preserving your Action cards for the rest of the round.
The Means, Not the End
The prospect of an impending clash is going to affect almost all of your decisions in a round, from what Action cards you draft to how and when you play them. Do you have adequate clans and cards to withstand an invasion ? Do you need to build a Citadel ? If you choose to invade a territory, is your goal to destroy your enemy, outnumber them, or tensely coexist ? Will you invade at the beginning of a round, when everyone has hands full of cards, or will you wait until your opponents’ plans are already laid, their resources drained ? Will your clans migrate to unexplored territories in order to avoid war, or will they remain in the heart of Ireland and attempt to take over the Capitol ?
With all those options coursing through your mind, you must nevertheless remember that Inis is not a game of brutality. You might win by becoming chieftain over six of your opponents’ clans, or you might win by having only one clan present in six different territories. You might win by having a presence in even fewer territories, as long as your clans have access to six sanctuaries. Becoming High King of Ireland requires as much bravery, cunning and diplomacy as it does strength. Do you have what it takes to rule the Emerald Isle ?