Inising Along

I don't like writing about expansions.

One of the things I always look for with an expansion is whether it feels like an expansion. No, that isn’t meant to be a tautological nightmare. Rather, my hope is always that an expansion will integrate into the base game in such a way that it feels seamless, without snags or snake’s hands. Since Inis has been one of my favorite dudes-on-a-map games for the past three years, I was eager to see whether the five modules of its expansion were up to the task. And hey, if they turned out to be duds, at least I got to play more Inis. Did I mention that I’m a big fan of Inis?

Here’s the good news: Seasons of Inis scores a venerable four out of five. And although one of its modules doesn’t fit quite as fluidly as the rest, it isn’t any slouch, either.

It has to do with my self-imposed expectations as a game critic. Whenever I talk about a game, my goal is to help you understand what that game *is*. How it functions. How it feels. How it lets you interact with your friends. What it accomplishes. My goal is to express those things in a way that conveys meaning without necessarily talking about all the rules — because, after all, the rules are only the game's blueprint, not what it feels like to play.

The seasons… of Inis.

Let’s start with the weaker offering: the titular seasons. The irony is thick.

Right up front, there’s nothing wrong with this module. The game opens in a random season, and then each round trundles around the season tracker, winter thawing into spring and, well, unless you’re an alien imposter you should know the rest.

The tricky part is that each season contains up to two modifiers. The first takes place during the Assembly, when all the clans come together to conduct family business, like checking for a new king and doling out cards. Now each season offers a perk of its own: in springtime those with only a few cards get extra warriors, in winter you can discard an action card to instead stay beside the warmth of the fire spinning epic tales. The other bonus affects movement during the season proper, with warriors unable to march large warbands in winter and able to discard any action card to move extras in summer.

For the most part these bonuses and hindrances are interesting, and even nicely thematic in their own way. The problem is that their presence is just a scooch more to remember, straining the game’s bandwidth at the edges. Most information is laid bare — the cards you’re holding, the possibilities of those held by your enemies, everyone’s relative strength in each of the land’s expanding domains. That openness is central to Inis, creating a game where objectives and particular territories are hard-fought. The same goes for the seasons, albeit ever so slightly more remotely. But what a difference that short distance makes. Inis is above all a simple game, streamlined of all cruft, and the tracker off to the side can be weirdly forgettable compared to the immediate clarity of everything else. Expect someone to overlook an ability and complain about it, or for your resident rules attorney — Adam in our group — to be the only one to remember and take advantage of these seasonal abilities.

Again, not a problem, especially since you can add or remove it as you please. But it’s easily the least essential of the bunch.

With an expansion, I have two options. Either (A) I write about the game as though you don't know about it, at which point I'm functionally re-reviewing the original. That's unbearably boring for me, plus a lot of extra work. Or (B) I just talk about the things the expansion does. But then my thoughts are divorced from the feel of the original game.

Harbors connect distant territories and even islands.

The good news is that everything else is such a perfect fit that it’s hard to remember where one module ends and the next begins.

The most important of the lot is the addition of a fifth player, which bumps Inis into one of the commonest player counts. There are the usual plastic clansfolk, but the real deal is the four new action cards, which makes a five-player draft possible at all. After the tightness of the original game’s set, it’s impressive how casually these slip in among the others, with every major option getting a bump. For movement there’s Coalition, which lets you travel along with someone you share a space with, potentially shifting two forces into a contested region at the same time. Reinforcement gets Clans Harmony, which adds new warriors to, once again, shared territories. You might be sensing a theme. Makes sense, given the presence of another clan crowding the island. Fortunately, Fili blocks warfare in a chosen region entirely, releasing some of that tension. Even the final card, The King and the Land, rewards collaboration, providing another way to claim a deed by giving away one of your territory cards.

And because these cards are only used with five players, the game self-regulates. With fewer players there’s no need for such careful alignment between rival clans, so out they go. Easy.

As for the gameplay with five, it’s virtually indistinguishable from the four-player game. Alliances are still temporary, objectives are still difficult to meet, and winning is often a matter of subtly pacing your gains so as to arrive when nobody else is able to do anything to halt them.

The result is that expansion reviews feel like a public service more than the usual delight of peeling apart a base game. They're something readers often request, and they're things I enjoy doing; after all, it's often nice to revisit games I reviewed fondly. But they're inherently lesser to me, because they aren't about the artifact itself; they're about an appendage to that artifact.

New victory qualifiers and cards of all stripes.

In fact, one of the modules answers the potential stalemate of the original game. Early on, the new victory tile begins on the We Want a King! side. When the Assembly rolls around, if the current brenn is tied in objectives, he wins immediately — but if the other players are tied, they gain a deed and flip the tile. We Need a King! guarantees that the following Assembly will be the last, with either the brenn winning automatically or tied non-brenn players sharing the win.

It’s a small thing, but it smoothly regulates the length of the game. There’s no longer any chance of a coalition entering an unbreakable holding state by stumping the brenn. There will be a king. Only now that king arrives sooner than later.

The final addition is harbors, which attach to the edge of territories and let you leap between them. This alone would be fine, an extra way to traverse the island as it sprawls across the table, but other islands force players to venture away from the mainland. These might seem isolated, but being connected to every harbor on the mainland actually transforms them into flashpoints. Good thing, too, because some of their abilities are enviable. Hy Breasil in particular, since it gives you a “virtual” deed during the Assembly. If it ever appears out of the mist during one of your plays, expect it to change hands more than once.

So. Happy to write about cool stuff. But slightly less happy to write about expansions. That's all. Whining finished.

It wouldn’t be Inis without a brawl for the capital.

Counting on my fingers, the only thing I’m missing is the additional epic tale cards. Not much to say except that they’re as good as anything in the base game. Especially the one that afflicts a bunch of warriors with a banshee’s wail, doomed to die at the end of the season. Few cards are quite so tactically horrible.

All in all, Seasons of Inis is pretty much what I want out of an expansion. It expands a brilliant game’s decision space and sense of discovery, adds an extra player, sands down one of the original game’s rougher edges, and all without sticking too many finicky doodads onto the hull of the original. This is one game I’m entirely pleased to revisit; all the better that Seasons of Inis will now be inseparable from the rest.

 

(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A complimentary copy was provided.

Posted on August 21, 2019, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Inis is great, but I really need it to support 5 players, otherwise it’s hard to get it to the table.

    I’m glad that the expansion fits in so nicely with the base game. It would be rather sad if it marred the elegance that is the base game.

    I’ve read about component issues like different card and map tile colors between the expansion and the base game. Did you notice anything of that kind with your copy?

    • Oh, yes, the cut of the cards is ever so slightly different. Which is a shame, but also incredibly difficult to avoid unless you’re a card game manufacturer whose entire business model relies on producing a uniform cut across all products.

      I’ll invest in some sleeves, I think. I almost never do that.

      Thanks for bringing it up; I totally forgot about that detail.

  2. Thanks for making an exception to write about this expansion. I had hoped to hear it was a worthy addition to Inis, so it’s good to hear it fits in rather seemlessly with the base game. I’m hoping the upcoming expansion for Heaven & Ale also meshes nicely with its base game, but I know not to expect you to make another writing exception to cover that one when it comes out. 🙂

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