13 September 2019
Do you intuit it’s Inuit in it innit?
After the furore over Manitoba last year, and its crass inaccuracies about native American tribes, the makers of Inuit must have known their game would be examined with a fine walrus-ivory comb. Inuit’s rulebook opens with a statement on the importance of respecting the history and traditions of actual cultures, and lists three Inuit consultants in the credits. Board & Dice has taken care to get this one right. Which, given that it’s a re-theme of 2017’s Natives, which got it wrong, is definitely a good thing.
I don’t think anyone’s going to be complaining about issues of representation in Inuit, because they’ll be too busy complaining that this is £40 for a mostly empty box with only 160 cards and four long, thin boards. Aerion has 133 cards, plus dice and tokens in a smaller box, and is nearly half the price. Plus Aerion has six expansions included; Inuit has two.
Price doesn’t just reflect components, of course – it’s also about the quality of the experience and its longevity. Does Inuit’s style of play justify an inflated price tag?
At its icy core Inuit is a simple engine-builder, where your engine is one of four villages: Crow, Raven, Owl or Puffin. Each turn you activate one group of your villagers to gather something from the Great White, the pool of face-up cards in the middle. Whalers gather whales, bear hunters bring back polar bears and so on. Shamans find rites and spirits which give you one-off abilities or special scoring conditions; scouts add extra cards to the Great White, and elders, crucially, find more Inuit to add to your village.
The more villagers you have in a group, the more cards they can gather. But they may be from different villages, which means they’ll work for you but their final victory points go elsewhere. If it wasn’t clear, the player with the most victory points (from hunted animals, rites, spirits, weapons and villagers) when the Polar Nightfall arrives wins.
There isn’t much opportunity for player interaction, at least in the basic game, apart from taking Great White cards you know other players want. But that helps things rattle along at speed, and the ever-changing mix of the available cards prevents too much strategising in advance. When your turn comes, there will probably only be one or two things you’ll want to do. It’s interesting, but not deep.
The expansions – although if they come in the box they’re not really expansions, more like optional components – add conflict between the villages, legendary characters, great game and seasons. There’s nothing radical here; most of the extra cards amount to little more than higher victory points, and the addition of seasons is fine but doesn’t change enough. If I’d paid for either as an actual expansion, I’d have been disappointed.
It’s not great with two players, and suffers a little from the runaway-winner problem and its opposite; once you drop behind – and all that takes is a couple of rounds where other people are adding villagers and you aren’t – catching up is very hard.
There’s much to admire in Inuit: it’s fast to teach and play, evocative, has clever touches, looks great, and its attention to cultural detail is admirable. On the downside: forty quid. At half that price, without the expansions, I’d be raving about this as a modern gateway game. As it is, it’s definitely worth a play, but play before you buy.
PLAY IT? – YES
Inuit does a lot of things right and has atmosphere in spades, so it’s a shame it’s priced itself out of an area of the market where it could have shone like the midnight sun.
Designer: Alexey Konnov, Alexey Paltsev, Anatoliy Shklyarov, Trehgrannik
Artist: Paulina Wach
Time: 45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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