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Publisher: XYZ Game Labs
Designer: Noah Miller
Artist: Amy Nagi
Game Type: Card
Game Type: Fighting
Initial Year of Release: 2018
Age Range: 6+
Expected Playtime: 5-7 minutes
Number of Players: 2-4
Theme and What is it?
In Inoka, you are your village’s representative to the once-a-generation Achkai tournament to determine the next Nature’s Emissary. Each player starts with a set of nine tactic cards (three of each tactic: Attack, Block, and Taunt). At the beginning of each round, you set your hand by selecting five of your nine tactics, setting aside the remaining cards until the next round.
In the two-player game, players engage in a series of clashes, using each card only once. (Tactic cards are discarded after use.) They secretly select their tactics, then simultaneously reveal them and resolve the clash: Attack beats Taunt, Taunt beats Block, Block beats Attack. The winner of a clash takes possession of the Leaf Totem, and whoever possesses the Leaf Totem at the end of the round scores a Sacred Stone. The first player to collect 3 Sacred Stones wins.
In a three- or four-player game, the first clash is a free-for-all clash for the Leaf Totem. After that, play proceeds around the table in a king-of-the-hill style. Each challenger clashes against the current holder of the Leaf Totem. If you can defeat all challengers consecutively without losing the Leaf Totem, you score a Sacred Stone. As in the two-player game, the first player to collect 3 Sacred Stones wins.
By using two copies of Inoka, it is possible to play a Battle Royale version with up to 8 players.
Inoka is a variant of the rock-paper-scissors mechanic with an added strength marker on each card ranging from I (weak) to III (strong). Each player’s hand has three cards of each type — Attack, Taunt, and Block at different strength levels (Attack I, II, and III, for example).
Each game of Inoka consists of a series of rounds, each round containing a variable number of Clashes. Each round is two phases: Prepare and Clash. The winner of the Clash is determined by the Tactic Hierarchy.
(The following discusses the 2 player rules, which will be the most common way to play for most gamers and is the basis for the other variants. There are rules & cards for 2, 3, and 4 players in the box, and an additional ruleset (also in the box) for a 5-8 player varient called Battle Royale, which requires two copies of Inoka.)
In the Prepare phase, players secretly choose 5 of their cards to use this round. The rest of their cards go face down into a discard pile. The variability of the game is introduced via card selection during which each player secretly chooses 5 cards to comprise their hand. Players can take all the high-strength cards they’ve got, but also have to take a couple weaker cards.
During the Clash phase, each player secretly selects one of the cards in their hand and plays it face down on the table. Cards are simultaneously revealed, and results are compared to the Tactic Hierarchy (see below) to determine the winner of the Clash, who takes the Leaf Totem and gains Advantage.
If a player doesn’t have the Leaf Totem and wins a Clash, they take the Leaf Totem to show they have gained Advantage. If a player with Advantage wins a Clash with an Attack Tactic, they immediately win the round and claim a Sacred Stone. Otherwise, players continue to Clash until both have played all 5 of their Tactic Cards.
The first player to claim 3 Sacred Stones wins the game.
The artwork for Inoka caught my eye at Origins 2019. I am a fan of the battling woodland creatures theme (see Mice and Mystics, Root, and Squarriors), so it stopped me in my tracks. The very short game duration, low cost, and small box size (just larger than a tarot deck box) continued to interest me.
The art on the cards is vibrant, lush, and thematic. There are nine different illustrations, one for each of the types of cards in each player’s deck. The iconography on the card, while minimal, is sufficient that players won’t need to refer to the manual. The artwork continues on the inside of the box, both top and bottom.
Game Build Quality
The box quality is nice and sturdy with full-wrap art and spot UV. It appears that sleeved cards would fit in the box. I haven’t yet tried it, but I believe that two copies of the game (probably unsleeved) could fit into one box for easy transportation.
The tarot-sized cards feel nice & thick in the hand. The art on the cards, as mentioned, is vibrant and attractive. The finish of the cards is slick and smooth. While I prefer linen finish, I understand the choice not to use it in this case — to highlight the art. Even the card backs are beautiful.
The tokens are thick cardboard and the large Leaf Totem token is made of wood.
There is an unnecessary cloth bag with the Inoka logo in the game box that is nice, but completely unnecessary.
The manuals (which are a folded sheet) is good, and I found no typos. It contains appropriate artwork to illustrate the concepts, and the manual is sufficient to learn the game.
The art in the game, as previously mentioned, is very nice. It is what attracted me in the first place.
The game’s website has 4 chapters of lore that are worth a read though this is not necessary to enjoy the game, but there is no story or lore in the game box or manual at all. This game is so quick and light that it doesn’t have room or time for a story.
If you enjoy light, portable gaming with a woodland theme, you may like Inoka. If you like rock-paper-scissors, you may enjoy Inoka.
For me, the novelty wore off sometime in the second round of our first 2-player game. Not because Inoka is a bad game — it is not, by any means — but rather that it is a very well-dressed version of a game that is just too simple to appeal to a mature gamer.
Age Range & Weight
The box says 6+ and I think that’s appropriate for this game. If your younger player can play rock-paper-scissors and can interpret the easy icons on the game, they’ll be fine with Inoka. There is no language dependence after reading the rules.
Inoka is whisper-light and highly luck dependent, just like rock-paper-scissors. This is just a dressed-up, premium we-earned-a-lot-on-our-Kickstarter version of it.
Inoka is a beautiful rendition of a simple mechanic. The art and production of Inoka is truly great. I just wish it dressed a game with more meat on its bones.
As it stands, Inoka might be appropriate as the very first game that someone who is interested in getting into board games would play as they embark on that journey.
But I think they’ll leave Inoka quickly in the dust as they move on to more interesting mechanics.
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