Mikey Mouse Club #13 – Into the Inklands, Reviewed

As I write this edition of the Mikey Mouse Club, Lorcana’s latest expansion Into the Inklands has entered general release and considering I saw Troves on the shelf at Target last night, it seems that everything has normalized and I’m already hearing that game shops are planning on offering future boxes at a discount. The game has survived when many thought it would perish due to Ravensburger’s inability to meet early demand. Having played with the new set extensively both on Pixelborn and at the table, I feel like I’m ready to greet the game’s mainstream arrival with a good old-fashioned review of the set.

It’s funny because in retrospect, The First Chapter now seems quaint barely even six months after its release. It was a much simpler, more limited game back when Elsa, Spirit of Winter was the de facto best card and everybody was either running Kuzcos or trying to ramp up for Belle, Strange but Special if they weren’t doing the meta-dominating Ruby/Amethyst or Steelsong deck. When Rise of the Floodborn released, I strongly felt like that set was very much a B part to The First Chapter– it felt like it completed certain concepts and made the game more robust in general.

But now, we have Into the Inklands and this time out, it doesn’t quite feel like Ryan Miller and his team of developers are necessarily reinventing the game or completely changing it. They are definitely expanding though and this is a great thing. Into the Inklands is, all things considered, the most compelling and robust set of cards out of the three releases to date with more options, more interesting strategies, fun characters, and a broader scope of possibilities.

Chief among the additions of course are the Locations, and although many players are still getting a grip on what they’ll do and how to incorporate them into a consistently successful deck, I think they are a grand slam. They have introduced a very interesting angle to the gameplay by generating Lore passively each turn. This makes decks where character questing isn’t the primary focus more viable and it also adds a strategic consideration when you are faced with a profitable Location across the table. Do you waste a turn throwing three characters at blowing it up? Or should you tech against Locations with cards like Ba-Boom and Rise of the Titans?

Locations with effects and Characters that have abilities keyed to Locations have also provided some new areas to explore. I’m running an aggro Pirates deck right now and the Jolly Roger and RLS Legacy have proven to be extremely useful, as has John Silver, Greedy Treasure Seeker who is buffed based on the number of Locations you have. And especially sturdy Locations have a tendency to stay on the table long enough to prove their value simply by pushing the Lore counter up- and effectively putting the game on a timer.

Moving damage is the other new rule and I’ve not seen it used much, but a lot of Ruby in Rise of the Floodborn seemed to be asking for this kind of ability. As a trickier “advanced” option, I can imagine we’ll see decks that leverage this kind of thing more in the future but for now it still doesn’t quite seem mature.

As for each ink color, it’s pretty clear so far that Emerald is the big winner with the two Ursulas emerging as competitive staples with brutal abilities that support discard archetypes, Morph’s ability to turn into any Floodborn, impressive rares like Cursed Merfolk (that strongly supports the discard archetype), Lyle Tiberius Rourke and the Legendary Milo Thatch. I think Fang, River City is one of the best locations in the game right now, giving characters there Ward and Evasive and generating two lore per turn. Emerald-based decks are eating well this set for sure, and I’m seeing a lot of discard varieties faring well with new cards from this set.

I feel like Ruby has done pretty well in this cycle as well, and even though I’m usually not a Ruby player I’ve found that a budget Pirate deck suits me. I like the Pirate synergy and some seemingly ho-hum options like Billy Bones, Scroop, and Kakamoras suddenly become a real threat with Jolly Roger, On Your Feet, Now.  Ruby also gets a 2/1/1/3 drop with Simba, which is more expensive to play than similar options in other colors but offers a great advantage for players looking to get ahead before killing everything on the table.

Steel is, so far, the best ink in the game and although I really love what is going on here, most of it feels somewhat repetitive or slightly adjusted to accommodate locations (for example Ba-Boom is the new Fire Your Cannons and there are now removal options like And Then Along Came Zeus). Of course Robin Hood, Champion of Sherwood is one of the star cards of the set and as a turn 3 shift it’s a masterpiece.

Sapphire, also staying the course, is a mixed bag. The game still wants to push item decks, but other than the Pawpsicle thing I’ve yet to see a deck really leverage them to consistent success. I love the heavy Duck Tales content in blue this time but I’ve yet to settle on what to actually do with it. The ramp options are mostly good to great this set, with Gramma Tala coming back after all those times you let her go into the Inkwell- Spirit of The Ocean is a killer shift at 5 if you can manage it, basically showering you with Lore in a ramp build. I think Huey, Dewey, and Louie are underrated and underplayed in Sapphire, offering strong card draw and great support synergy.

Amethyst rocked the world in set 2 with all the Merlin/Madam Mim madness and strong cards like Arthur and Pinocchio- all of which are still very much staples. Into the Inklands really only has one marquee card in this color, and that is of course Jafar, Striking Illuionist. With the terrifying ability to create Lore from card draw, this card is a game-winner for sure with some strong shift targets if you pair up with Steel. I’m not seeing many Amethyst cards in regular play other than the locations, and so far I’ve not seen anyone lean into this Magic Broom archetype that is very heavily suggested by the cards on offer. Chernabog’s Followers are a must if you are going with Amber as a second color, but I’ve yet to see a Chernabog deck do well.

Finally, Amber continues its tradition of being my least favorite ink in the game. Like the Dwarves, the Dalmatian thing is cute but never really seems to work well. I really like Baloo von Bruinwald XIII- giving 2 Lore on banishment is such a clever element for a Bodyguard card, forcing a hard choice and hiding Characters behind a decision. The Bare Necessities is a mighty discard option that I wish were in Emerald. Most of the Amber cards feel somewhat repetitive and secondary to whatever they are paired with, which makes it feel almost like a utility color.

As for the support products, I think the Trove is a disappointment- the dice suck, the counter is cheap, and the dividers are a big shrug. The box is cute as always. The choice of Scrooge and Robin Hood for the deck boxes and sleeves is perfect, especially since they are two of my favorite Disney Characters. Ravensburger needs to produce about five times as many playmats- it sucks that they are so hard to get a hold of, especially when they look so good. Neither of the starters were especially good, but for someone new to the game they’ll do the trick in terms of introducing the rules and strategies.

In sum, I feel like this is a really strong, positive set that moves the game forward without overcomplicating things. There is, at this point, a little more repetition than I’d like see this early on. Do we really need another Simba or Moana? There are still so many characters and properties that haven’t been explored yet, and I’m hoping the next set jettisons some of the over-represented characters in favor of bringing in some faces. The repetitive mechanics are to be expected to some degree, and at least recurring concepts have some tweaks so nothing is too redundant.

The game’s future has never been brighter. I’m loving that the conversation around the game has shifted away from “how do I buy it” to “let’s play it”. The latest set is accessible and for the most part extremely good, offering tons of value for players new and old. I feel like newcomers would still do well to round up staple cards from the first two sets as this doesn’t quite succeed as a standalone set- you need some of those core cards.

Next time- the ugliest cards in the game!

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