What's Eric Playing? #234: Illimat
Base price: $40.
2 – 4 players. There’s also a solo mode, but I don’t cover it here.
Play time: ~45 minutes. Each round’s about 15 – 20 minutes.
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 9
One last mention of my three-year bloggiversary giveaway for Azul! Check it out if you want to win.
So this game caught my eye for a bunch of different reasons. One was that I hadn’t really seen a band get involved in the creation of a card game, which was already intriguing (plus, given The Decemberists’ aesthetic, I can’t say I wasn’t curious as to what kind of game it would be), but I also was kind of sucked in by the art style, so here we are.
Illimat is a game about the ever-changing seasons and your commitment to preparing your lands to try and impress the various Luminaries that deem fit to appear among you. Will you be sunkissed by the Summer’s warmth, or will you end up frostbit by the chill of Winter?
Setup is fairly straightforward. There are a bunch of cards:
If you’re playing at two or three players, remove the Stars suit. If you’re playing at four players, add the Stars suit.
Now, lay out the board … mat, thing:
Take the game box, flip it upside-down, and place it in the center. This will be known as the Illimat:
Take the Okus tokens and put four on the Illimat, so that they may be claimed. The game provides some tokens for you, but you can also provide your own or use some money if you want to really change the way the game is played:
Flip three cards face up into each of the quadrants of the board. That’s the initial planting of the field. Also, add a Luminary card to each corner of the board, face-down:
Please note that The Audience is a Kickstarter exclusive.
Choose one player to be the dealer, and turn the Illimat towards them. Now deal each player four cards, save for the player on the dealer’s left. That player will only have three cards and will start the round. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to go!
Illimat is played over several rounds, as players compete to get 17 points. The first player to 17 wins! A round is composed of several turns, as players perform actions on their turn until all cards in their hands and the deck have been played. What you can do on your turn is somewhat determined by the Illimat, which determines the season in each field touching one of its edges.
The three actions you may perform on your turn are Sow, Stockpile, and Harvest. I’ll explain.
You may sow a card into any field (unless that field is Autumn) by placing it, face-up, into the field of your choice. If you sow a face card into a field (Fool, Knight, Queen, King), turn the Illimat so that field’s season matches the season of the card.
That’s about it. It’s a pretty simple action. You can basically always Sow.
Stockpiling is fun because nobody understands it. The simplest way to show what it does is an example.
Let’s say your hand is:
- 2 of Spring
- 3 of Spring
- 4 of Winter
- 2 of Summer
If you’d like to Stockpile, well, first, make sure the season of the field isn’t Spring (you can’t Stockpile in the Spring). Let’s say these cards are in the field:
- Fool of Summer
- 2 of Winter
- 5 of Autumn
If you’d like to Stockpile, you need to have an Active Card (which goes into the Stockpile) and a Passive Card, which stays in your hand. When you Stockpile, you combine the Active Card with a card in the field to create either:
- A new value, like combining the 2 of Spring and the 2 of Winter to create a 4; or
- A stack of the same value, like combining the 2 of Spring and the 2 of Winter to create a stack of two 2’s.
The only rule when you Stockpile is that you must have a card in your hand that you could use to Harvest the cards (it matches the value of the Stockpile). In both cases, we have a 4 of Winter we could use to harvest the new value, or we have a 2 of Summer we could use to Harvest both of the 2’s.
For a Fool, it is either a 1 or a 14, your call, but once it’s in a stockpile it can’t change. You can, however, add additional cards to another player’s stockpile, provided you have another card in your hand that can Harvest it.
Time to collect! You can Harvest in any field but Winter. When you Harvest, reveal a card from your hand. Any cards in the field matching that value or whose values sum to that value are taken along with the card in your hand and added to your Harvest pile, face-down. You may look through your Harvest Pile at any time.
So, say we had this hand and field, respectively:
- 2 of Spring
- 3 of Spring
- Queen of Winter
- 8 of Summer
- Fool of Summer
- 2 of Winter
- 5 of Autumn
We could treat the Fool of Summer as a 1 and use the 8 of Summer to take all the cards in the field, as 5 + 2 + 1 = 8. Nice play!
When you clear the field, though, something else happens.
CLEARING A FIELD
When you’ve Harvested the last card in a field, you trigger a series of effects:
- Take an Okus token, if any remain. Place it in front of you. I usually take the bird or the tooth or the bathtub; they’re my favorites.
- Reveal the Luminary for that field, or Claim the Luminary for that field if it’s already been revealed. Essentially, if it’s face-down flip it face-up. If it’s face-up take it. More on Luminaries in a bit. If, as a result of this action, all four Luminaries are revealed, trigger Harmonic Convergence:
- Harmonic Convergence is weird. Essentially, you leave your deck and all your cards behind and rotate seats clockwise by one. This also means that you now have that player’s score. Essentially it rotates the game state. Watch out for this.
- Refill the field. If there are three or more cards remaining in the Deck (six or more if the Luminary is the River), flip three cards face-up into the field. If you cannot flip the correct number, do not flip any.
Various Luminaries have a variety of different effects:
- The Maiden blocks Winter. Winter has no effect on any field while she’s revealed.
- The Union lets you combine two cards and Harvest as though they were one card in its field (and only its field).
- The River requires you to refill its field to six cards. If you claim The River and end up Frostbit at the end of the Round (more on that later), you gain two points rather than losing two.
- The Rake is miserable. You must Sow into the Rake’s field every turn (even if it’s Autumn in that field) before or after you take your action. If you manage to claim The Rake, every player must give you a Summer card from their Harvest pile, if they have one.
- The Forest Queen loves Summer. When the Forest Queen is revealed, turn the Illimat so that her field is Summer. While she’s face-up, the Seasons may not be changed. Hope you like the current seasons.
- The Newborn reveals the Luminary in the field opposite it (be careful about Harmonic Convergence!). If there’s no Luminary there (because it’s already been claimed), reveal a new Luminary from the Luminaries that weren’t used this round.
- The Children, when revealed, get three cards placed underneath them from the top of the deck. When you claim The Children you get those cards, as well. That might be good, might be bad.
- The Changeling is super fun. Before or after you take your action on a turn, you may swap a card in your hand for any card in The Changeling’s field. If you claim The Changeling, you may swap up to two cards in your hand for any two cards anywhere on the board.
- The Audience is a Kickstarter-exclusive one but it’s a lot of fun, too. Instead of refilling the field with three cards normally, each player is compelled to donate a card from their hand, face-down, to that field. Once everyone’s done that, flip them all face-up. That’s now the field.
Once a round has finished, you score the following, in order:
- The player with the most cards in their Harvest pile has a Bumper Crop and scores 4 points;
- The player with the most Summer cards in their Harvest pile is Sunkissed and scores 2 points;
- The player with the most Winter cards in their Harvest pile is Frostbit and loses 2 points;
- Each player scores 1 point for every Okus, Fool, or Luminary they have.
For ties, ties break to benefit the player with more Luminaries. This means if you are tied with another player for Sunkissed, the player with more Luminaries scores 2 points; however, if you’re tied for Frostbit with another player, the player with fewer Luminaries is the one that loses 2 points. Fun times.
Play continues until any player hits 17 points; at that point, the player with the most points wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
The biggest difference is that you’ll use the Stars suit for four-player games. My major gripe at four is that it feels a bit more luck-dependent than at lower player counts, as so much changes between turns that it’s hard to get a long-term strategy working for you (similar to Letter Tycoon’s factory cards, if I remember correctly). At two, you basically have absolute control (and it’s one of the few times you can really stockpile aggressively as a way to save stuff for yourself), but at three it’s a nice medium between those two. I’d say it’s great at two and three, but I’d probably prefer those to playing it at four players.
- Just because you Stockpile doesn’t mean you immediately have to Harvest. You can sort of leave them there, especially if you know you have the only remaining card that can grab them. Locking up your opponents’ options is normally pretty useful.
- Collect Fools. They’re worth points and pretty easy to pick up given that they’re just a +1 onto any card. I got super lucky one round, had a two, Harvested two Fools.
- Use the Illimat to your advantage. Did an opponent just stockpile for a big play next turn? Well, it’d be a shame if someone made that field Winter so that they couldn’t Harvest, right? Make that someone you. You should do that terrible thing to them.
- If you’re in the lead, avoid Harmonic Convergence at all costs. You do not want to be the leader that loses all their cards and points to someone else because you weren’t paying attention. You should try to focus on claiming Luminaries once one is revealed rather than revealing more. As soon as once’s claimed, Harmonic Convergence is impossible and you’re save. Relatively speaking. I haven’t experienced it yet in a game but the threat looms large enough that I invest a lot of time and energy into stopping it. You should be especially careful if there are two Luminaries on opposite sides that haven’t been revealed. If you reveal The Newborn, then Harmonic Convergence occurs.
- Know your Luminaries. For instance, you should pretty much use the Changeling’s ability every turn. That swap that you get should be exclusively used for setting up big Harvest combos (especially if you want to claim the Changeling, which is also a good ability). Similarly, use the Rake’s mandatory Sow to either block other people from claiming him or to set yourself up for big combos.
- Claim Luminaries. Even ones that don’t offer you a benefit are a free point and help you break ties in your favor, so they’re worth getting if you can make it work. Don’t just pass one up because it has no on-claim effect.
- If you’re going to end up with the most Winter cards anyways, at least try to get the most cards. Bumper Crop cancels out Frostbit and then some, so that’s a good way to recoup some of your losses. Further bonuses if you take okus tokens or Luminaries as part of that.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- I love the aesthetic. It’s super old-timey “found in your grandparents’ attic” in the way it feels and looks and I love it. It doesn’t photograph super well in my style, but that’s okay; I can forgive. I especially like the card art
- Turning the Illimat is a neat game mechanic. Not enough games use the game box as part of the game. It’s really this, Ice Cool, and Mars Open: Tabletop Golf off the top of my head. I suppose Kingdomino uses the box as a dispenser? That’s also pretty neat, to be fair.
- It feels like a classic card game. That makes it a lot more palatable to certain groups of people, honestly, which works for it. It’s got enough modern flair to make it interesting.
- The okus tokens are endearing. Especially the expansion ones. There’s a bird! It’s delightful.
- The Luminaries can really change up the game. It’s a huge bummer when that strategy you had all set up gets completely wrecked by The Rake eating all your cards or The Forest Queen making one field a Permanent Summer. Not much you can do about it, either.
- Nobody really knows how stockpiling works and anyone who says that they do is a liar and a scoundrel. I only peddle in the truest facts and this is one of the truest facts I’ve ever written down. It is unfortunately the one hiccup in an otherwise easy-to-play, fairly streamlined game. Honestly, that tends to mean it gets ignored until players figure it out more than anything else, so it ends up in the “Mehs” column, for me.
- For a “classic card game”, it’s hard to travel with it. This is mostly due to the Illimat being part of the game, so it doesn’t fit in a Quiver (and the box is so pretty that you feel bad shoving it into a backpack). I made a travel Illimat from a square sheet of paper and I just tuck that into my Quiver, now. After posting my sad travel Illimat on Twitter, the nice folks over at Illimat HQ hooked me up with some coasters, so I’m doing a bit better, now.
- Generally, your hand starts to get clogged with low-value cards and the field starts to get clogged with high-value cards (since you tend to use high-value cards to Harvest). This is alleviated somewhat with a variant that lets you Harvest using all four cards in your hand simultaneously (and that helps speed up the game!), but that’s not in the base game, so this may frustrate you somewhat, especially since that also generally means you have no control over the Illimat (since you lack high-value face cards).
- Certain Luminaries can make the game frustrating, especially if you have bad luck. We had two rounds back-to-back with early reveals of The Forest Queen and nobody was ever able to clear her (possibly by choice), meaning two full rounds with essentially no Illimat movement. This frustrated some of the players as it made the game feel less dynamic to them. This is totally possible with some bad luck, but additional Luminaries can dilute the effect, or you can allow players to vote a revealed / claimed Luminary out for a round.
- Harmonic Convergence is more often than not activated by accident, and honestly, it’s kind of clunky. Having to switch seats in any game is vaguely annoying, and having it happen in such a way that you’ll no longer be anywhere close to winning is uniquely frustrating for the player in the lead. I personally like the Fool’s Festival variant, in which Harmonic Convergence just causes Fools to be worth +3 points, instead of +1.
OVERALL: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think Illimat is super! The aesthetic (and the Decemberists) first grabbed my attention, sure, but honestly it’s a great game in its own right. It’s got enough of the vibe of the old card games I grew up with that I’d feel fine playing it with my dad (who isn’t a big board gamer, all things considered, but the dude loves euchre), but I’ve also brought it to a number of board game events / lunches / nights and it’s gotten a very positive reception. It’s a striking game with a lot of fun choices, cool design decisions, and great art and I’m super glad I was able to pick it up on Kickstarter. I’d highly recommend it, especially if you like card games.