Reviewed by Herb Levy

ILIUM (Playroom Entertainment, 2-4 players, ages 8 to adult, 35 minutes; $40)


Playroom Entertainment has begun to make a splash in the Euro games market in America. They have published Euro style card games for some time now but only relatively recently have they ventured to test the waters for a line of Euro style boardgames. Their first release was Portobello Market (featured in the Fall 2007 GA REPORT), originally published in Europe by Schmidt Spiele. For their second release, they have gone on their own, publishing a game that has not been previously released from prolific game author Reiner Knizia: Ilium.iliumbox

Ilium comes in a bookshelf style box containing 50 artifact tokens, 180 wooden archaeologist (in four colors), 5 Historian cards, four decks of archaeologist cards, 16 wooden cubes, 3 closed markers, a mounted game board and only four pages of instructions (in no less than THREE languages – French, Spanish and English). The board is an overview of 13 digging sites and it is up to you to place your archaeological teams wisely in order to unearth valuable artifacts.

The 50 artifact tokens are randomly mixed and placed face down on the digging sites, enough tokens to match the Roman numeral printed on each (anywhere from 3 to 6). The number indicates how many paths lead to each site. (When only two are playing, three sites are out of play and marked as such with the closed markers.) Each token displays one of five types of artifacts (coins, horses, armbands, bottles and helmet) and how many of them have been found (anywhere from 1 to 5). The tokens are now turned face up and arranged in low to high order.

All players begin with their chosen color of archaeologists as well as three cubes (which symbolize supplies). The last cube is placed on the board’s perimeter scoring track and used to track victory points at game’s end. Players also take their own color matching deck of cards. The cards show silhouettes of 1, 2 or 3 archaeologists. (With four players, four 1 and four 2 cards are removed from play.) These cards are shuffled to form a draw deck. Finally, each player is randomly dealt an Historian card. These cards are kept secret with unused cards removed unseen from the game. Each Historian card matches one of the artifact types and come into play at game’s end.

On turn, players draw the top card from their archaeologist deck and deploy that number of wooden archaeologist tokens on any one of the paths on the board. All pieces MUST be placed on the same space on the path AND together. A player may also use any or all of his supply cubes to occupy additional spaces on a path but cubes cannot be placed on any other path that turn. Placed figures and cubes are there for the entire game and may not be moved. When a path is fully occupied by figures (and possibly cubes), an excavation of artifacts occurs.

The player with the MOST figures on a path gets his choice of the LOWEST available artifact in EITHER of the two connected sites. The player with the second most figures on that path will get the other artifact at the other site PROVIDED that he/she has at least HALF as many figures on that path as that player. If not, then the player with the most gets BOTH artifacts! (If there is a tie for most figures, the player occupying or nearest the space with a shovel symbol on it breaks the tie.)

The game continues as players accumulate tokens until either ALL artifacts with 4 symbols on them (identifiable by a light background) have been claimed and someone voluntarily decides to end the game OR when ALL archaeologist cards have been played. At that point, the Historian card collects his “donation”.

All players reveal their Historian card and must make a “donation” of the highest valued artifact of the Historian’s color. That artifact is now out of the game. Once done, we score.

Two types of scoring determine the winner. First players score for the most tokens (NOT artifact symbols) they have for each of the five types of artifacts. The player with the most tokens in each category scores 10 points. Ties are friendly. ALL tied players score 5. Now we score for sets and that’s where the artifact symbols are used. Each set of symbols, one for each type of artifact, scores 10 points. The player with the most points wins. (Tie? Then the player with the most artifact symbols wins the game.)

Iium is a game of placement and set collecting which, while at its core is an abstract design, captures the theme of archeological adventure quite well. The game mechanics are simple but the choices as to where your to place your figures for maximum effect may not always be obvious and this makes the game interesting. As with virtually all card games, you are at the mercy of the cards drawn from the deck but the rules allow your to peek at your next card thereby mitigating the pure luck element as you can do a bit of strategizing based on your upcoming figure placement. Of course, you have less flexibility as the paths fill and your plans can be upset should other players occupy positions you covet. At the start, it’s a bit easier to maneuver into being the majority player – and keeping another player out – in the smaller paths thus picking up two artifacts in one fell swoop. But this is tempered by the fact that early artifacts are generally the ones with fewer symbols making multiple set creation a bit more difficult. Using cubes is a nice touch as it gives you a chance to close out paths quickly, in effect, giving you a “double turn”. But players only have three cubes for this purpose. Try to hold back a bit in using them until you can close a path to scoop up a necessary artifact or, even better, two with multiple symbols. In keeping with the theme of digging in the ground, the board is the color of dark earth which is all right. But the artifacts as well as the Historian cards suffer from the use of very dark backgrounds. A “lighter” touch and more use of color for easier reading of the components would have served better.

Like Jenseits von Theban (also known as Thebes and featured in the Fall 2007 GA REPORT), Iium involves exploring and digging for archeological treasure but Ilium is more accessible to the non-gamer. Ilium is mid-level Knizia tending to fall on the family friendly side – precisely the audience that Playroom Entertainment is seeking to satisfy. Ilium is satisfying and, without getting your hands dirty, well worth digging up! – – Herb Levy


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