Reviewed by Herb Levy
ILLUSION (Pandasaurus Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, 15-20 minutes; $14.95)
Color – and perception – is key in the new game from award-winning designer Wolfgang Warsch that challenges your sense of color AND your senses: Illusion.
Illusion is played with a series of 98 color saturated cards (using red, green, blue and yellow) and 12 “arrow” cards. Players need to determine just how much of a color is on the cards AND make sure (or at least, as sure as they can be) they are placing cards in an ascending percentage!
Both decks of cards are shuffled separately with the top card from the arrow deck revealed. The color of the arrow determines which color is in play for that round. (In the picture at left, red is the color of the round.) The top card of the color deck is now placed next to the arrow to start a “run”. The first player takes the top card of the color deck and places it either to the right or left of that initial card so that, in his/her best opinion, the amount of that color found on those cards is such so that the sequence of percentages of that color is in an ascending order. Turns move clockwise and now, on each following turn, the active player has two choices: draw the next color card and place it somewhere in the line to keep the ascending order intact OR challenge!
A challenge stops play and each card in the line, from the one closest to the arrow to the one farthest away, is flipped over, one by one. All cards use all four colors but the backs of each card display the percentage of each color found on that card. If percentages of that arrow color continue to rise (or, at least, are equal to the previous card in the line), the challenge fails and the challenged player gets the arrow card! If the percentages do not continually rise, then that challenge is successful and the challenger gets the arrow card instead! Either way, all color cards in the line are discarded and a new arrow card drawn. The top color card starts the new line and the player who received the previous arrow card now adds to the new line. Play continues until someone has managed to get 3 arrow cards for the win! (You can also play 12 rounds with the player with the most arrow cards at that point claiming victory!)
As the line gets longer, confidence in being able to maintain rising percentages will falter. But knowing just when to add a card or challenge is the make-or-break decision that makes the game and makes this a welcome addition to the “push your luck” genre of gaming! And there is a certain “wonder” moment when percentages are revealed and you are surprised or shocked or happy, depending on which side of the challenge you are on.
Players will find minor discrepancies between the rules and the box as to number of players (up to 4 vs up to 5) and play time (15 to approximately 20) but, really, this is inconsequential. The game handles 2 to 4 OR 5 very well. (Even 6 players are possible – possibly more – but the difficulty rises and the percentages turn against you – when you try to maintain a viable line of color cards of 6 or more.)
Illusion is one of those games where some semblance of order is what you are trying to achieve. Generally, this type of game centers around years or dates. With games using dates, players tend to memorize them after awhile and replay value diminishes. With the wonderfully wacky cacophony of colors found on each of these cards (graphic design credited to Oliver Freudenreich and Sandra Freudenreich), this is extremely hard to do. The cards in and of themselves remind you of something to be found in a museum of modern art which adds to the pleasure. On top of that, the game can be explained in seconds and can fill the start or end of a gaming session perfectly.
Wolfgang Warsch is most definitely on a roll, having designed Ganz Schoen Clever and Spiel des Jahres winner Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (both featured in the Summer 2018 issue of Gamers Alliance Report). With this game, Warsch shows that while this game may be, his talent is NOT an Illusion! – — – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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