Let’s start by saying “Well Done” to the whole of tabletop fandom for being so good at funding these amazing new games on Kickstarter. Illimat the latest game from Keith Baker and indie band, The Decemberists, managed to double its funding goal in less than a day. It’s getting so we won’t have to write these articles about Kickstarter projects because every person who would possibly be interested will have funded any project before we finished typing it out. Quality Problems!
That said, Illimat is a very interesting game with a very interesting origin story and well worth a look, so here we go!
The story is largely in the video above, but in case you can’t watch it right now, I’ll recount the basics. The Decemberists created the idea of Illimat while designing the photo shoot in support of their album The Hazards of Love in 2009. They just wanted to do a series of odd photos suggesting a secret society, one that played an esoteric and mysterious game which they titled Illimat (clearly a reference to the Illuminati). Carson Ellis who does most, if not all, of The Decemberists album art (and is married to lead singer Colin Meloy) designed a board and a box to be used in the shoot. Here’s one (perhaps the only one) of the final images:
After the group had become quite serious tabletop players themselves, someone suggested they try and make a real game out of their fake one. Guitar player Chris Funk knew game design rock star Keith Baker (Eberron, Gloom, Phoenix Dawn Command) and he was contracted to build something from what was essentially just art. Beyond finding a way to incorporate the board they also asked Keith to keep the game on theme and maintain a sort of secret society vibe. Maybe the game would feel like something played long ago that was just rediscovered. Maybe it tied into the album, Hazards of Love, but not too much. Keith went to work.
The end result is quite interesting. A game for 2, 3 or 4 players that can either take 15 minutes or much longer depending on if you play a few hands or set a specific point goal. Baker apparently designed the game to seem odd and inscrutable when casually observed but actually be easy to learn when you sit down and try it.
The board, now fabric instead of the original wood, has four distinct “fields” where characters can play cards or claim groups of cards as victory points. The box sits in the middle and determines which “season” each field is in. Some seasons have special rules which change the strategy of that field and some cards rotate the box to change everything up. Yes the whole game, cards and board, all fit in the box. That’s good design.
Carson Ellis did all of new art including the standard cards (separated into five suits) and a series of special cards called “Luminaries” with names like “The Forest Queen” or “The Changeling.” These cards have specific in-game effects, but thanks to Ellis, they are also works of art. Really, the whole game is stunning. While I haven’t had it in my hands to play, I feel like it’s worth the price just to display it in your game room.
The game does seem enjoyable. If you’re more curious there are some great playthroughs online including this one: