February 5, 2009

Iliad, published by Asmodee, is a card game for 2-6 players and based on Homer’s epic poem.  pic2294811

(images courtesy of http://www.asmodee-us.com)

Game designed by Dominique Ehrhard (of Condottiere fame).  Ages 10 and up.


In Iliad, players take the roles of Greek heroes attempting to rescue Helen from the hated Trojans and win the favor of the gods. Players take turns placing cards to the battlefield or using previously placed cards to attack opponent’s troops which consist of hoplites, archers, elephants, catapults, ballistas, chariots, and Trojan horses.  The winner of each battle (which usually ends when each player passes) gets his pick of the Victory point cards which are in the form of Triremes or Cities  (between 1 and 3 points each) and possibly  the bonus tiles Athena or Poseidon if one has taken the lead in the Cities or Triremes, respectively.  One VP card is Helen, and she is worth a whopping 5 points.

Hoplites are the basic troops, numbered 1-4, and can be stacked in Phalanxes in order to multiply your points.  Archers may shoot down Hoplites or other Archers, but only the lowest strength if they are stacked, unless the Archer is riding an Elephant.  Trojan Horses, possibly the most powerful cards in the game, allow for a certain amount of bluffing as one can place Hoplites and Archers inside, and at the end of the battle, organize them into Phalanxes to maximize points.  Very nice when you know how much you need to win the battle but your opponent is unsure how much you’ve placed in the Horse.  Catapults can take out Trojan Horses and other seige weapons, and Ballistas can attack Elephants and Chariots.  Chariots are the only card which can attack from hand, hitting Hoplites and Archers, and this sudden attack can make them very powerful, especially when an opponent lays a 4 strength Hoplite on the table. 

When playing with more than 2 players, Heroes and Oracles are added to the mix, with names like Achilles and Ajax joining your ranks as the first person to pass gets to add the strongest hero.  These special cards range from 1-6 in strength, and can never be targetted by an opponent.  Oracles are largely negative victory points, either -1 or -2 which the weakest army has to take.  This can obviously be a huge setback to your overall goal of 12-15 VPs, depending on the number of players.  There are two Gorgon Oracle cards however that start “speed rounds” in which the first person to have the single highest total at the start of his turn wins the battle. 

At the end of each battle, Victory point cards are claimed and three new cards are dealt to each player.  As you begin the game with only 12 cards, it becomes imperative to “know when to hold ’em.”  Play too many cards early, even to win a battle, and you may decimate your hand and your chances to win much else. 



I’ve played mostly 2 player matches and the 4 player team variant thus far.  As one might imagine, these are two very different animals.  In a 2 player game, there seems to be a tipping point in which one player gets behind (usually after the 3rd or 4th battle) and can never quite catch up, in some respects because of a lack of good cards.  Sometimes it’s better to try to give your opponent a victory or two at this point, just to restock on cards, but he’s getting the same amount of cards as you are, and if you haven’t forced him to play many cards to win, it can be very hard to come back. 

For this reason, I favor the 4 player team variant.   In this version, if you don’t have the cards, your teammate might be able to carry you for a battle or two.  These can be intense, close-fought matches, with the lead changing hands several times or a blowout turning into a huge comeback for the losing team.  I enjoy the 2 player game quite a lot, but the team variant is excellent and filled with tension.  Playing time, however, increases from about 20 minutes to one hour. 

 Attacks will be wonderful tactical options at times, giving you a way to temporize and take the opponent down an notch at the same time.  This is important, because when you attack with a card, it is discarded as well.  For a card like the Chariot, this becomes even more important, as you also have the option of playing it to the table (where it can attack, although losing the element of surprise) and gaining 3 points from it if it survives the battle.  Lots of these little nuanced options provide a very rich tactical gaming experience.


Components/Presentation: 10/10 The artwork on the cards is stunning and really adds to the atmosphere.  The cards are of excellent quality and should hold up quite well.

Theme: 7/10 One might expect to be fighting Trojans in this game, but it’s more about infighting among the Greeks.  Given Achilles’ history with Agamemnon and the general history of the city-states, I guess that’s not a huge issue, but some might find it puzzling. 

Mechanics: 7/10  Nothing incredibly groundbreaking here, but a lot of Euro-type mechanics in a polished package.  I would like to see something that would alleviate the balance issues with the 2-player form of the game.

Replay Value: 9/10  Iliad has rules for 2-6 players, either every man for himself, or team variants for 4 and 6 players, and the differences in these versions really up the replay value of the game. 

Fun Factor: 9/10 This game is a blast with 4 players, and a fun diversion with 2.   

Overall: 8/10


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