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Reviews - Iliad
 
by Demian Katz


IliadIliad (2006)
Published by Asmodee Editions LLC
Designed by Dominique Ehrhard
English translation by Nathan Morse
Illustrated by John MacCambridge
Contents: 3 victory tiles, 110 cards (21 Victory cards, 6 Hero cards, 8 Oracle cards, 75 Army cards), rules, 2 summary sheets
2-6 players
$21.99

Iliad translates the siege of Troy into a card game suitable for play by a fairly wide range of group sizes. While some of the rules vary along the spectrum between the slightly stripped-down two-player version and the team-oriented six-player version, the game always manages to deliver an interesting strategic challenge using extremely simple mechanics.

Gameplay
Each player starts the game with a hand of twelve cards representing elements of his or her army: archers, hoplites, chariots, etc. Each turn, the player is offered a simple choice: play a card from the hand to the table, or use a card already on the table to eliminate an enemy card. Combat is always mutually destructive: attacking an enemy unit always results in both attacker and defender being eliminated. Combat is also limited by the fact that each type of unit is only allowed to attack a limited set of targets; you can't eliminate a catapult with an archer! Units aren't just there to kill each other, though. The point of the game is to build the strongest besieging army, and most cards have a point value which contributes to the overall strength of their owner's army. In many cases, cards can be combined in interesting ways: putting archers on the backs of elephants makes them stronger and more valuable; hiding troops in a Trojan horse can protect them and add an element of bluff to the game; combining hoplites into a phalanx offers significant score multipliers. Winning a siege involves playing cards in the most effective order and finding ways to kill your enemies' most valuable units while defending your own long enough to see the end of the fighting.

Of course, there's more to the game than winning a single battle – players must fight through a whole series of conflicts before the overall winner is declared. There are two different ways that each siege can be carried out, and the method for each one is determined by drawing an Oracle card. Oracle cards may show a Gorgon, in which case the siege proceeds until a single player is stronger than all opponents at the start of his or her turn – a sort of sudden death round; or they may show Thanatos, which leads to a battle of attrition in which the fighting continues until all players have decided to drop out. During a Thanatos round, dropping out early gives you access to a better hero for your army but leaves you open to attack for a longer period of time; in a Gorgon round, dropping out nearly assures your failure but at least helps you save valuable cards. Cards are a precious resource since, while players start the game with 12, they only recover 4 new ones at the end of each siege. Managing these resources is an important part of play, as it is easy to burn out early if you spend your forces unwisely!

Regardless of the type of siege fought, when the battle is over, the winning player has the first pick of victory cards (showing objectives like cities, triremes and Helen herself) and, in the case of a Thanatos round, the losing player earns a penalty card. The ultimate objective of the game is to either earn 12 victory points or to have the most victory points when the Oracle deck runs out. Victory points come from victory cards (all of which are worth between 1 and 5 points) and from bonus tiles earned by winning battles or holding majorities in cities or triremes. The fact that tiles change hands frequently throughout play adds a fluidity to the scoring and increases the importance of strategically acquiring the right victory cards at the right times.

Presentation
Iliad is packaged in a slim, efficient box and contains good-quality components: coated playing cards, thick cardboard tiles and full-color instructions. The product is heavily illustrated with paintings that, while not outstandingly stylish, are certainly professionally executed. Icons are used effectively on the cards to summarize their characteristics, and the summary cheat sheets help with most of the other details... though there are still a few minor details that you need to remember from the rulebook! While this isn't the sort of game that you pull down off the shelf just to gaze at its beauty, you're not likely to have any complaints about the way it has been put together – all the parts get the job done.

Conclusions
For the card game fan, there is a lot to like about Iliad: it supports several different group sizes; it offers a good amount of variety both in the types of cards available to be played and through the two different types of sieges that come up during play; and it involves deep, long-term strategy and resource management without introducing overly complicated rules. If you're looking for something just a little deeper than the average abstract Euro card game but still significantly lighter than the typical CCG, this is a good fit. There's a lot going on here, so you won't tire of it too quickly, but it's still simple enough to pull out on short notice and play through in well under an hour. This will definitely be hitting my table again soon!

 

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