Designer: Gary Alaka, Rob Chew, Jon Kang Publisher: Gap Closer Games
It’s time to sack off Scrabble and walk away from Wordle because there’s a wonderful new word game in town.
Illiterati from is a cooperative word game which pits you, as a member of the League of Librarians, against the titular Illiterati – a group of ne’er-do-wells who want nothing more than to destroy the written word, starting with all the books in the library.
Over numerous three minute rounds it’ll be up to you to restore a set number of these books, depending on the difficulty, by fulfilling the criteria on their pages. Bind enough books and you’ll face the Final Chapter – a tense climactic battle against the Illiterati which is harder than anything you’ve faced so far…
First things first, Illiterati is beautiful – from the book-themed box downwards, everything is beautifully produced. The letter tiles are nice and chunky – exactly what you need when shuffling them around against a strict time limit. The cards are nice and big, with eye-catching artwork on the Illiterati cards, and be sure to take some time to enjoy each and every literary pun on the book cards.
Starting with a handful of letters, which you add to each round, you need to make words – ideally words that fit the criteria on your book card – to survive the round. Your goal in these timed rounds is to use all the letters you and your teammates have at your disposal. You can freely move letters – and whole words if you so desire – between your teammates, with permission, and you also have a few extra letters in the library (the number varies depending on the difficulty level you’re playing) which you can also draw upon. When the time ends, any unused letters or misspelt words are returned to the library and should the number of letters exceed the library limit (which is, at most, three) then one of those letters will be chosen at random for burning.
And this is where the cooperative nature of the game really shines through. Illiterati works on an all-or-nothing principal which actively encourages teamwork and stops people solely focusing on their own collection of letters. If a letter is burnt in a round then no-one can bind a book, even if they have met the criteria for it meaning that all the words on the table – even the ones that could have been used to complete a book are under threat from the Illiterati.
Whether you succeed in the round or not, the Illiterati then take their shot at you. Their attacks range from restricting the draw limit to getting rid of whole words from the play area. The worst one, I think, is one in which you have to lose two letters from every word you have made. And while each round affords you more letters to meet the book challenges, drawing an Illiterati that’s already in play sees their attacks chain together. And that can be devastating!
The Final Chapter further solidifies the cooperative nature of the game – every player must complete the challenge as though it was their own personal book. So if, say, the final challenge is to produce words totalling more than 12 letters, with five matching symbols, on the subject of “shapes and maths terminology” then every player has to achieve that goal in the same round to win the game.
It’s ridiculously good fun. It’s a great game to play with people, and the solo mode (which sees you drawing a few more tiles each round) holds up well. There is an adversarial mode too, which I haven’t yet tested, but from the looks of it, that’ll be just as much – if not more – fun that the other modes on offer.
The only negatives I have are that the “normal” mode is way too easy after your first couple of tries at the game (in fact Gap Closer have said that they were originally going to call it “easy” but felt bad when people struggled) and that the sand timer is very easy to forget about, so you completely miss the three-minutes running out so I tend to favour a digital timer.
But that’s the only bad thing I have to say about this game. It’s bright, it’s colourful, it’s fun. There’s a lot of player interaction and some genuinely tense moments as you try to juggle the worst collection of consonants you’ve ever seen outside of Wales into anything even resembling a word.
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