12 December 2023
Illiterati describes itself as a cooperative survival word game, and our reviewer offers their verdict on whether the printed word is in peril...
What is Illiterati?
I love Scrabble. It’s a great game. Unfortunately, no one will play it with me, particularly my other half. Common excuses include “it’s dull”, or “it’s dated”; both words (worth five and seven points respectively) which suit me perfectly. Consequently, I’m constantly seeking out word games that will entice players to the table. Mild successes so far have been Tim Fowers’ Paperback, along with the pocket-sized Ansagrams - a rucksack mainstay of mine. This latest contendant though, looks to be particularly promising.
Illiterati describes itself as a cooperative survival word game. As a team, one to five players will be racing to assemble words to stave off the evil forces of the Illiterati; an organisation hellbent on ridding the world of literature. As a strategy for tyranny and control, this is actually disturbingly viable: Consider the burning of the Library of Alexandria - an event often claimed as having set humanity’s progress back by a thousand years.
Luckily, Illiterati doesn't present its theme as seriously as I, perhaps, would have. The art here is cartoonish whilst still giving its villains a mild sense of menace. Furthermore, aside from its synopsis, there’s no sombre narrative to follow throughout its gameplay. Indeed, like most word games, this is a largely abstracted experience, led foremost by its mechanics. Nonetheless, it is nice to see an interesting theme used to give players a deeper sense of purpose, and maintain some verisimilitude when the threat and difficulty increases throughout the game.
Play Illiterati Game?
Turns in Illiterati play out in real-time with players acting simultaneously. Armed with their letter tiles, players will be rushing to assemble words that (hopefully) cater to the requirements of their Book Cards. Players begin the game with red ‘Burned Books’, each requiring words relevant to particular themes. The theme of ‘Animals’, for example, can only be fulfilled once eight or more letters have been used to create words such as ‘dog’ or ‘Southern Titiwangsa Bent-toed Gecko’.
Additionally, most tiles feature one out of four symbols, with Books requiring a certain amount of a specific symbol to be completed. Once each player has finished both a red book and a blue ‘Waterlogged’ book (with requirements being more morphologically based) they must face the ‘Final Chapter’, which simply uses the more challenging, right-hand side of a single book.
Is Illiterati Difficult?
Even on its easiest difficulty, Illiterati is tricky. Players only have three minutes to assemble their words, whilst also ensuring not too many letters remain at the end of a round. Letters exceeding this ‘Library Limit’ (typically three) advance the ‘Burn Tracker’; once it advances past the fourth space, players lose. Furthermore, each round ends with the drawing of an Illiterati villain who will mess with players by snatching letters, words, and generally being a nuisance.
Is Illiterati Good?
Ultimately, success is dependent on players truly embracing the cooperative genre, to an extent far exceeding many other games. Cooperation is, indeed, key. There’s no restrictions on players exchanging letters, or even complete words, which feels strangely liberating in the face of the ever-ticking timer. Whilst the timer creates camaraderie through tension, the open nature of sharing and trading brings players together in a more wholesome manner. Every player is kept involved and each is concerned with the goals of the other. In fact, this would make a remarkable team-building exercise for employers.
Conversely, this is also a fine solo game. I thoroughly enjoyed shouting “Alexa. Stop timer!” as my panic subsided at the end of each round (the included sand timer is rubbish). But, to loop back to my opening predicament, my other half won’t play this with me either.
WRITTEN BY CHAD WILKINSON
Should you play Illiterati?
Yes. A frenetic word game and a notably intense cooperative experience.
Like Spell Smashers?
If you prefer a healthy dose of theme with your literacy lessons, check this out.
You can also read a review of Spell Smashers!