Illiterati is a cooperative word game for 1-5 players, Ages 7+, and about 30-45 minutes long. I backed this on Kickstarter back in March 2022 and it just arrived at my house today, May 10th, 2023. It originally promised delivery in April 2023 … that means it only missed by 10 days! That’s absolutely fabulous in Kickstarter terms, to be only 10 days late, so: good job guys!
The Kickstarter version came with Matte Card sleeves.
This box is a beautiful cover that pulls open, kind of like a hardcover book in a case: see below.
Let’s take a look.
Unboxing, Components, and Gameplay
This is a smaller than normal box: about the size of a big book like an encyclopedia … and I am guessing that’s the vibe they were trying for: this is a cooperative game about spelling words for books.
This is a word game: you will be spelling words using tiles. Players will work together and can share letters, but this is still a word game.
The letters are on really nice tiles: they are drawn from this amazing draw bag … and discards go in the other bag. These bags are fantastic: I can fit my whole hand in! They are NOT too small!
On each player’s turn, they draw some letters … (depending on # of players and some other things) … trying to spell relevant words!
There are two types of books every player needs to “complete”: a red book and blue book (see above). Each book has its own criteria: see above and below.
The basic flow of the game is that you have to spell words that match the book you currently have. Above, you can see the RED book criteria: I have to spell words (with a total of 8+ letters between them) that are “Things That Live Underwater“. There’s an additional criteria: the words have to use 3 (or more) letters with the yellow sun sign. (Ignore the right side of the card: that’s for final play!!!)
In the second round, I am able to satisfy the book criteria (spelling SALMON and PRAWN, with ONN being yellow letters), and I can “complete” this book. I discard the letters to the bag, turn the the book over (to show it’s complete) and draw my next book.
My next BLUE book requires 2 words that rhyme over 4 letters each!
Of course, this wouldn’t be a cooperative book if there weren’t some sort of Bad News cards every turn! The Illiterati cards (see above) are the bad guys: they are trying to stop us from completing books! At the end of every turn, an Illiterati card is flipped and something bad happens! See above!
If the same Illiterati comes up again, then he/she activates the new bad news AND the old bad news! See above!
Although you want to spell words for your book, this game is about survival from round to round: if you ever have unused letters that aren’t part of a word, you may have to burn letters! If you have to burn too many letters, then you lose!
The Burn Tracker tracks how many letters you have burned: see above. Interesting side note: no one can complete a book if any letters have to be burned on your turn!
Once each player has completed their own two books, then cooperative players have to do a Final Chapter! Independently! Above I have to spell “Holidays or Events” using 12 or more letters AND there has to be a match of 5 symbols! Whew! Note that the V and Y aren’t burn letters because there is a small shared “library” of letters that don’t have to be used and can float from round to round.
If you forget the rules, the summary cards are very good: See above.
In fact, you almost don’t need the rulebook: the difficulty Levels and rules are summarized on just a few cards.
All-in-all, this is a really nice production. See above.
The rulebook is pithy and short. Thank goodness: we’ve had so many games with ridiculous rulebooks lately.
The game gets an A- on the Chair Test (it hangs over the side just a little). It’s easy to look over at the rulebook on the chair next to me when I have questions: in this way, I never have to take up precious table space, as the rulebook is easily accessible next to me.
The components and set-up are good enough. I was displeased that the Set-up did NOT tell us to shuffle any of the cards: it’s obvious after you play once, but it really needs to be stated (for example, last week Valor and Villainy: Lludick’s Labyrinth went out of its way to tell when to NOT shuffle and when to!). There were also a few times when I went to look for a rule clarification, and I couldn’t find one. Luckily, most cooperative games make this easy to move on (and this one works: “What should we do? Let’s come to a quick consensus”), but it was slightly annoying.
Overall, it was a pretty good rulebook.
The back of the rulebook gives us rules for Solo Play. Thank goodness they are so simple (and thank you for following Saunders’ Law)! The only real change is that you draw 10 tiles at the start of your turn instead of 7: This makes the game flow essentially the same (i.e., no real big changes for solo play).
See a solo game set-up above. I enjoyed the game solo. It wasn’t anything special, but I really like word games, so I had fun. It was, in a weird sense, like Bananagrams: if you’ve never played that game, you just spell words until you run out of letters. There was an element of that in there, because you almost never have the right letters for your Book (“Things that live underwater”) on the first round or two, so you just spell words to stay alive.
See me trying to spell words, just to stay alive! There’s not a lot of “sea” words in this lot!
After my second round, I got the right letters to spell some “sea” words, so I could move forward.
I generally had fun. I would play this again solo, but see the caveat below.
Cooperative Play worked well, and it didn’t. Let me explain: The cool part of cooperative play is that you can share ANY letters you want! I would call out “I need an X? Anyone got an X I can use?” Generally, you were looking at your own area, but occasionally helping your neighbor. Cooperation abounded as we shared letters and ideas for words! If someone got done early on their book, they could offer another brain!
My problem, and this might be just me, is that I like my word games to be … quiet. When we were playing cooperatively, people were asking for letters (“I need an E!”), muttering under their breath (“What is a Kwijybo?”), and helping each other (“Oh! You can spell QYZBUK!”), and generally making a lot of noise. This is good in MOST cooperative games, but not for me in a word game. This may be a me-only problem. In general, this was not too much of an issue … but a few times, I found that I couldn’t think about my letters with so much noise.
So, to be clear, the game has elements of frenzy, which may be fine for you. In a word game, that type of frenzy is not for me. I think I would prefer this game at two or maybe three players: at four and five players, this would be too much for me.
So, this game has a timer … and we pretty much ignored it. This is SUPPOSED to be a real-time game, but we really don’t enjoy real-time games. There is definitely some notion of “you can play without the timer if you want” in the rulebook, and by gum, we did not use that timer! Like I said earlier, I don’t like my word games to be frenzied, and the timer exacerbates that chaos even more!
What’s even more funny is that the TIMER GOT STUCK SO MANY TIMES!! I tried using the timer a little in my first few solo games, and the sand would just stop falling. Once I poked the timer, it would start up again, but I can’ t tell you how many games I played where the timer just got stuck!
In end, the fact that we do not real-time games, I personally don’t like frenetic word games, and the timer didn’t work … completely discouraged us from using the timer. At all.
The only reason to use the timer, we think, was to avoid Analysis Paralysis for certain friends. I have friends who would probably spend 20 minutes on letters per round if left to their own devices (you know who they are). That’s fine if that’s how you want to play, but you have to know what kind of game you want. In the end, none of my primary game group has Analysis Paralysis, but we see the necessity of the timer “in certain situations“. Decide for yourself: we think using the timer “twice” would be the sweet spot: so, about 6 minutes. You just may have to use a different timer.
I love word games! I mentioned in my review of Paperback Adventures that I love the idea of cooperative word games, because they are games I could play with my Mom! So, Illiterati is a word game I could play with my whole family, including my Mom! Illiterati’s game rules are quick and easy to learn. I think Paperback Adventures is the better cooperative word game: it’s not real-time, it’s easier to collaborate quietly, and it has more depth. But, having said that, I do like Illiterati: it’s a lighter cooperative word game that’s easy to bring out.
Illiterati is probably easier to bring out as a solo game than Paperback Adventures: if I want a quick word game, then Illiterati is much more accessible. Also, Illiterati works with 1-5 players, whereas Paperback Adventures only works with 1-2 players. That extra player count comes at the cost of a more manic and frenetic word game: Paperback Adventures is more subdued at only 1-2 players.
If you like cooperative word games, I think Paperback Adventures and Illiterati are both good choices: it just depends on what you want in your game.
The Vowel Problem
One problem to look out for is the Vowel Problem, wherein you have an assortment of letters with no vowels! In some games of Scrabble, you can get stuck without any good letters and no vowels!! Paperback Adventures has the innovative way of avoiding he Vowel Problem problem by always have a vowel from the monster you fight! In all my plays of Paperback Adventures, I always felt like I had a good assortment of letters to spell interesting words.
Illiterati almost has the Vowel Problem! Luckily, there is a quick rule you might miss on your first pass through the rulebook:
The Redraw Rule (on bottom of page 6): “When life gives you LMNS…” .. basically, you can redraw up to seven letters at the cost of an extra Bad Guys draw when you draw the Bad Guys. We didn’t use this rule, because it’s easy to forget in the heat of the moment, but it’s good to know it’s there for when you get LMNS … and no vowels.
Do you want silliness? Completely optional are some silly rules called Pandemonium Powers on page 7 (see picture above). You don’t have to play with them (and we didn’t, as they weren’t our cup of tea), but I could see families liking these rules. They are just silly rules to make the game more fun for some groups: “Choose 1 player: They cannot use their hands this round!”
I like that they are optional. Generally, it feel like Illuminati has done a good job of making this package have enough ways to play for any group.
- Don’t like real-time? You don’t have to play with the timer!
- Want some silliness? Play with the optional Pandemonium Powers!
- Want PVP? There’s a Player vs Player mode
- Want to play with younger kids? There’s a Junior Mode!
- Want a Solo mode? There’s a solo mode!
Seriously, I appreciated that: My group doesn’t like real-time, and we still could have fun with this game.
I liked Illiterari: it’s a lighter cooperative word game that works. The components for Illiterati are top-notch and I love the art and book aesthetic of the game. Even though the game is supposed to be real-time, we just never found ourselves playing that way (either solo or cooperative). The timer also didn’t work: the rules say it’s perfectly fine to pay without the timer, but we can see that timer being necessary for certain groups which are prone to Analysis Paralysis.
I think I would prefer Illiterati at no more than 3 people total: I liked the solo game, but cooperative game had too much frenzy. Too many people makes it harder to think about words. I prefer my word games to be quiet: at higher player counts, this game is not quiet! That may be just be me, but be aware of that.
I would give this a 7/10. I liked it, I would play it solo (especially when I want a quick word game), and cooperatively with one or mayyyybe two more people. You may love the frenzy and prefer the large player count for the whole family!
This is a book game, so we have to have an Appendix, right?
We also got some bookmarks (that aren’t used in the game, but pretty cool).
The sleeves that came with the came were very nice, but I am not sure they were necessary. The cards were linen-finished, and you don’t handle them that much.
We also got a small expansion for another game: see above.
One thought on “A Review of Illiterati: A Cooperative Word Game”
I’m really looking forward to this one! Mine is on the way as well.
We enjoy real-time games over here, so we may not face the same issues you did with that aspect, but you do make a great point when it comes to silence. This might actually be my go-to solo game from now on.
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