Ilios Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Approximately 20 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Visuospatial Skills
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Bluffing and Misdirection
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Wage war on a mental battlefield


  • Gamer Geek mixed!
  • Parent Geek mixed!
  • Child Geek mixed!


Chinese general, military strategist, writer and philosopher, Sun Tzu, said “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” This is absolutely the case for this game. To beat your opponent, you must wage a war of patience and tactics. Victory will go the cleverest of generals, not the strongest.

Ilios, designed by Eliot Hochberg and published by Playford Gamesis comprised of one game board, two cloth bags, 40 Warrior tiles, 38 discs (in four different colors), and seven expansion tiles. The game board and tiles are made of thick and durable cardboard. The discs are made of solid wood.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first place the two Oracle tiles and all the Warrior tiles into a cloth bag.

Second, each player takes a turn drawing three tiles from the bag, ensuring that the tiles drawn are hidden from their opponents. This is the player’s starting hand. Give each player their selected color of discs.

Third, place the game board in the middle of the playing area. Find and place the Wasteland tile (which is any tile, but turned face-down) on the game board on any open space. Find and place an Iron Weapon tile on any open space, as well.

That’s it for game setup. Determine who will go first and begin.

Playing the Game

Ilios is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. Each player’s turn is comprised of four steps which are summarized here.

Step One: Deploy

The player places one Warrior tile from their hand, turned in any direction, on an open square on the game board. The Warrior tile must be “pointing” in the direction (using the image on the Warrior tile that looks like a compass) to at least one adjacent tile currently occupied by any opponent’s disc or an unoccupied Iron Weapon tile. A Warrior tile may point to more than one adjacent tile as long as at least one of the tiles is occupied by an opponent’s disc.

As the game progresses, it will become harder and harder to place a Warrior tile during the Deploy step. If the player feels they cannot deploy a Warrior tile using the above rules, they must reveal their hand. All opponents now inspect the revealed tiles. If it’s agreed that the Warrior tiles shown cannot be placed on the game board, the player may place any of their Warrior tiles in their hand to any open space on the game board, ignoring the placement rules. The player then hides their remaining hand.

Step Two: Raid and Occupy

If a player’s Warrior tile is pointing to an unoccupied  Iron Weapon tile, they can now occupy it by placing a disc on top of it. If a player’s Warrior tile is pointing to an opponent’s disc, the player raids and occupies by removing their opponent’s disc, replacing it with their own.

Note that Wasteland tiles can never be occupied.

Step Three: Surround and Plunder

If a tile is surrounded by eight sides (one of those sides can be a Wasteland tile), with player discs, or is on the edge of the game board (reducing the number of needed tiles surrounding it), it can be plundered. The surrounded tile is removed from the game board and kept aside by the player whose color disc occupies the tile taken. The disc, however, remains on the game board.

As the game progresses, more than one tile can be surrounded by a single play. Resolve each surrounded tile before continuing to the next step.

Step Four: Reinforce

As their final action, the player draws one tile from the bag, adding it to their hand.

This completes the player’s turn. The next player in turn order sequence now goes starting with step one.

Winning the Game

The game continues until all the squares on the game board are filled. Players now count their score by adding the number values on their plundered tiles. The winner is the player with the highest total plunder value. If there is a tie, the player with the most discs on the game board wins.

Game Variant

The game comes with an expansion titled Troy. The rules of the game remain largely the same with a few additions. The Troy tile is placed in the middle of the game board and the Warrior tiles with an eight value are used as the Wasteland tiles, one per player. The new tile, the “Horse”, allows the player to jump over open or occupied squares (including the Wasteland), meaning the player need not place the Horse on a space that is adjacent to another tile. The jump is up or down, left or right. Never diagonal. The other change is how you plunder the Troy tile. It first must already be surrounded and then occupied by the player. This where using the Horse (representing not only a real horse, but also the Trojan Horse) comes into play. Finally, when a player reinforces, they can use the Oracle tile to trigger a special ability if they have plundered it. Each plundered Oracle tile lets the player to return a tile to the bag and draw again if they are unhappy with their initial draw.

To learn more about Ilios, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks learned how to play, but the game never really took off for them. According to one Child Geek, “I don’t really understand the game, although I did win twice. It just feels a bit off.” But not all Child Geeks found the game to be a bit too far afield to grasp, so to speak. Another Child Geek said, “I thought this game was going to be like Checkers. It’s not. But it isn’t Chess either. I like it and I like how you can play with other people.” When all the games were over, the Child Geeks voted and it was clear that this group understood the game, but didn’t all agree if it was a game for them. The Child Geeks gave Ilios a mixed endorsement, with the more skilled Child Geeks leaning towards full approval.

The Parent Geeks also felt the game was good, but not great. According to one Parent Geek, “I’ve played other abstract games in the past, and I think this one is OK, but I’ve played better games that make you think more.” Which is to say, this particular Parent Geek felt that the game was fairly repetitive enough in nature to make turns feel a bit on the rails. Another Parent Geek said, “I like it. I especially like it when you play with all the players. The game can be really tricky, especially when you are racing to capture a tile!” In this case, the Parent Geek found Ilios to be the opposite of what the other Parent Geek believed. That pretty much sums it up for the Parent Geeks. Ilios was a game players enjoyed and just found interesting. No one ever told me it was a bad game. The end result was a mixed endorsement from the Parent Geeks.

The Gamer Geeks enjoyed the game’s depth, but not the “luck factor” that was the result of the blind pull from the bag. However, they also agreed that having a hand of tiles to always pick from offset this by giving the player options. In fact, one of the the aspects of the game all the Gamer Geeks agreed upon is that Ilios was a game in which a player would never be stuck.” According to one Gamer Geek, “Because the draws are random and the board fills up, it is only a matter of time before a player has no options left at their disposal. The game designer’s idea to force the player to reveal their tiles, proving they are stuck, but then allowing them to proceed was a good approach. It keeps the game going.” All the Gamer Geeks liked the game’s speed, but that’s the last point of the game that they all agreed on. From there, the elitist camp of gamers split into two. One group who found the game to be fun and the other who thought there were better abstract games out there that played just as fast and gave the player’s more control. The final vote showed that the Gamer Geeks gave Ilios a passing grade, but not fully.

This game is so abstract it took all our players a turn to “get it”. Not a bad thing, but it makes teaching the game a two-step process. First, you have to explain it. Second, demonstrate. Normally this is a pretty “duh” statement. Of course you explain and then demonstrate. How else would you do it, you silly-billy? But in this case, I put emphasis on first explaining and then demonstrating. This is because of how a player’s turn works. You need to make decisions before you place a tile, then you work with the tiles. Placement is important, but even more important, is understanding how a single tile placement alters the landscape of the game.

To enjoy Ilios you need to enjoy abstract games. Yes, the game has a theme, but it’s pasted on. Nothing about the game suggests war, warriors, or a battlefield. What you have is tiles that define movement, discs that define occupation, and that’s it. You are moving pieces on the game board, shifting and counter-shifting, until the game is over. None of our players ever thought they were battling it out, but nor did they have difficulty understanding the game’s intent. For those who love abstract games, you won’t have any issues. For those who need to associate pieces moving on a board to a larger narrative, get ready for disappointment.

This is a fast game, good depth, and interesting choices to be made. While others in our review groups were not sold on the game, I rather enjoyed myself. What makes this game fun, for me, was the interaction with the other players. Having others place pieces on the game board made everything feel fresh and exciting. I never knew what to expect, but I was always given several options regardless of the how the game progresses in front of me. No one player ever ran away with the game and the final points were always entertaining to tally. Victory sometimes went to the obvious players, but there were more than a few upsets, as well.

Overall, I enjoyed Ilios and would recommend it to anyone looking to introduce an abstract game to new players or are looking for a short game to enjoy during longer gaming sessions. The fact it can be played with four players is a big plus, allowing you and three others to go head-to-head in an abstract showdown where a direct assault is never the right answer. You need to be subtle, work through your moves, and set yourself up for success. More importantly, take advantage of an opponent’s mistake to gain ground. Do play a game or two of Ilios when time allows.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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