We at Zatu like our top fives. We pick them for all sorts of things. From dice games to gateway games, mythology-themed to space-themed, all the way to publisher top picks. Sometimes though… we can’t really control ourselves. We want to go above and beyond with our recommendations. Or we just can’t stop arguing over biscuits… Admittedly, we’re often arguing ABOUT biscuits (bourbon or chocolate hobnob, thank you very much). Mostly, we just want you to have the best games available - and to give our genuine thoughts on those games. This time, for our publisher highlight, we’ve gone for IELLO. The problem is, we just could not decide on just five games! We bickered, we threw dice across a table, and finally, we settled on six. Hold onto your hats, folks, it’s time to see the top six for IELLO!
If you like a game where you press your luck, make strategic choices, or generally want to kick some monster backside, then Welcome to the Dungeon by IELLO is the game for you.
You start off by choosing one of four characters, all fairly common to those ensconced in RPG lore – a rogue, barbarian, mage, and warrior. These characters have their own abilities and items that they use to defeat the monsters in the dungeon - but how do you know what’s coming up? One by one, players will draw a card from the deck and choose if they want to place it into the dungeon or remove it. The cost for removing it is a piece of equipment. But, because you don’t know every monster in the dungeon, you won’t know how useful each piece of equipment will be. So do you keep going or do you pass on your turn? If you pass, you’re out. You won’t get the treasures.
If you’re the last one still going, you’re going in. You become the character. Battle all the monsters in the dungeon. Either you emerge victorious with the loot or flip your card over to the red side to show that you died. Two deaths mean you’re eliminated, and collecting two treasures means you win! Quick, simple, and easy to pull out when you need a filler game!
When it comes to the best of IELLO, there is only one game I can put forward: King of Tokyo, the first game IELLO published. It isn’t the best game they have done. It's not even my favourite, by many measuring sticks, but it is the best at one thing - showing the fun and scope of this hobby.
After my brother introduced me to the wonders of modern gaming through Dixit and Fluxx, I ventured into town. There on the shelves of a well-known bookstore was King of Tokyo, calling to me with its bold cartoony looks and promise of huge monsters. I couldn’t believe a board game like this existed, and I had to have it.
Opening it was a feeling in itself. The green opaque energy cubes blew my tiny mind. Then there were the pre-made dials and huge cardboard standees representing the monsters. And let’s not forget the dice! Huge, chunky dice - with custom sides!
Best of all, the rules revealed it to be a Yahtzee based game. Yahtzee is a game that I played a lot as a child with my family. A game of rolling 5 dice to try and roll certain sets and cross them off. Each turn you’d get up to two re-rolls, meaning you had three rolls total to chance it for the 5 die results you wanted.
King of Tokyo dispenses with the collecting of different sets of dice and allows you to choose the results you want to keep or reroll. Fists will attack, lightning bolts give you energy to buy power cards, hearts heal, and numbers obtain points. To win the game you must score 20 points, or destroy the other monsters.
This is all brought together with some great rules. If your monster is in Tokyo, its attacks hit all monsters outside of Tokyo. But monsters in Tokyo cannot use the heal dice result. Monsters outside of Tokyo only attack those inside Tokyo and can heal. However, attacking a monster in Tokyo gives them a choice to leave. If they do, the attacking monster replaces them.
It’s fun, quick, and simple. With the release of the new monster box edition, it’s the perfect time to pick it up!
Books and booze… those medieval monks knew how to party!
Okay so there’s no mead in this game, but I bet they were quaffing as they sorted out their shelves. Biblios by IELLO is all about having the best collection of sacred texts. But to make yours the go-to for religious referencing, you need to be canny about what you are collecting and how you manage your meagre resources.
So the game starts off with some card drafting and push your luck action (“Donations”). Secretly turning book, gold, and church cards over one at a time, you have to decide whether to keep or discard, not knowing what could be next in the line. The cards you don’t keep either go up for public auction or to your opponent. You know what your cast-off cards are, of course, but that could give you a clue as to what the other plays are after. And that’s important as you enter both the bidding phase, and at end game. You score points for having the highest value in each of 5 different categories. Scribes, Illuminators, Manuscripts, Scrolls, and Supplies.
After drafting comes the Auction, where there are rounds of fevered bidding and bluffing. And as cards are sold, their value changes. Church cards are handy, as they can make the price go up as well as down. Gold cards are definitely a go-to. But the different books are where the collectable crunch comes. You can employ deception to put your opponent off the scent. But if they call your bluff, you need enough gold to buy the ones you’re bidding on!
Biblios is a great filler game for 2 – 4 players that gets better the more you play. Deciding which cards to keep and bid for (as well as those to keep out of your opponents’ hands) is where the real think hides!
Decrypto has had a load of different publishers and IELLO is just one, but that’s much of a muchness. The game is great! Just by opening the box and pouring through the contents, the kitsch Cold War goodness draws you in. Centre stage are the two player stands, with gelled screens that reveal text on the jumbled blue and red cards when slotted into place. Each team has four secret words. In each round, one of you attempts to get your teammates to guess the order of said words. Numbers on a floppy disc card decide the order. Make no mistake, this will be some serious code making and breaking. Your opponents will be tracking your clue giving. Why? Because, in each round after the first, they will try to guess the correct sequence before your team does.
This isn’t a game you win but one you lose. Make your clues too easy and by round five your opponents will have won. Make the clues too hard and your team will guess the wrong order. Two of those wrong guesses and you lose too!
So, what kind of clues can you give? Well, pretty much whatever you like. Sing, hum, describe, compare, mime – and this is very much one of its sources of hilarity. Laughs balance with the tension; enjoy the nail-biting joy of finding out whether you made it too easy, too hard, or just right. I love the experience of playing Decrypto. I like that the hardest part about it is the rules explanation, which can make the game sound harder to play than it is. In reality, getting started on a dummy round clears up any perceived complexity. Decrypto hits the sweet spot of a low bar to entry, but fun for gamers of every age or experience.
Back when I was a fledgling in the board game hobby, Kanagawa by IELLO was one of my first purchases. The first thing that struck me was the gorgeous artwork. Admittedly, that shouldn’t be the reason you buy a game, but the mechanics also work well too.
Each player is a disciple of Master Hokusai, who has opened a painting school in 19th century Tokyo. You begin with a starting tile and two paintbrushes, which you must expand into a wonderful work of art. Every round, the Grand Master (first player) places a row of cards on the bamboo school board. Most of the cards are face-up, but every row has one or two cards that are face down. Once you have placed these cards, each player has a choice. You can either wait and see what else is drawn on the next round. Or, you can pick up a column of cards. If you choose to pick up a column, you can either place the cards in your painting or flip them over and place them in your studio.
There are lots of different ways to earn points. The first way is the length of your painting. The second is by seeing how many harmony points you’ve collected (and in some cases lost). There are also season symbols in the top corner of each card, and you get points for your longest season sequence. Finally, you can also achieve diplomas for your work. You earn Diplomas for the features of your painting, but can also be earned for your studio.
Kanagawa is a push-your-luck game that always finds its way back to our table. Even though our collection keeps growing, I don’t think it’ll be one I ever part with.
Some games aren’t games so much as social experiments. The Mind, for example, is more about reading the players rather than playing a game. But today we're talking about IELLO.
Mountains of Madness, designed by Rob Daviau and published by IELLO, is one of those games. Relatively obscure, almost completely overlooked as “Yet Another Lovecraft Game,” but one of the most unsettling game experiences I have ever had.
The premise is simple: explore Antarctica a la the story of the same name, looking for relics of an ancient race. This is done in real-time rounds. You put certain supply cards on the sled to complete the criteria on the location – so much value in green cards, so much in red and so forth. Complete both criteria and you get the bonus on the card. Complete one and you get the bonus and one forfeit. Fail both and it’s two forfeits.
One of the forfeits is ‘roll the dice and take the hit’. The other is to assign a Madness card. These are what make the game very different and initially fun, but eventually terrifying. When the person has this card, it affects their behaviour during the supply round. At first, these are quirky. Like high fiving or hiding your teeth. But as the game progresses, they get more serious. It seems simple enough, but it is a wild ride. Make sure you play with friends, that there is a disclaimer beforehand, and that the knife drawer is well out of reach…