Illimat & Dark Star Oatmeal Stout: Myths Made into Realities

Wow.

Go on…

Yes, sorry. At the time of writing this, I’m overly saturated with rich darkness,  both in this thick-as-oil oatmeal stout and in the black-as-negative-space design of Illimat. I love both the beer and the game, but both are difficult to interpret. Let’s dive into why…

Throwing shade this early?

No! Well maybe a little. I’m bringing my honest impression to the table here. I love the beer and the game and will drink and play them again. Maybe not at the same time, but who knows!

Why did you pair these together?

Both the beer and the game embrace darkness in color. Both have far more to offer than just that darkness. In fact, I would say that the whimsical style of Illimat with its muted pinks, reds, and blues coupled with the luxurious sweet vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg notes of the Dark Star: Spice Wars edition provide a lighthearted, refreshing flavor to both your taste buds and your tabletop experience. The artwork of Illimat is reminiscent of the older 1800’s decks of cards.

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Let’s start with the beer

Dark Star is a thick, rich oatmeal stout creation from Fremont Brewing, a fine establishment which is local to me in Seattle. This particular version of Dark Star is barrel-aged and spiced. (Oh yes, it’s spiced.) This beer is dense, heavy, and you might not believe me if I told you that it was carbonated. I will concede that it’s a difficult drink. It’s as if I had liquified a cake, frosting and fruit and decoration and all, and asked you to drink it. It reminds me of a classic german Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälderkirschtorte), minus the cherries. It’s a Schwarzwälderkirschtorte smoothie. That word alone is hard to swallow, let alone the physical substance.

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A 22-ounce bottle of this magical Dark Star costs $20 USD. The beer is more expensive than the current price-per-ounce of a barrel of crude oil. Please reach out to me and correct me if my math on this is shitty:

  • A barrel is about 5000 ounces.
  • As of 11/19/2018, crude oil is about $65 per barrel.
  • Oil is $0.013 per ounce. (Dividing 65/133.)
  • A bottle of Dark Star is 22 ounces. (I think.)
  • As of 11/19/2018, barrel-aged Dark Star is about $20 per bottle.
  • Dark Star is $1.1 per ounce. (Dividing 20/22.)

I believe that beer should be more expensive than oil, but that’s an aside from my main point: this beer has complex notes that are hidden under the heavy oatmeal stout tar pit texture. It has one of the heaviest mouth-feels of a beer that I’ve ever tasted. This beer doesn’t care about nor need carbonation. You don’t decide to drink this beer, this beer tells you that you’re drinking it. It commands you and traps you; when you try it, you’re stuck.

I hope the Illimat review doesn’t reek of hipster like your beer review

Your hope is futile. In fact, let me tell you a little more about the inception of this game. This game was sponsored or presented by the Decemberists. The theme of the game fits right into their semi-poppy folk rock world. It was more specifically designed with elements of their 2009 album The Hazards of Love in mind. With that being said, we definitely listened to The Hazards of Love, and The Crane Wife while playing Illimat and drinking our expensive, Pacific-Northwest-brewed oatmeal stout for the full on hipster experience.

Thought so…

Illimat takes the concept of a classic playing card game, brings it into the current tabletop gaming world, and wraps a farming theme around it. The game’s mechanics complement the theme well. In a round of Illimat, 2-4 players will take turns sowing, harvesting, or stockpiling cards for a chance to harvest the entire stockpile on a later turn. The suits of the cards—each suit containing a single “Fool” card representing both 1 and 14 much like an Ace in classic playing card games—follow the four seasons, as does the play area itself. When playing with 3 or 4 players, the deck is increased with a “star” suit of cards. There are also Luminary cards, which are revealed the first time that a field is cleared. These cards change the rules of the game. For example, The Forest Queen causes a particular field to remain Summer, locking the seasons until her field is cleared a second time.

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One word comes to mind with the design of this game: magical. You don’t have a board, you play on a square piece of cloth that has four “fields” to take action in. The box that the game comes in also serves as a part of the game. You set it in the middle of the cloth to show which field is in which season. Playing a face card in a field switches that field to the season of the face card’s suit and you rotate the box accordingly. Each season has a special property as well which is neatly printed on the box:

  • In Winter, you can’t harvest cards
  • In Spring, you can’t stockpile cards
  • In Autumn, you can’t sow the field with a card
  • In Summer, you are free to take any action you like

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The objective of the game seems simple enough: be the first player to get 17 points.  The manner in which players gain or lose points is based around a few factors:

  • You gain points by harvesting the most cards
  • You gain points by having the most cards from the Summer suit
  • You gain points by collecting Fools (which are like the “Ace” card of Illimat)
  • You gain points by collecting Okus tokens or Luminary cards, which happens when you clear a field
  • You lose points by having the most cards from the Winter suit. Everything about this game seems well-thought

Except…? 

Except two things: some of the advanced mechanics, and the rulebook. The rulebook doesn’t cover a lot of situations that can occur during a game of Illimat. It also sometimes suffers from not formatting important information to stand out more. For example, we played the game thinking that each field had only three spots to sow cards—and that’s not the case. There were moments where we struggled to take an action or thought that we sometimes couldn’t take an action. Turns out, each field has no limit to the number of cards that can be sown. We had to dig through the rulebook and read a few sections over and over again to find that detail buried. NOTE: As described above, we played Illimat under the impression that you could sow only up to three cards in a field, which isn’t the case. This made each round of Illimat last a lot longer than it should have. The way that the stockpiling mechanic is described in the rulebook is also difficult to follow at first. Stockpiling is a more advanced mechanic where you can take a little risk to possibly reap a huge reward if you’re able to harvest that stockpile on your next turn. (You can only take one action on your turn, and you must have the right card to take that action.) For example, if you have a 5 in your hand, you can play it in a field which has a 2 and a 3, this then acts like a pair of 5s. A player can harvest this stockpile if they have a 5 in their hand, and the field isn’t in Winter. Seems simple, right? Well, you can also create a new value when you stockpile, which didn’t make sense to me. You also need to have another card in your hand which matches the total value of the stockpile you’re creating. So can I not make a stockpile of a 5, 3, and a 2? Apparently not unless I have a 10 in my hand. NOTE: When we played Illimat, we treated the stockpile mechanic as described above, where you combine cards on the field with one on your hand to create a “pair” of cards. (For example, playing a 5 on a field with a 2 and a 3 to create a “pair” of 5s.) This apparently was incorrect gameplay.None of these elements are described well in the rules. Illimat’s Stockpiling FAQ elaborates on the details of this complicated mechanic, but in my opinion it’s still an odd system in the first place. The FAQ talks about having an active card and a passive card, which was entirely omitted from the rulebook for some reason.

Active card—the card that you’re playing down on a field to create the stockpile. Passive card—the card in your hand (that you don’t play) which is equal to the total value of the stockpile. Why? This seems like a mechanic that needed a little more time in the oven. Furthermore, you don’t have to show anyone that you have the correct passive card unless they ask. The FAQ describes you as cheating if you don’t have the passive card. What? What is the point of designing a mechanic like that? It makes no sense and seems to be arbitrarily inhibiting players from using the mechanic.

So is Illimat a buy or not?

Despite the rulebook needing more time to bake and the issues with the stockpiling mechanic, I’m glad that I purchased Illimat and will likely buy the new Crane Wife expansion. Illimat combines the simple math and card collection goals found in classic card games like Hearts, Gin, or Bridge with the modern elements of tactics and strategy that you’d find in the current tabletop scene. The Dark Star oatmeal stout is also a strong buy from me, although I must try to limit myself so that I don’t go broke buying those $20 bombers every time I visit Fremont Brewing.  

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