Illusion (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
  • Publisher: Pandasaurus (U.S. Release), NSV (Germany)
  • Players: 2 – 5
  • Ages: 8 and Up
  • Time: 15 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 10


Illusion is a card game in which players attempt to order cards by the percentage of a color — red, yellow, green, or blue — shown on them.  The twist is that the cards form a sort of optical illusion, and the task is trickier than you’d expect. Illusion was released several months ago in Germany by publisher Nurnberger-Spielkarten-Verlag (NSV), and the English-language release was at Gen Con by Pandasaurus Games.  Wolfgang Warsch has been on quite a streak this year — he designed The Mind, Ganz schön clever, and Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg — and Illusion is arguably his lightest game, but like the others, it is kind of addicting.  

The Gameplay

Illusion comes with two kinds of cards.  First, there’s a large stack of the cards containing the illusions.  These have an eccentric series of designs on the front, and on the back, they show the percentage of the design for each color (red, yellow, green, or blue).  


The other stack of cards shows an arrow with one of the colors.


At the start of each round, one of the arrow cards is shown, and play begins clockwise.  Each player has one of two choices on their turn: (a) flip a card and put it in the card line, or (b) challenge.  Most of the game comes down to flipping cards and putting them in the row. The goal here is to arrange them in ascending order by the designated color.  For example, if there are already cards that have 20% red and 25% red on the table, and you think this one has 22% red, you’d put it between those. (The gameplay here sort of resembles the Timeline or Cardline series.)

A challenge happens when a player thinks something — and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the card played by the previous player — is out of order.  All of the cards are flipped over, and the winner of the challenge takes the arrow card. The winner is the previous player if everything is correct; the winner is the challenger if something is out of order.  

Play continues until somebody has collected three arrow cards.  It’s that easy!

My Thoughts on the Game

Illusion is extraordinarily simple — I think you could even play this with small children — yet decidedly tricky.  The rules are intuitive, and you can start playing almost instantly, yet people can be easily fooled by the shapes on the front of the cards.  

My plays have lasted 10-15 minutes.  With four players, a round usually doesn’t make it around the table twice, and with three, it generally doesn’t make it around the table three times.  Usually there are 7-8 rounds before a winner is declared, which makes this fit nicely in the filler-length game space.

Interestingly, there seems to be a weird psychological phenomenon where people only focus on challenging because of the last card, but on a lot of my card flips, it has been a previous card — sometimes the first one in the round! — that was wrong.  That leads to some laugh-out-loud fun.

I was initially concerned about replayability, and though I think my concern was overblown, I do think people could eventually memorize the backs of the cards.  There is a healthy number of cards in the deck, and each has four colors, but I think eventually people would get some of this memorized. I think that’s less of a risk than in the Timeline or Card Line series — and those are similar gameplay wise — because this isn’t useful trivia, but nonetheless this isn’t going to be a game you play 100 times.  That said, it is a cheap game, and thus worth the price.

Overall, I’m impressed.  Gameplay is addicting, and you could play with anybody.  

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

Alan How: I have introduced this game to loads of people but especially to people new to modern games. It is really easy to teach, pick up understand and buy! As so many people ask where can they get it because they know it’s a game they can teach to others. For me it’s a useful 10 minute filler while waiting for others to arrive for a main game and so that works well. You can even abandon it if you need to get going quickly and no one minds.

Patrick Brennan: More an activity than a game. Each card is a modern art type mish-mash of colours, and your task each turn is to determine if each card in the display is correctly placed, ranging from the card with the least of the stated colour up to the card with the most of the stated colour. Like Bluff, you either call (in which case the cards are flipped to reveal the colour percentages) and a point is won either way, or you add a new card to the line, inserting it into its hopefully correct position. That’s it, over and over. Its flaw is that if the player to your right plays perfectly (calls incorrect placements correctly, and inserts cards correctly), it’s impossible for you to score a point. As an activity it’s ok for a bit, but I have no need to further test whether my ability to assess “what percentage of a card is a particular colour” is better than yours.

Tery: My spatial abilities are lacking; I am terrible at estimating area or size, and when this game was first explained to me I expected to hate it and do terribly. As it turns out, I didn’t hate it; the fact that you are working on percentages made it a little easier, and since the shapes are deceptive challenging other players rather than playing your own card can often be a valid strategy. However, I didn’t like it either; it felt more like an activity than a game.

Joe Huber (1 play): I definitely did not find Illusions addicting.  It’s a fine game, but I don’t feel compelled to play a second time.  To the game’s credit, I’d have no issue with playing it again – I just am likely enough to manage to be in the other game (assuming there is one) that it’s possible it will never happen.

Dan Blum: I don’t find it addicting but I enjoy it. I prefer Timeline or Cardline for the trivia aspect, but I appreciate the greater replayability of Illusion.

Jeff Allers: creative new use of the Anno Domini (later used with Timeline) mechanism that I find interesting if played in short spurts.

Brian L: The epitome of a quick filler. I think it is a game, not just an activity or pastime, but the simplicity means that many rounds you are primarily observer with little active/night non-obvious decisions. A good introduction and in between that works with hardcore and new to it gamers alike.

Erik Arneson: Illusion is a fun game that, as others have mentioned, is extremely easy to introduce to less-experienced gamers. I’ve played 10+ times and look forward to more. A copy is in my car just in case an opportunity to play comes up.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  
  • I like it.  Chris Wray, Eric M., Alan How, James Nathan, John P, Dan Blum, Jeff A., Brian L., Erik Arneson
  • Neutral.  Tery, Joe H
  • Not for me… Patrick Brennan


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2 Responses to Illusion (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. Tom says:

    I wonder if this mechanic could be reinvented as an in-game mechanic. I could see this being repurposed into potentially a turn order mechanism

  2. Pingback: Top arrow games essen Update

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