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The Meeple Guild: Game combines elements of chess and D&D

Interesting mechanics at play with Vilitum
Viltum game 72
Game designer Aaron Bilyeu and his game Vilitum.
YORKTON - If our little ‘guild’ had a dollar for every time a new game came out that likened itself in some way, shape or form – well we’d have a lot more dollars to spend the next time we visited a game store. 

By its nature chess is a great game to try and connect a new project to.  

There is to begin with an immediate understanding of the type of game the new release is because most people, even those who never play board games knows a bit about chess – Queen’s Gambit likely increasing that knowledge a fair bit too. 

There is also some expectation of the game, if it is truly ‘chess-like’ will have an immediate following, although it is likely hardcore chess players are too focused in the game, and maybe its immediate variants, to venture too far down a rabbit hole exploring every new game professing chess qualities. 

The more casual chess player might be more intrigued by a new offering, although that might depend on how varied their game interests and how many ‘chess-like’ games they want to own. 

In my case, the world chess is like catnip and I’m a chubby tabby. 

So when I happened upon Vilitum on a Facebook page recently I was off on a web search to get a closer look. 

What I quickly found was a game where piece movement is quite familiar, although not exact clones of several chess pieces including the knight which some suggest ‘must be’ present to be considered a chess variant. 

Of course there are a vast number of variants you can play by tweaking a regular chess set so familiar piece movement wasn’t going to cut it for Vilitum to truly grab my attention. 

But, this one held a lot more promise as I read on. 

To begin with, at least initially, you won’t be capturing pieces on a single turn. Pieces have rings and on an attack they are removed to signify the piece has taken damage. Get the last ring you take the piece. 

That alone adds a bit more of a ‘real battle’ feel to Vilitum, and also made me think about how characters take damage in a role playing game such as Dungeons & Dragons. 

It became further evident D&D played a role here as pieces in Vilitum have special powers, such as being able to ‘heal’ damage other pieces take. Having choices in terms of what ‘power’ is best used on a turn ups the game from simply being move and capture. 

The game can be played on a 5X5 board, or you can add a couple of additional pieces and play on a 7X7, which is a nice option too. 

It was enough for me to contact designer Aaron Bilyeu for some more background on Vilitum. 

“I've been trying to make game publishing/designing my career since 2018,” said Bilyeu who lives in Chickasha, Oklahoma.  

“I've also tried, unsuccessfully, to be a full time musician for over a decade now. I'm currently having a bit of success drumming in an Americana band named ‘Across the Washita’. Otherwise, I've worked a variety of jobs over the years... Whatever pays my bills and works well with my schedule is all that really matters to me.” 

But the itch to design games remains strong. 

“I've been a fan of board games for as long as I can remember,” said Bilyeu. “I remember playing the classics like chess, checkers - which I really hate - and mancala - which is my favourite - since I was pretty young, but I've always played a wide variety is games.  

“I would say that my real enjoyment and appreciation of abstract games was pretty recent. After becoming a game designer, I began to really appreciate game design and started to see abstract games as the purest form of the ‘art’ of game design.  

“I know that sounds like I'm trying to be profound, but it's really where my head was at the time. I think I was just on an abstract kick, but I really do love abstract games. One of my favorite things about any game is when it's easy to learn but hard to master. The deceptively simple nature of abstract games is really appealing to me. 

“I also just love that strategy games really feel like a true battle of skill without all of the extra fluff of euro style games or big expensive miniature games. Those are just too much.” 

But, the idea of actually designing you might say came on a dice role. 

“I purchased a set of dice where each die was themed after a different monster like a dragon, a kraken, and a demon,” said Bilyeu. “I thought, ‘how cool would it be if there was a game that used dice like these?’  

“I just couldn't get that idea out of my head and I thought would be fun. So I made my first game. It was a pretty bad card game similar to Magic the Gathering, but with dice. I later had another idea that worked much better and now I just can't stop.” 

Interestingly, Vilitum is a game that actually worked well from the outset, said the designer. 

“I don't know if this a good thing, but it hasn't changed a whole lot,” offered Bilyeu. “The biggest change it's gone through is the addition of the special abilities for each piece and the soldier pieces.  

“The original Vilitum was much more plain. Only the warrior and cleric could do anything other than move and attack.  

“Over the next couple of months, we added and tweaked the other abilities. 

“After that, I started thinking of some more possible pieces. I've only come up with the soldier so far, but I'm still trying to think of more for future expansions.” 

Adding pieces to an established game proved challenging. 

“The hardest part of development was probably the soldiers (that allow 7X7 play),” said Bilyeu. “It took me a good while just to figure out a basic idea for them.  

“They also have the most unique movement which took a bit.  

“Honestly though, the general balancing of every piece was its own challenge of getting it just right.  

“I will say that the Archer and Rogue gave me the least amount of trouble.” 

Still the abilities – which really grabbed me – did the same for Bilyeu. 

“In my opinion, the special abilities are what really make the strategy of Vilitum shine,” he said. Otherwise, I'd say it's variety. A variable set up, different board sizes, optional extra pieces, and even some optional rules let people really make their own best version of Vilitum.” 

It is neat that through the game’s Kickstarter campaign you can purchase a physical set, or the files to print your own 3D version. Bilyeu was nice enough to share those files, and our little 3D printer goblin went to work. 

The print job was a tad more challenging than he had expected – although the printer is not a Cadillac version, or a Pinto either, for what that’s worth. 

“If they reworked their models to be support-less it would be a great selling point,” said Jordan. “I don't know if people who want to 3D print a board game will want to have to essentially print a miniature on top of a column, they're hard enough to print on FDM as it is without being able to reorient. I ended up taking three of them off their columns to add supports to the figure and then proceeded to knock bits off of them taking off the supports.  

“So there's a wizard without a book because it launched itself across the room and a warrior with two different length legs since he came right off his base. 

“Shields also came off and were glued back.” 

Some printing issues aside, this is a true ‘chess-alike’ with a very D&D aspect, and that just means you should mark it a must-have.