Full disclosure: A review copy of FILLIT was provided by Big Cat Games.
Alright, this is an exciting week. Three abstract doujin games are hitting Kickstarter from Big Cat Games, and I’ve gotten to check out all three. I hustled a bit to get this review done ahead of the Kickstarter, and … here it is! It’s done. I can make that happen sometimes. Big Cat is routinely one of my favorite groups to work with, and so, I’m always stoked to check out what they’ve got coming down the pipeline. There’s always more, as well, so, that’s even more to look forward to, here. Let’s dive into FILLIT and see what’s happening.
FILLIT is an abstract strategy game of paths and lines. As you move, you fill in the spaces behind you to create a very real trace of where you’ve been, almost like Tsuro. However, unlike Tsuro, your opponents are doing the same thing and can cut through your left-behind trails, filling in the spaces with their own tokens. The first player to run out, wins. Will you be able to forge a new pathway for yourself?
Not really any; each player has a pawn, tokens, and stones:
Place them on either side of the board:
You’re going to want to match certain configurations, depending on your board size and shape. Also, keep a certain number of tokens in your supply depending on your size and player count:
- 2 players, small side, either configuration: Everyone keeps 13 tokens.
- 2 players, large side, either configuration: Everyone keeps 24 tokens.
- 3 players, small side, either configuration: Everyone keeps 10 tokens.
- 3 players, large side, either configuration: Everyone keeps 17 tokens.
- 4 players, large side, either configuration: Everyone keeps 23 tokens.
You should be ready to start!
As with a good abstract, there are very few things to do on your turn. You must do both of Move your Token and Move your Stone. You can do either one first, but you must do both, if you can.
This one’s a bit more complicated, so we should definitely lead with it. That makes sense. What you do, is, you move your token as far as you can in a straight line perpendicular to one of the edges of the hex you’re currently on. You stop when you hit the edge of the board, the center of the board, another player’s pawn, or another stone.
When you’ve stopped, place tokens of yours on every space you traveled through to get there (making a straight line). If your opponent’s tokens are on any of the spaces that you traveled through, replace them with yours. Return the displaced chips to their owner.
You may move a stone of yours one space in any direction. If that space is occupied, move whatever is on that space back into the space your stone just vacated. Note that you cannot move your stone to completely block off your pawn.
The game’s over as soon as any player runs out of tokens. That player immediately wins!
Player Count Differences
I tend to abhor team-based abstract games, so I generally won’t play this one at 4 players, pretty much ever. It’s not a judgment on FILLIT, specifically, as the same rule applies to Santorini, and that’s basically my favorite abstract (and one of my all-time favorite games). My problem with this at three is that the same problem emerges that a lot of 3P abstracts have, in that there’s a Kingmaker problem with this one. Eventually, you’ll likely have to choose which player to go after, with decent odds that the other player will win. That never feels … great. This is my general problem with a lot of 3P abstracts, and I don’t think FILLIT successfully overcomes this. Not really a problem with FILLIT in particular, but still worth noting. As a result, I’m mostly going to play this one at two players. I think it lowers downtime, reduces some of the analysis paralysis, and avoids the kingmaking problem I just generally see in the three-player version of a lot of abstract games.
- Try to get yourself a large open space as quickly as possible. This is just a good way to get a lot of tokens on the board quickly. I may recommend against doing this at three players, though, because it puts a target on your back pretty quickly, and both players will team up against you if that happens. If you’re getting ganged up on, you’re pretty quickly going to fall behind. At two, that’s not as big of a deal since your opponent wants to block you on principle. There’s less tension in that aggression since it’s kind of expected.
- If you can, make sure your opponent can’t get behind you. You really don’t want your opponent just following behind you on all of your moves and cleaning up all your tokens. Use your stones, here, or try to make it so that your opponent runs into you on your turn. If that happens, then they have to move away and can no longer follow behind you. Either way, you really can’t let your opponent just start undoing your previous turns.
- Keep track of how many tokens your opponent has left. You don’t want to get surprised. There’s some temptation to hide your remaining pieces, but I don’t think that that is within the spirit of the game. It does happen accidentally, though; the wood pieces have a nice lighter weight to them, so they’re pleasant to hold during the game. This often leads to me keeping mine in my hand and forgetting to keep them on the table. Not exactly a conspiracy, but definitely not particularly helpful to my opponent.
- Use your stones to also break up long paths. If you place stones on long paths you just traversed, you guarantee nobody else can take the same path. You also move one of your tokens out of the way (since those positions swap), so that might protect it from future incursions into that area.
- Or, you can use your stones to stop yourself early so that you can get on different lines. It’s a less-good turn now for a potentially better turn later. That trade-off matters a great deal in this game. In a three-player game, it can also be used to trick your third player into attacking your second, since they may not see you as much of a threat. Use that to your advantage if and whenever you possibly can.
- Do not get caught in a Kingmaker situation at three players. Or force one of your opponents into it. This is the worst outcome for you; you have to choose which player wins. What I try to do is to let one player fill out a chunk of the board, and then use my stones to trap my other opponent in it. Now, whenever they move, they just erase my opponent’s tokens, and I have one fewer player to worry about. It works decently well.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Really love the construction of the game board. It’s a very nice piece of wood. This is kind of why I wanted to check out the wooden version; like the BLOCK.BLOCK board, it’s got a good weight and feels very sturdy. It’s just very nicely made.
- The symbols / graphic design of the game is also pretty slick. I actually really like them. They’re distinct to help with color vision issues and they look generally good on the board, too. All in all, it’s a very nice production from an art perspective for an otherwise very simple game.
- It’s also nice that the board is reversible and has different configurations, as well. It gives you a lot of potential starting configurations, which hopefully can play differently enough to be satisfying to a lot of players. There’s even a 2v2 mode, if that’s your thing!
- The movement and piece placement is satisfying. That’s just nice, honestly. It feels good to fill in all the spots you traveled through, and the almost-area-control element of it is satisfying, as you can witness the literal ebb and flow as players carve lines through other players’ spaces.
- The stones offer interesting combo potential that can open up the game a bit. I like thinking about how to use them to mitigate my movement, enhance my movement, or block my opponents’. There’s a lot there to work with, and I think it’s an interesting puzzle to try and solve every game. It’s part of why I like abstracts so much!
- Plays decently quickly. For an abstract, I’m impressed. At three or four, it’ll take longer, but it’s a snappy game at two.
- Setup can be a bit annoying if you want to use colors that aren’t quite in the same configuration as the images. Numbers might have been more helpful than colors, here. Not sure if that’s much easier to read, but it’s definitely easier to remember that Blue = 1 than Blue = Green for the purposes of setting up a new game.
- It’s vaguely annoying when you get into a tit-for-tat situation for a while. This is where you need to use your stones to try and block off your opponent so that they can’t just follow you around, but if that’s not easy to do your next few turns are going to be a bit annoying.
- The three-player game can often have a kingmaking problem. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is a very common problem with a lot of abstract games, especially ones with perfect information. Not really sure how to get around it, honestly. That’s a game design thing, and that’s an area very firmly outside of my expertise area. This isn’t a FILLIT-specific problem, but it is a thing that occurs when I play, so, gotta note it.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think FILLIT is solidly fun! It has the disadvantage of being a very focused two-player abstract strategy game, which means it’s directly competing with Santorini for my affections (and potentially 7th Night, I suppose?). Unfortunately for FILLIT, I can’t knock Santorini off its throne so easily. This definitely has some elegant aspects to it. The construction is nice, the gameplay is fluid, and the stone usage leads to some pretty interesting decisions. It’s also dead simple to pick up. You really just pick a direction and go in that direction until you hit something. The choices are significant, but the pathways through the board are constantly changing due to other players and their stones, meaning that you have to think tactically about the path you want to make. This, amusingly, contrasts quite nicely with next week’s Quiek, which is much more about thinking strategically about the path you want to trap your opponent into creating. But that’s a Next Week Eric Problem. I think if you’re a fan of abstracts that this game isn’t going to let you down, even if it’s not quite able to engage me enough to dethrone my favorite. Part of that might honestly be that there’s no theme. I think most of my favorite abstracts have something in the way of a theme, even if it’s painted on (I see you, Inner Compass). Without that, I don’t think I engage well enough with the game to really think about it in the long term. But that’s the risk you take when you’re trying to design a game, I suppose. Not everyone likes every theme, but a themeless game can still resonate with players. And I think, in some ways, FILLIT still does that for me. I haven’t fully cracked it yet, but I still want to. And if it intrigues you, it’ll be hitting Kickstarter soon, so you’ll have that chance as well!