Game Description

Illuminate is a trick taking game with a Biblical twist.

Players earn points by winning exactly the number of tricks they bid for the hand. The number of cards dealt in a hand increases as the game progresses. The winner is the player with the most points when the pre-specified number of hands have been played.

The Biblical twist to the game is that instead of “trump” cards that are the same for all players, each player takes on a role at the beginning of the game which corresponds with what we see in the gospel accounts (doctor, neighbor, preacher, teacher). Cards that match that role (that have a matching symbol) are “grace” (unmerited favor) cards only for the player. Four special cards in the deck can also disrupt the normal rules of play, making it more challenging for players to make their bid.

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Deck Description

Illuminate is also the name of the deck of cards used to play the game.

The Illuminate playing deck has 4 suits named for the four Gospels in the Bible. Each suit has 12 cards each of which is identified by a specific passage in that Gospel. The value of each card is based on the chapter and first verse in that passage. A card with a higher chapter has a higher value. If two cards are from the same chapter, then the one with the higher verse has a higher value.

The deck also has four cards that represent four roles that can be taken by the game players: Doctor, Neighbor, Preacher, and Teacher. Each Role Card has a symbol on it: a medical symbol, a heart, a church, and a bell respectively. These symbols also show up on the 48 playing cards in the four suits. This mechanism can be used to represent which cards are “trump” (or “grace”) cards for each player. For example, a card with a heart on it can be used as a trump/grace card for the player with the neighbor Role Card.

Four of the cards in the deck have a star symbol instead of a role symbol. These cards include specific instructions that apply when that card is played.

Special Action Cards

Here is a summary of the 48 playing cards in the deck:

Illuminate Deck Cards

Artwork on the deck is from the Book of Kells and all Scripture is from the World English Bible, both of which are in the public domain.

Gospel Plates from the Book of Kells

The deck can be used for playing a wide variety of card games, but (not surprisingly) it is especially well suited to playing the Illuminate game.

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How to Play

Illuminate is a trick taking game.

At the beginning of each hand, players bid the number of tricks they expect to take in that hand and score points based on how accurate their bid was.

The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Before the game begins, players choose a role they want to take (Doctor, Neighbor, Preacher, or Teacher). They place the corresponding Role Card in front of them to remind themselves and the other players of their role.

Role Cards

The Deck: Four Suits

There are four suits in the game, corresponding to the four Gospels in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).The Four Suits

There are twelve cards in each suit with each card having a passage from the corresponding Gospel (e.g. Mark 1:11). The value of each card is based on the chapter and verse of the first (or only) verse in the passage on the card.

A card from a higher chapter is worth more than a card from a lower chapter. If two cards are from the same chapter, the card with the higher verse number is worth more than the card with the lower verse number.

For example, Mark 1:31 beats Mark 1:11, but Mark 4:2 beats Mark 1:31.

Grace Cards

Each card also has one or two symbols on it that usually correspond to the player roles (as indicated on the Role Cards).

A card that has the symbol associated with a player’s role is a “Grace” card for that player. If he plays that card and he or any other player verbally proclaims “Grace” (which means “unmerited favor”), then his card is worth more than any non-Grace card played.

If two players play Grace cards in the same trick, the Grace card with the higher chapter number (or verse if the same chapter number) is worth the most.

Special Action Cards

Four cards in the deck have a star indicating that they are Special Action Cards.

Special Action Cards

The specific special action is spelled out on the card, with three of these actions only determining who wins the current trick.

The fourth Special Action Card indicates that the roles rotate right. Give your Role Card to the player to your right and take the Role Card from the player to your left.

The new roles take effect immediately and impact which cards are Grace cards for each player in the current and future tricks. During the current trick, Grace cards played after the Special Action Card are determined based on the new roles.

Game Play

Players take turns dealing. For the first hand, the dealer deals one card to each player. For the second hand, the dealer deals two cards to each player. Each hand one more card is dealt to each player. In the twelfth (final) hand, twelve cards are dealt to each player.

For each hand, the player to the dealer’s left bids first, followed by the next player to the left, all the way around to the dealer, who bids last. Each player bids the number of tricks they expect to win in that hand.

In general, if you get the exact number of tricks you bid, you gain points. If you do not get the exact number you bid, you lose points. See the “Bidding and Scoring” section below for details on how scoring relates to bidding.

The player to the dealer’s left leads off playing, choosing one card from their hand to play face-up on the table.

Play continues clockwise, with each player playing one card face up, with the dealer playing last.

Players must follow the suit that was led, if possible. For example, if the first card played is from Matthew, all players must play cards from Matthew if they have any. If a player does not have any cards from Matthew, she can play any card in her hand.

Unless a Grace card or Special Action Card is played, the highest card in the suit that was led wins the trick.

The player winning the trick collects the cards and places them in a small pile in front of her to be counted for scoring at the end of the hand.

If there are still more cards to play in the hand whoever won the trick leads off the next trick by playing a card from her hand.

When a hand is finished, scoring is determined, and dealing passes to the left. We have provided an online scorepad app to simplify keeping score in Illuminate.

After the twelfth hand is played, the scores are added up and the player with the most points wins.

Bidding and Scoring

Players bid in order, starting from the player to the left of the dealer.

N = Number of cards dealt
B = Number of tricks bid
W = Number of tricks actually won

B = # of tricks expected W = # of tricks actually won # of points added to score
B = 0 0 N
B = 0 Not 0 -W
0 < B < N B B
0 < B < N Not B -(the difference between B and W)
B = N N 2xN
B = N Not N W-N

Here are some examples to help clarify these scoring rules:

  • In the hand of 2 cards, you bid 0 and you win 0 tricks. You get 2 points.
  • In the hand of 2 cards, you bid 0, but you win 1 trick. You get -1 point.
  • In the hand of 2 cards, you bid 0, but you win 2 tricks. You get -2 points.
  • In the hand of 2 cards, you bid 1 and you win 1 trick. You get 1 point.
  • In the hand of 2 cards, you bid 1 but you don’t win any tricks. You get -1 point (the negative of the difference between 1 and 0).
  • In the hand of 2 cards, you bid 1 but you win both tricks. You get -1 point (the negative of the difference between 1 and 2).
  • In the hand of 2 cards, you bid 2 and you win both tricks. You get 4 points (2×2).
  • In the hand of 2 cards, you bid 2, but you only win one trick. you get -1 point (1-2).

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Game Variations

Illuminate Game Bidding, Scoring, and Playing Variations:

  • Not Perfect bidding: The sum of all player bids can’t match the number of cards in the hand. Since the dealer bids last, this constrains how he can bid. (This can be especially helpful in a 2 person game.)
  • High Risk Zero: If you bid zero and don’t get it, instead of getting -W, you get -N.
  • Shorter Game: Instead of playing 12 hands, only play 6 hands. You can either play hands of 1,2,3,4,5, and 6 cards, or hands of 2,4,6,8,10, and 12 cards.
  • Longer Game: Instead of playing 12 hands, play 23 hands. Play hands of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,11,10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2, and 1 cards.

Other Games to Play with the Illuminate Deck:

  • Grace: Basically the game of Spades, but played with the Illuminate cards.
    • Players agree on how many points it takes to win. Typically this is 200 (a short game) to 500 (a long game).
    • The object of the game is to be the player with the fewest points when any player gets to the game ending score.
    • Each player chooses one of the Role Cards at the beginning of the game.
    • All cards are dealt each hand.
    • Each player bids each hand how many tricks they expect to win. The minimum bid is 1.
    • Players must follow suit with the led card if possible.
    • The player to the left of the dealer leads first.
    • Highest card in the led suit wins unless someone plays a Grace Card (with a symbol matching their Role Card).
    • If a Grace Card is played, the highest Grace Card played wins the hand.
    • For this game, disregard the instructions on the Special Cards.
    • The player that wins a trick, leads the next trick.
    • Scoring is determined at the end of the hand.
      • If a player won fewer tricks than they bid, they get zero points.
      • If the player gets at least as many tricks as they bid, they get 10x their bid.
      • If they got more tricks than they bid, they also get 1 point for each trick they won over what they bid.
    • The player to the left of that hand’s dealer deals the next hand.
    • The winner is the player with the most points when the first player gets to the winning number of points.
  • Mercy: Similar to the game of Hearts, but played with the Illuminate cards.
    • Players agree on the number of points that marks the end of the game. Typically this is 50 (a short game) to 100 (a longer game).
    • The object of the game is to be the player with the fewest points when any player gets to the game ending score.
    • Each player chooses one of the Role Cards at the beginning of the game.
    • All cards are dealt each hand.
    • Players must follow suit with the led card if possible.
    • The player to the left of the dealer leads first.
    • Highest card in the led suit wins unless someone plays a Grace Card (with a symbol matching their Role Card).
    • If a Grace Card is played, the highest Grace Card played wins the hand.
    • For this game, disregard the instructions on the Special Cards.
    • The player that wins a trick, leads the next trick.
    • Scoring is determined at the end of each hand.
      • Players get one point for each of their Grace Cards they won (whether they played it or someone else played it).
      • Players get 7 points for each Special Card that they won.
    • The player to the left of that hand’s dealer deals the next hand.
    • The winner is the player with the fewest points when the first player gets to the losing number of points.

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How to Buy

Illuminate is still in development and is not yet available for purchase.

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