The players take turns to move matters around the board and dropping them mancala style on the corners. This determines which matters they may play and which matters they will get support from in clashes.
Next, they play the matters to the board. Units are formed when 7 matters are grouped and units are connected when there is a path of matters between them.
Connected units clash and the matters of the weaker element are removed from the board. However, the matters of the stronger element are weakened and this may result in another element taking over the unit.
The challenge of Iconoclasm is to play matters, own and opposing, to obtain a majority at the right time and at the right place.
You win either by forming three units or by connecting two units. If an element is depleted, the player with the most units wins.
1.5: One element each in the mancala instead of two with the option to choose how many Spirit to pick.
1.4: Mancala style mechanism determining colors to play and support relations.
1.3: Scoring during the game rather than determining winner at the end.
1.2: Ranked scoring removed, simplified and streamlined rules.
1.1: Cardboard chits replaced by tokens and stickers, simplified theme by removing the deity/cult/temple dimension
1.0: Winning matters replaced by spirit rather than reduced, new end where game ends when player is unable to clash
The game may start either with an empty board or with 1 of each element matter already on the
board and disconnected. The first option gives the players more flexibility when it comes to
placing their matters but also gives more external clashes before this "pangea" starts breaking up.
The second option works in the opposite direction as "islands" of units are created and then
slowly moves towards external clashes. The second option turned out to give the most
The fifth element of spirit is a neutral element. It may still be part of a unit placing an
icon but never forms its own units and never supports any side. More importantly, spirit may not act as
a connecting matter between units and thus serves as a "buffer" zone. This adds another tactical
element to the game as players can protect their units.
Majorities determine the outcome of clashes but with only seven matters in a units, ties are bound to be frequent, so how are they handled best? There are two basic philosophies regarding ties. The first is to to break all ties through various tie-breaker rule and the second is to simply leave the tie as is. The support rule is a core rule of Iconoclasm and has been used in all versions as the primary tie-breaker but for secondary tie-breakers, earlier versions hesitated between the two philosophies. One idea was to determine secondary supporting elements or opposing elements, another idea to leave large masses of tied matters until eventually a majority can be claimed somewhere. The first was complicated rule-wise (basically a flow chart would be needed to keep track of this) while the second was complex game-wise (identifying a majority in a large mass, also taking into account support, is not an easy task). I finally gave in for the simplest tie-breaker of them all: turn order.
Who takes over a unit and when?
The idea of replacing one winning matter with a spirit matter in an external clash is to create a dynamic game
where it's not the strongest element that wins but the element that is strongest in the right time.
But how can the other elements benefit from a reduced winner? A new external clash will be
easier to win but how about internal clashes? I wanted to allow the strategic option of
"unit reforming" or latent clashes,
where the supporter eventually take over the unit but I didn't want this to happen after
every external clash. The rule that a supporter takes over if stronger than the current
element owner turned out to give the best balance as the table below shows.
Icon element before replacing
Icon element after replacing
Unit not taken over
Unit taken over
Unit not taken over
Unit taken over
This rule was refined through several iterations until finalized in
A game where removed pieces (after clashes) can return (in subsequent player turns) has no finite end so how to avoid infinite games? One idea would be to let pieces removed from the board be permanently removed from the game but this would make it hard to recover from early clashes (and, from a production economy perspective, require redundant components as some will be removed while others haven't even entered yet). Instead, I borrowed from my own game Lucca to remove only one piece permanently and end the game once an element is depleted (unless ended earlier through a victory condition).
Complete test games are presented under Annotated Games.
There are of course also ideas that did not make it and here I explain why.
Should the matters on hands be open or hidden by screens? On one hand, hidden hands
would add an extra memorize challenge. On the other hand, the player colors are unknown
anyway and the rest of the game is open. Since I wanted a tactical game rather than a
memory game, the hands remained open.
Alternative take-over rule 1
As an alternative to replacing winning matters after external clashes, I considered turning them into new elements.
The idea would be to let 1 temple element be turned into its support element and 1
support element turned into its support element. A fire matter would be turned into an air matter
and its supporting air matter into a water matter and so on. However, the temple would remain with
the original element until none of that element remain in the group.
This would give strong temples a
greater chance to survive several external clashes while still making them weaker after each one. A
temple with 3 fire and 2 air would turn into a temple with 2 fire and 2 air (1 fire turns into 1
air but 1 air turns into 1 water) and so on. To make this work in gameplay, I
could simply have let every element matter have its supporting matter on the back. However, testing showed that
games tended to be more static and less predictable and the rule was finally rejected.
Alternative take-over rule 2
Another alternative to replacing winning matters considered was to assign them a full
(face-up) and reduced (face-down value) and simply flip them after external clashes.
This rule worked very well and survived very long in spite of the disadvantage that the matters
could only be flipped once and the temple elements thus only be weakened one step.
The rule was not rejected until I came up with the better rule of replacing one matter at the time
With inspiration from Tigris & Euphrates' catastrophe tokens,
the players started with 1 imbalance matter each, that could be used to replace previously placed element matters.
However, the neutral spirit matters made them a bit redundant and when tests showed kingmaker situations in the end game,
they were removed completely.
Last unit standing
The idea of a struggle with only one objective, the last unit standing, was considered both
thematic and tense. However, many players failed to connect the early moves to the end game position
and the game was not perceived fun until that moment. The solution was to introduce scoring during
the game and build up the tension that way.
5 player version
When spirit was introduced as the 5th element, a 5 player version was introduced as well.
However, in an abstract no-luck game like Iconoclasm, the caos introduced by too many players
is a contradicting mechanism. 2-4 players were simply enough.