Haloed Bane

Shu Ilkar, the Cake Game

Shu Ilkar, or Six Heroes (vulgarly: Shulkar), is the most prestigious cake game in Incudea, though it's far too complicated to be among the most popular. Yes, you read that right: cake game. Cakes are the equivalent of cards in Earth games. The classic cake is a filled pastry shaped like a pentagonal (sometimes, hexagonal) prism, somewhat like a Chinese mooncake. Since it is customary to eat your opponent's pastries after a match, in competitive play wafers without filling are used to avoid indigestion. For the casual player, non-edible reusable tokens are available, made of various materials.

Shu Ilkar is in essence a two-player game where poems are composed based on the cakes in each hand. The motif of the game is the all-powerful Incudean Councilors (the heroes), and it's no coincidence the game is most widely played in the Silver Planet, where the Council sits. In the description that follows I will use the rules of Hanlastel in Ubeda, Silver Planet, probably the city with most players per capita in the entire universe. The cake set showcased on this page was produced at Rear Army's Technologic Academy not long after Sandalion became a candidate there, my guess is at the end of 2004 or beginning of 2005.

A set consists of 144 cakes. There are six suits (called factions, restuins), based on the six "old" elements (the game was developed before sulphur, mercury, salt and electrum were accepted as full elements in their own right). Four suits are called "long" and have 35 cakes each, while the other two are called "short" and have only two cakes each. Each of the suits is led and represented by a hero cake.

The Short Suits

The short suits are Aether and Glace Réelle. The Aether hero is dubbed Hero Kobol, after the Kobol faction in the Council, and the cake always features a portait of an important Kobol figure. The other Aether cake is called Praise, and the design features more often than not the illustrious Ransain1. Here are both cakes, with Kobol being represented by Princess Kanmadein.

Aether cakes

The Glace lead card is Hero Kaga, after the other preeminent conciliar faction. Councilor Durgaun represents it here, though Councilor Lambian is probably a more popular choice among set designers. SC Durgaun happens to be in the Rear Army and Lambian isn't, so an Academy set is bound to feature the former. The remaining Glace cake is called Vanity, in this case featuring a portrait of Antarais, the tyrant overthrown by Ransain over two thousand years ago.2

Glace cakes

It is said that Durgaun is never friendly and Kanmadein is never troubled. As can be seen in the cakes presented, Shu Ilkar cake arts tends to portray the Councilors in non-characteristic poses so as to amuse the players or indulge their fantasies. Kanmadein in particular has an enormous horde of military fans in Incudea, and fictional books about a strong green-haired leader who suddenly becomes a damsel in distress and must be rescued by the protagonist sell like hotcakes. It's no surprise then that game cakes follow the trope too. That said, the subversion does not extend to Ransain and Antarais, larger-than-life figures with iconic values set in stone.

The Long Suits

The 35 cakes in each of the four long suits (Water, Fire, Earth, Air) break down as follows:

  • 1 hero cake
  • 5 letter cakes
  • 5 number cakes
  • 24 elemental cakes (i.e. two identical series of 12 cakes)

The Water hero is Vindar and the Fire hero is Lazar, after two less mighty factions in the Council. The Earth hero is called Roirian (Stability), and the portrait is usually that of a popular fifth-grade Councilor from wherever the cake set hails from, whereas the place of the Air hero is usually reserved for a popular Incula in one of the first fourth grades, and is named Hero Gredush (Gust). By definition said individual will not be a councilor, but she is likely to be considered a future holder of the honor (senatricabile, to coin a term) The letter and number cakes feature -you guessed it- letters and numbers on them, whereas each elemental cake has an image of an item or entity associated with the element. In Henlastel tournaments, a committee of worthies will secretly choose the elemental items and reveal them 3 days before the match or matches in which the cake set will be used. Sets for sale in shops will usually have fixed items/entities, though fancier sets may come with edible electronic screens allowing for a panoply of item possibilities. The letter and number cakes are generally fixed. (From hereon out any numbers will be in senary unless noted otherwise.)

Water Fire Earth Air
number cakes 1, 10, 321, 5432, 10000 -4, -5, -12, -234, -345 2, 34, 52, 501, 2354 -3, -44, -222, -555, -1111
letter cakes h, k, g, j, l b, n, m, ny, vowel r, s, z, sh, ch t, d, f, v, p

Note that in the case of the letter cakes, consonant clusters are covered under their initial consonants, so that the k cake covers kr, kl as well, even though in many Incudean scripts (Teivan most notably) these are all separate letters. The vowel cake is always represented by a vowel companion in those scripts that have one. Otherwise, it's often represented by the letter a, but its item may always begin with any vowel sound. Here is a quartet of Air cakes in this set.

Air cakes

Dealing Cakes and Declaring Scores

Lots are drawn to see who gets first pick. The winner becomes Player One, who then picks either Hero Kaga or Hero Kobol. Her opponent, Player Two, then receives the other cake. When each three-round game is completed, Player One and Two switch roles, and the new Player One gets to pick either Kaga or Kobol again. A match consists of a certain number of games. If and when a new match begins, lots are drawn again.

Next, each player is dealt 11 additional cakes, placed face down and unseen by either of the players, so that in total they have 12 (Kaga/Kobol face up, the others face down).

Now each player, starting with Player Two, takes turns turning over one of their cakes and declaring a score (igi) for it (so that both players only see each cake as it is declared). The score of each cake can be anywhere from -10,000 to 10,000 (in decimal terms, -1296 points to 1,296), with the exclusion of the number 0. The declaration will be said thus: “Ena vlui rum # igi.” There are a number of constraints on what score can be picked by a player:

  1. Since the elemental cakes come in pairs, once a player has declared a particular elemental cake to have a certain number, the matching pair must be assigned the same number. If and when the second cake turns up, the player will declare: “Proin tuk torkitum”.
  2. Number cakes already have scores on their faces. The declaration here consists of telling what non-unique thing or entity the player wants this score to be attached to (the item must not appear in any of the elemental cakes and it must not have been declared for any cake previously in the round). This item does not have to be associated with the element in question. “Ena lis X” shall be the declaration.
  3. For the letter cakes, the declaration must consist of both a score and also the naming of a non-unique thing or entity whose name begins with that letter. Again, the item does not have to be associated with the element. The declaration will be: “Ena lis X oin # igi.
  4. Heroes Vindar, Gredush, Roirian and Lazar have as their score the average (rounded down) of all the other scores of that same element in the player’s entire 12-cake hand, or the negative of that number, if the player so chooses, at the moment of playing the cake in question. When the player turns up that cake she simply declares: “We shall see.” (Puns vlui hem.). In play the score declaration is: "Vindar rum # igi.", for example.
  5. The Kaga and Kobol cakes are not declared until they are actually played. Kaga’s score can be any number higher than each of the 3 cakes in the same round it is played. For example, if the other 3 cakes have scores of -432, -33, and 34, then Kaga's score must be higher than 34. For Kobol, any score is fine as long as it is lower than each of the other 3 cakes in the round it is played. If one or more Hero cakes are played along with Kaga in a round, then for purposes of determining the minimum Kaga score that can be declared, the "positive score option" for that Hero is used (regardless of if the actual Hero cake is declared to have a negative score value in the round). The opposite occurs with Kobol. For example, if Vindar and Kobol are played in a round, and the player can declare Vindar to be either 400 points or -400, then as far as Vindar is concerned the Kobol Hero must be declared as having a score below -400, even if Vindar was declared to be positive (i.e. 400) in the same round. The declarations in this case are simply: "Kaga rum # igi." and "Kobol rum # igi.", and will follow any other Hero declarations in the round.
  6. Non-Hero Water, Air, Earth, Fire cakes have the following numeric constraints: Water score digits must either go down or stay the same and be positive, e.g. 421 is OK, as is 300, but 231 is not OK because 3 is larger than 2. The case is the opposite for Fire, the digits must either go up or stay the same and be negative (-123, -11, but not -10 or -453). Air cake scores must have the same digits and be negative (-1, -11, -111, -2222, etc.) and Earth cake score must have all different digits and be positive (1, 12, 123, 5412, and so forth).
  7. Tice Vanity and Aether Praise may have any score within the universally prescribed limits (-10,000 to 10,000, excluding 0). They are sometimes called liberty cakes because of this.
  • NOTE #1: More than one cake may be declared to have the same number (as long as all other rules and constraints are adhered to).
  • NOTE #2: The reader might wonder why letter and number cakes are associated with elements even though their items don’t need to show any connection to them. The answer is that this elemental association comes into play via rule #4 above.
  • NOTE #3: Imaged scores, cf. Gameplay below, are disregarded when calculating Hero scores.


After dealing, players are granted a period of one Incudean tonji to prepare themselves, then play begins. In each game of three rounds, each player, beginning with Player One, takes turns choosing four of her 12 cards, presenting them to the opposing player, and reciting a poem based on the pictures in those 4 cards. The goal is to produce a poem that makes sense, is beautiful and which mentions the items and themes of the four cards selected and which add up to 1245 (317 in decimal, i.e. the number of days in an Incudean year). If a card with an undetermined score is in play, the player must declare the value desired before reciting the poem.

Eight cakes do not have items or entities associated with them. Six of these have themes which must be deployed in the poems they appear in.

  • Vindar = the theme of the poem must be the nation
  • Gredush = the theme of the poem must be love
  • Roirian = the theme of the poem must be nature
  • Lazar = the theme of the poem must be youth
  • Vanity = the poem must be in praise of the player herself
  • Praise = the poem must be in praise of the opponent

Heroes Kaga and Kobol have no themes associated with them. But playing Kaga in one round forces the opponent to make her poem in the subsequent round an appropriate response to the poem in which Kaga was played, whereas playing Kobol in one round allows one to either "double or halve" the stakes for the next round in terms of match points (see below).

The point total for an item cake (elemental, number or letter cake) can be altered when the cake is played by "imaging" its item (hevanglar). Mentioning in one's poem an image of the item in one of these cakes rather than the item itself multiplies the point total of the cake by 100 (in senary), unless the card points are over 100 (or under -100 for negative scores), in which case the score is divided by 20 instead. The effect can be applied twice as well. For example, if an Air cake with an orb has a declared score of 15, then the the player may simply mention the orb for 15 points, a painting of an orb for 1500 points, or a photo (ijilheike) of said painting, for 53 points (1500/12 in senary). A speech about the orb would also be 1500, and a recording of said speech 53. (If a score is large enough to be divided when imaging, then a secondary manipulation is not permitted).

Scoring Rounds and Winning Matches

  1. For each round, if both players produce valid poems amounting to 1245 igi points, a judge decides which is best on literary merit, and the winner gets 1 points (nefer), the loser ½. In high-level tournaments, this is an extremely common outcome.
  2. If both players produce valid poems but only one hits 1245 points, then the one with the correct points gets 1½ points if their poem is judged best, with the other one getting 0. But if the player with the best poem was the one without the correct sum, she gains ½ point and the person with the correct score receives 1.
  3. If both players produce valid poems but none hits 1245 points, then the one closest to that (whether over or under) receives ½ point, whereas if they have the same score then each receives 0); in addition, the player with the best poem also gains ½ point.
  4. If one of the player produces a valid poem without hitting 1245, and the other produces an invalid poem (regardless of points), the first gets ½ point and the other 0.
  5. If both players produce invalid poems (regardless of points), neither player receives any points.
  6. Two invalid poems produced in a three round game disqualify the player and the match ends. If both players are disqualified simultaneously, neither wins and the match is over. Invalid poems are practically not seen in high-level play, though some use it as a theatrical (and -in some meta-sense- überpoetic) way to forfeit a match.
  • NOTE: When a player uses Hero Kobol she may opt to "double or halve" the nafer points in the next round, i.e. the points going toward the match total. "Doubling" the stakes means ½ becomes 1, 1 becomes 1½, and 1½ becomes 2. "Halving" means 1½ becomes 1, 1 becomes ½, and ½ becomes 0. In both cases, 0 points remain 0 points.

The match is won when one of the players obtains 21½ nafer points (13.5 decimal) or more in a game. If a player reaches 21½ points at the end of a first or second round of the game currently being played, the match only ends if there is no mathematical way that the opponent can at least reach 21½ in the game’s remaining round/s. If a game ends with both players at 21½ or higher, then the player with the highest score wins. If the score at the end of a game is tied at 21½ or higher, then a single new game is played. A second tie at this point is broken by a bakeoff played within a day of the match. Poetry judges are great gourmets and capable of judging this aspect of the match as well.

1. A cheeky child once asked me why the game wasn't called Seven Heroes, seeing as most cake sets include Ransain in addition to the six hero cakes. I told her that as great as our current leadership is, its members are far beneath Ransain. We think of Mount Gotes'hor as very, very large -the epitome of largeness- but Finyumir in the Ascalon System is many times larger. If we dub Gotes'hor large, what shall we call Finyumir? Not large, or at least, not just that.>↩
2. In that connection, the reader may have noticed that Antarais here resembles the image of Tarte I've provided elsewhere when discussing our religion. During her reign, Antarais was extremely fond of playing the role of Tarte in various rituals. Scholars and common folk alike agreed she was superb in every way, except that she refused to relinquish her signature white hair in favor of Tarte's black. The refusal was of course a great sacrilege, and indeed she repeatedly declared herself an avatar of Tarte in private conversations, though she stopped short of making the claim publicly. Immediately after her death, any and all pictures, amulets, statues and other images of Antarais as Tarte were destroyed. With the passing of time, however, her portraits began to pop up again in religious iconography, but with the correct black hair. The matter reached the Incudean Council at one point, and the view that it was acceptable to adopt Antarais to represent Tarte in that guise prevailed. There is a good lesson in the story: Antarais was an extremely gifted individual and could have been one of the great luminaries of our nation, yet she fell and became the antithesis of good. The difference in hair color is a succinct reminder of how easy it is to switch from one side to the other.>↩ stop