Steve Jackson recently announced that his classic Illuminati has gone out of print. It will be replaced in December by Illuminati: New World Order (INWO), a collectible trading card game capitalizing on the market created by Wizards of the Coast's blockbuster Magic: The Gathering. The change in game format necessitated changes in many of the game mechanics, but the overall goal of world domination remains. And you still get to stab your friends in the back in the process. Repeatedly.
According to Jackson, "The new version is the result of ten years of notes on how to improve the game. Totally aside from the collector-card aspect, it is nastier and faster-moving. I like INWO better [than the original]." Due to the feedback from people on Internet, Jackson will include rule variants to allow players to simulate the original game paradigm-- that is, to draw from a central pool of cards rather than having each player use their own deck. Jackson hopes this will appease the staunch anti-collector gamers who cringe every time they see the word "Magic."
INWO will accomodate two or more players, although Illuminati fans will immediately realize that with only two players the game is but a pale reflection of what it can be. Jackson reports that with six or more players the game starts to slow down more than he'd like. With five players, a game should take about 90 minutes to play.
What are the biggest changes? Hold on to your hats, folks. For starters, say goodbye to megabucks. There is no money, no income. Power is everything now. Uncontrolled groups are also a thing of the past. Groups are "captured" from your own deck, or directly from an opponent's power structure. In fact, you begin the game with all your groups already in your hand-- you don't have to wait to draw them from your deck. Presumably, strategy lies in choosing which groups to play on a turn. Plot cards, roughly analogous to the special event cards from Illuminati's previous incarnations but with far more varied effects, are limited to five in your hand at once. All power is now transferable, within limits. Some groups will still have slashes in their power value (e.g., 5/4). The second number in such cases represents Global Power, which is transferable with almost no limits.
INWO has a concept similar to "tapping" in Magic. In INWO, action tokens are used to show when groups have been used. As a corrolary, players are no longer limited to just two actions per turn.
Two or more people can play the same Illuminati, but this automatically makes them bitter enemies: they can't share a victory, and either will get bonuses for destroying the other.
INWO will be sold much like Magic, in starter decks and booster packs. Like Spellfire, the starters will be bundled as two decks of 55 cards each, retailing for $9.95. Fifteen card booster packs will cost $2.45. There will be three levels of card rarity, with a greater proportion of uncommon and rares in boosters than in starters. On the other hand, each starter deck will contain two Illuminati (so there will be four in each $9.95 pack), and Illuminati will only be available in starters. If there is sufficient demand, a boxed set of all the cards will be made available. These will have identical card backs and corner radii to allow them to be intermixed with regular cards for play, but will be bear different colors or some other distinguishing feature on their front to allow them to be separated if necessary. And, of course, if sales are good there will be follow-up expansions, for which Jackson already has "three separate, evil ideas."
The initial set will have 400 cards plus nine different Illuminati. There will be two different types of cards (Plots and Groups), with each type having a different back design. All cards will be full-color on both sides and will be standard trading card size. The size of the art will vary-- cards with little text will have larger artwork. Almost all the art will be original pieces, the few exceptions being pieces Jackson describes as "too good not to reuse." Most of the art will be the work of two artists (Dan Smith and Shea Ryan). The cards will have borders, so the art will not run all the way to the edge of the card. Blank cards will probably be available separately.
I've always been a big fan of Illuminati, but I haven't played it in years for lack of the right crowd. This redesigned incarnation, riding on the coattails of Magic, promises to introduce a whole new wave of players to the insidious machinations of the Bavarians, Discordians, and their ilk. That alone would be enough to make it a Good Thing. The fact that I'll probably get a chance to play this version far more often than I did the original makes it a Better Thing. Illuminati: New World Order is scheduled for release to retailers on December 12. Watch for it. Fnord.