Designer's Schemes

Progress Reports on the Development of INWO


These are the "progress reports" issued by Steve Jackson as the INWO project rolls (or creaks, or blunders, or crashes) along . . .

They are in chronological order, first to last . . . the last one added is Number 7, dated November 23, 1994.

Number 1 - June 7, 1994

DESIGNER'S SCHEMES: Steve's progress report on ILLUMINATI: New World Order

Yes, I admit it. I'm jumping on the bandwagon. We're doing a trading card game.

As somebody who was actually offered the chance to invest in the original Magic: The Gathering -- and turned it down -- I know when to say Whoops. So, before Christmas, you'll see Illuminati: New World Order . . . or, as we're calling it to save trees, INWO.

This is a redesign of the original Illuminati* game to fit the trading-card paradigm. There will be around 400 cards in the original release, in four or five levels of rarity.

The cards will be beautiful, but they have to be playable, too. Original art is being prepared by Dan Smith (and others) and colored by Derek Pearcy and Jeff Koke. The cards will have brilliant colors and readable type. Almost all the art will be original . . . we're going to re-use a few really great pieces from our most recent books, but only because we like them . . . not to cut corners. And yes, we'll number the cards -- subtly, but the numbers wil l be there.

This project has me really excited. Illuminati is still my favorite design. This gives me the chance to do three things that I really want:

  1. Speed up play, and make it easier for you to interfere during somebody else's turn.
  2. Add a whole bunch of twisted new cards.
  3. Sell so many copies that I can use Krugerrands for game tokens.

The game will still play a lot like the original Illuminati, but faster and nastier. Everybody will have their own deck, so you don't know what you're going to be facing. (And nobody can build a single killer deck and win over and over . . . if you know what somebody's going to use, you can build your deck with the rig ht cards to smash him.)

So, whenever you select your cards for a new game, you should think about two things . . . how they'll work together to let you conquer the world, and what you expect your foes to try to do! And don't get predictable, or you're history.

Besides the variety that we get from the sheer number of cards, there are two big rule changes. First, there are no more neutral groups -- no uncontrolled cards. If you want to take a card, you've got to draw it from your own deck, or attack somebody else!

The second change is the Plot cards. These are like the special cards from the original game, but there are hundreds of them. They can change the alignments of groups, give you a better attack, change your victory conditions . . . and the special New World Order cards can change the rules for everybody.

The other big question: How will we sell the cards? We're not sure yet, but here's what we're thinking. In general, it will follow the pattern set by WOTC with Magic: The Gathering** . . . there will be starter decks and booster packs. Prices will be competitive, whatever the heck that means. The starter deck may be doub le-sized, because that lets us make the rulebook bigger.

I think that Illuminati cards will be found only in starter decks. Booster packs will have a higher proportion of rarities, but will be a little bit more expensive per card.

* Which won all kinds of awards, yada yada blah blah blah, and was a big seller for us right up to the day we took it out of print to make room for the new version.

** For which we give them a big Thank You! WOTC has taken the attitude that trading card games ought to become a whole genre. They're not trying to hog the market; they're doing their best to help other games get started. They have been sharing informati on with us freely and giving good advice. That meets my definition of a Class Act.

Distributor Information

For our first press run, we will order only enough cards to be sure of meeting our pre-orders. Realistically, that means that we'll order 10% more than pre-orders, so in case of an under-run, everyone will still get what they ordered. So we'll probably be able to fill some late orders. But if you miss the pre-order deadline, we can't guarantee any shipment at all.

After that, when we run out, we're out, until we reprint. We'll reprint as soon as it seems feasible, but that will take at least six weeks.

Yes, we will set a nationwide release date. If a distributor jumps the gun on the release date, we'll stake them out on an anthill . . . We will try to time our ships so everybody gets the cards on the same day, too.

Yes, we'll promote the game with magazine advertising, convention tournaments, and limited giveaways of individual cards before the game release date.

Number 2 - July 8, 1994

DESIGNER'S SCHEMES: Further progress on ILLUMINATI: New World Order

Things go well. We are now running regular playtests at two local stores, and they like it. And I just got word from Origins, where we're running a demo game at our booth. Dana tells me that she has to chase players away to make room for others . . .

Quote from one playtest: "I said things to my best friends that I wouldn't say to a longshoreman."


I've made one more MAJOR change in the rules. I took out money. That's right . . . groups no longer have income -- just Power and Resistance. I was afraid, at first, that this would make things too simple . . . but it speeds the game up a lot, and doesn't seem to hurt anything!

Playing time is now down to 30 minutes or less for a one-on-one game. With 5 players, it's over in about an hour and a half, unless somebody gets REALLY sneaky. Six-player games can take two hours. I really don't think it ought to be played with more than six.

I started by reducing the number of groups that you had to control in order to win. That had some ugly side-effects. Plus, the game is just a lot neater when everybody has a big Power Structure, with lots of special powers sniping at each other. So right now it's up to 13 groups for a 2- or 3-player win, and it's STILL a fast game.

Right now we limiting each player to holding only 5 special cards (Plots) at any one time. That may be a bit strict -- we may allow 6. In the first playtest, you could have LOTS, and that slowed things down.

There are now more than 400 different cards, and I've got writeups for about 20 more that haven't been played. We'll have to trim some -- but that means the first expansion set will have a good start.

There are 9 different Illuminati in the current version . . . the eight originals, plus one more: the Adepts of Hermes. Their strengths have to do with magic.

We will almost certainly go with a double-box starter deck . . . two boxes packaged side by side. That lets us make the rulebook pages bigger, and easier to read.

Derek Pearcy and Jeff Koke are still working on the card designs. These are going to be beautiful. Not only is the ART good, but the cards themselves will be works of art. Derek and Jeff and I are going back and forth . . . not only do the cards have to look great, they have to be easy to read. And we don't want to compromise here - we want 100% legibility AND beautiful cards. It can be done. It can, it can. Honest.

Yes, the cards will have borders. No, we have not decided how to distinguish original-printing borders from some hypothetical later reprint. Yes, we do want to keep the backs, and the corners, the same in all printings, so people can combine cards freely.

Number 3 - August 15, 1994

DESIGNER'S SCHEMES: Further progress on ILLUMINATI: New World Order

Playtest continues to go very well. I played it in Finland last week . . . I'm about to sit down and do a new draft of the rules (not many changes) and of the cards (lots and lots of changes, based on playtest feedback, to make sure that every card is useful). This new version will be at GenCon -- come by and play with us!

Pre-orders have now closed. We were amazed and delighted by the response -- it turned out to be about twice what we had expected. The first printing -- the INWO Limited Edition -- will be about 21 million cards. (For comparison, this is around twice the print run for the first black-border MAGIC cards, so INWO ought to be a bit easier to collect.)

So: If you are a retailer, be sure your distributor reserves you something out of his existing order, because we can't promise that he will get any more for a while.

We still don't know when the "factory set" might be released (but it might be around February or March) or when the unlimited edition cards may come out (I really have no clue about that yet). By the way, thanks to everyone on the net who suggested names for the factory set! We haven't yet chosen one, but thanks to you, we have a lot of really obnoxious possibilities.

Samples of the current card designs can now be viewed on the Internet. Start by FTPing to Change directories to pub/sjgames/inwo, and get the GIFs there. As the designs continue to mature, we'll post some new ones, and maybe some more art samples. (If you're at GenCon, come by the booth and see the cards there!)

We will also give away some actual samples of the cards, in advance. How far in advance, I don't know -- it depends on the print schedule. Therefore, I also don't know exactly HOW we will give the cards away. Some will go to retailers, some to distributors, and some to gamers. When I know more, I'll tell the world.

Number 4 - August 25, 1994

INWO bumps IN NOMINE - progress report, such as it is

As you know, we're sitting on huge pre-orders for INWO. It's more than ten times the size of anything else we've ever done. So it HAS to be perfect, and it HAS to come out on time.

When we got back from GenCon and looked at our schedule, we realized that -- even though IN NOMINE was almost ready to send to the printers -- finishing it up requires the same people that finishing INWO requires.

That made it a very easy decision. Unpleasant, but easy. IN NOMINE is on hold until INWO goes to press. If all goes well, it will ship in December. Otherwise, January.

Dana tells me that everybody is thinking "Hot Lead!" and that I have to say something about that. Okay. This isn't another Hot Lead. That project went on indefinite hold because if I took the time to make it right, we would have lost several other produc ts and really trashed our schedule.

IN NOMINE is at the TOP of our schedule after INWO gets out . . . and if something else has to be bumped a bit to let IN NOMINE make it, well, that's what will happen. IN NOMINE deserves better treatment than this, but there's only one Steve, only one Je ff, only one Derek, and we all have to concentrate on the project with the million-dollar sales.

When this is over, though, you know what we're going to do with that money? It'll buy us the SLACK that we need to go back and do some of the great projects that got shelved while we've been on the new-product-every-month treadmill. Sure, we'll support INWO itself, but we'll also be able to afford the time and staff to release HOT LEAD, GURPS SURVIVORS, TRIPLANETARY, and a few others you haven't heard about . . . but when I can afford to finish them, they'll be good.

Thanks for understanding - Steve Jackson

PS: Got a few lines left, so here's the new INWO update. The demo games at GenCon went very well. I think the current version of the rules is almost final, though we still have a month to nail it down. Card art is looking good. The next decision is: when should the Factory Set be released?

Number 5 - Oct. 8, 1994

DESIGNER'S SCHEMES: Further progress on ILLUMINATI: New World Order

The first 100 cards went to the printer today . . . AND OUR SCHEDULE IS STILL OK!! Art and coloring are going very well. We hired a new colorist, Rick Martin, to help Jeff and Derek meet the schedules and keep their sanity.

And the cards are just INCREDIBLE. We're about to send out flyers showing the back design for the Plots cards, and a half-dozen assorted faces. I think these are the prettiest trading cards made for any game yet, and the most readable. The "graphic novel" style of illustration will please some people and annoy others - tastes differ - but I think everyone will like the card DESIGN.

Getting to here wasn't an easy process; Derek and I went back and forth, and back and forth, with the card designs. The problem was that we wanted great GRAPHIC design . . . but at the same time we had GAME design to deal with. The cards had to be very easy to read and play, or there was just no point in it!

So Derek's first design, beautiful as it was, fell by the wayside; it was hard to see the arrows, and there wasn't enough room for the art. And my bright-colored "billboard" layout was just too ugly and noisy - it had no class at all. And we went back and forth and back and forth, and put in long nights, and spent days and days on dead ends.

And when we were through, it was GREAT. All the card names are in large type, and all the fine print is black on light backgrounds, and the gold control arrows are easy to see on the red Group card frames. And the graphic design is still rich and elegant.

Also: By popular demand, we've removed the card numbers. Our customer feedback ran better than 12 to 1 against having numbers on the cards.

And, speaking of making things legible, we're printing the rulebooks in two colors. The regular print will be black, but we'll use red to make the section heads jump out, and to make the diagrams easy to read.

Rules hacking is done at last. Jim McCoy and Monica Stephens created a database that lets us sort cards by power, by alignment, and several other ways. We've been using that to test potentially "degenerate" decks . . . and to find especially vicious combinations that work even in a normal deck. Verrry interesting! (Eventually, we'd like to put the database on Illuminati Online so all our users can play with it. It's DOS, but maybe there's a way.)

Again: IT'S ON SCHEDULE! Still looking at a Dec. 5 ship date!

Number 6 - Nov. 20, 1994

DESIGNER'S SCHEMES: Further progress on ILLUMINATI: New World Order

This will probably be my last report before the "It's out! It's out!" press release and gloat, STILL scheduled for December 5. We have seen proof sheets on all the cards, and actual samples on some of them, and they look beautiful.

Card Giveaways By Mail
As I hope you have seen elsewhere, we are giving away 10,000 rare cards - one per name or address - to the first 10,000 who write us. We have NOT yet gotten 10,000 requests, so there's still time.

Send us a long stamped-self-addressed envelope. Put enough US postage on it for two ounces . . . that's 52 cents for surface mail. If you're outside the US, enclose two International Reply Coupons.

If yours is one of the first 10,000, we'll send you one card, plus a catalog (yes, we want you to have our propaganda -- but it also protects the card). Send your request to: INWO INTERNET CARD OFFER / Steve Jackson Games / PO Box 18957, Austin, TX 78760-8957.

We will also - sometime this week or next - send sample cards to all the distributors who have made pre-orders, and to every retailer on our mailing list. These will arrive well before the actual games!

Card Giveaways In Magazines
We are printing three special cards, which are not in the "regular" distribution at all, for giveaway in magazines. These will have the same frame and graphics as the Limited Edition, and we'll consider them part of the Limited Edition for tournament purposes. While I'm not yet ready to release full information on frequency (because I do not HAVE full information), I can say that these cards will DEFINITELY not be as rare as Rare (if that makes any sense). In other words, if you are a collector, the existence of these cards does not make it impossible for you to build a complete set; there will be enough of them out there that everybody will have a fair chance at getting them.

Two of the cards will appear in issue #12 of PYRAMID Magazine, which will hit the stands in February. The magazine will be poly-bagged, and will have a print run limited to the number of cards available.

We will also be shipping some of these two cards to two magazines in Germany. These are "Pyramide" (published by Pegasus, mainly covering their new German edition of GURPS) and "Ringbote" (also published by Pegasus, mainly covering RPGs and trading card games in general). So European fans will have a good chance at those two cards, too.

The third special card will be offered to DUELLIST magazine, and we expect it will appear in issue number 4.

INWO On The Net
Our WWW site for INWO continues to expand. We've got a lot of art there now, as well as an updated FAQ. You can reach it at - check it out.

I've been informed that the newsgroup will soon be up and running. We will certainly take a presence on it. And if becomes needed, that's OK too . . .

Printing Information
Responding to anguished demands from distributors who wanted to increase their orders, we tried to up the print run of the Limited Edition by 5,000 POPs of each type. We really tried.

But it wasn't feasible. (Which is what we warned our distributors when we first set the deadline. Getting more card stock takes a long lead time.) As it turned out, though, we COULD have gotten more card stock - just not in time to ship the "new" orders this year. But setup charges, to go back to press on card types already printed, would have eaten us alive. So we didn't do that.

Therefore, the only Limited Edition Starter Set orders we'll be able to ship, now or later, are those that we got by our original deadline. We'll have a bit of an overrun on Booster Packs, enough to ship a FEW of the late orders, but not nearly all of them. (To make that work, we'll have to toss a few thousand "leftover" Rare and Uncommon cards into the Common hoppers. Therefore, an occasional Booster Pack will have an extra Rare or Uncommon instead of a Common. I hope the people who get these packs are not TOO upset!)

The other bit of printer news is that, after long discussions with our printer and packager, we increased the project budget by $8,000 to allow for more "shuffling" at the sorting stage, and more double-checking at the collating stage, to make sure that the Starter Sets and Booster Packs are really thoroughly randomized.

Nov. 23, 1994

DESIGNER'S SCHEMES: Further progress on ILLUMINATI: New World Order

So I lied. Number 6 wasn't the last announcement before the game hit the stores. I have one more update.

The packager now says we have a Dec. 7 ship date - which is two days behind schedule - but they also say we can COUNT on that date. So we bought the tickets for our Traffic Manager, Brenda Hurst, to go up and supervise the drop-ship. It will go direct from the packagers to our distributors.

The games ordered before the deadline will ship first. Those orders placed after the deadline will ship second. That will include only Booster Packs, because we'll have effectively no "overage" of Starter Sets.

If your local retailer cannot find any distributors who still have stocks of the game, have him phone our office (we're in the book) and ask for our National Sales Manager. We'll pass along the names of any distributors that we happen to know still have some unsold. If there are any (sigh).

In-Store Date
Our distributors have been told that they may release the game on December 16 . . . and not before. This means that - if a store wants to pick it up at the distributors - it can be in game shops on December 16. Those stores who just have it shipped through normal channels will probably get it sometime during the week of the 19th.

If you learn of any distributors who jump the gun, feel free to blow the whistle. Our revenge will be awful.

In Bookstores
The Starter Sets (not booster packs) will be in B.Dalton's.

Direct-Mail Sales
Yes, SJ Games will sell by direct mail . . . but not until late in January, and only one Starter Set plus five Booster Packs per customer. We will have very small stocks for direct-mail sales, so we will keep a list of who has ordered, and duplicate orders will be rejected. The orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. We will ship all orders by 2nd-day Federal Express. Minimum shipping charge is $7.50; if you order other things at the same time, this cost will go up.

So please try your local retailer first!!! We are doing direct mail for the benefit of those who HAVE no local retailer.

INWO On The Net
Our WWW site for INWO continues to expand. We've got a lot of art there now, as well as an updated FAQ. You can reach it at - check it out.

The newsgroup is now working, and we're there. See you online . . .

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