This article originally appeared in Pyramid #10

Designer's Notes for Illuminati: New World Order

Art by Dan Smith and Shea Ryan.
Colored by Derek Pearcy and Jeff Koke

By Steve Jackson

Well, here I sit, bare weeks away from a very important deadline . . . the deadline to complete the first half of the cards for Illuminati: New World Order. As usual when a big deadline is this close, I'm having a terrible time and loving every minute of it.

When we first talked about getting on the trading-card bandwagon, we kicked several different ideas around. But we always came back to Illuminati, just because the game seems made for the trading-card genre. The one big request we kept getting, after the original game came out, was "More cards! More cards!" Well, now we can do a lot more cards. 409 in the first release, to be exact.

We'll be doing a lot of cards in another sense, too. Pre-orders are closed now . . . we know how big the Limited Edition will be. Twenty-one million cards, give or take a few hundred thousand. That makes it, by a factor of about 10, the biggest project we've ever done.

That also means that 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 required the same people that finishing INWO requires.

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 deserved better treatment, but there's only one Steve, only one Jeff, only one Derek, and we all have to concentrate on the project with the million-dollar sales.

When things settle down, though, you know what we're going to do with that money? It's going back into the hobby. 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 we can afford to finish them, they'll be good. (And, if there's any justice, they'll make that money back again. I can hope.)

Enough Of This Babble, Steve. What About INWO?

Okay. In general, it will be sold like Magic: The Gathering. There will be starter sets and booster packs. However, the starter set will be a double-pack of 110 cards: two decks of 55 cards each, retailing for $9.95. Our recommended deck for play is 45 cards. So, for $5 each, you and a friend can split a starter set and each have enough cards to build a beginning deck, with some left to trade.

Booster packs will have 15 cards each, and will retail for $2.25. There will be more uncommons and rares, proportionately, in booster packs than in starter sets, but no Illuminati cards -- just Groups and Plots.

We will ship to our distributors on December 5. We have not set the date on which they will be allowed to release it to stores. Probably around December 12, to give everyone an even chance. We expect the first shipment to vanish pretty quickly . . . and at that point, we'll decide what to do about a reprint.

Special Group Rates

There are now exactly 200 groups, plus the nine Illuminati. My original plan was to include all the groups from the old game. In the end, several were dropped because they just weren't all that neat any more, and several more were taken out for game balance -- they may return in an expansion set.

There has been one more big change in the way groups work. I took money out from the game.

"You did what?" I hear you saying. You heard right; I removed the Income stat from the card. No income. No megabucks. Power and Resistance are now the only stats.

But it works. In fact, it makes the game play a lot faster. It's a shame to lose the uncertainty of "How much money does he have?," but now we have "What Plot cards is he holding?" It balances out.

There's another change to Groups, designed to increase the number of possible interactions between cards. In addition to the groups' "alignments," I also added "attributes." These are key words that describe the groups . . . at present, they are Secret, Coastal, Huge, Nation, Magic, Space, Science, Computer, Green, Bank, Media, Communist, Church. Unlike alignments, an attribute doesn't have any automatic effect on other groups of the same attribute . . . unless its special ability says it does.

Ahh, yes. Special abilities. In the original game, some of the groups had gimmicks . . . unique things they could do, printed on the cards. In INWO, every single group has a special ability. In general, groups with a high Power don't also have a killer ability. But there are exceptions. No group is bad. Some are better than others, most of the time . . . but there will be times when the Goldfish Fanciers will save you in a way the Mafia couldn't.

A lot of these special powers can be very annoying in the wrong hands -- that is, anybody's hands but yours. Therefore, many players find themselves postponing their original goals, and working simply to destroy the group that's bothering them. This adds a lot of spice to the game. In the original version, it happened when the IRS came up. Now there are at least 20 groups that will be equally infuriating.

Hidden Plots, Exposed Plots

The "special cards" from the original game have also multiplied many times over. There are 200 of them, too . . . they're now called Plot cards. You're limited in the number of Plots you can hold in your hand. That's all right. Many Plots should be used as soon as they come up, to beef up your Power Structure. But others should be saved as last-ditch protection . . . or as deathblows.

When you first get a Plot, it's "hidden" in your hand. Enemy action can "expose" it, forcing you to turn it face up.

There are a couple of special types of Plots, too. A New World Order card is played to the center of the table. It changes the rules for everybody. For instance, the Law and Order card says:

Increase the Power of all Violent Government groups by 5. Increase the Power of all other Government groups by 2. Reduce the Power of all Criminal groups by 1, unless they are also Government!

And a Goal card is just what it sounds like. It gives you another way to win. This makes it important to "expose" as many enemy Plots as you can . . . so a hidden Goal doesn't catch you by surprise.

Can You Buy A Victory?

That's grown to be a big concern with trading card games. Can a rich player collect so many high-powered cards that he can't be beaten?

Somebody who owns all the cards will always have an advantage. But everybody has to play with the same size deck (we recommend 45). If you don't know how to use them, you can be stomped by someone who is a good player and has a well-thought-out deck of common cards. We've proved this in playtest. I give someone a real killer deck and go head-to-head with them, using any old handful of stuff. And I win. Of course, I've played before . . .

The cards work together in lots of interesting ways. The more familiar you are with your cards, the better you can do. Money is nice, but brains and guile will trump mere bucks every time.

If you're really filthy rich, the best way to win is not to buy more cards, but to bribe your rivals to throw the game. Now that's Illuminated, and cuts right to the heart of things. Just don't let me catch you doing it in one of my tournaments, unless you give me a cut. Fnord.

More Frequently Asked Questions

Will blank cards be available?

Probably. We're checking out the cost to create packages of, say, 20 blank cards (10 each of Plots and Groups). These will be of no interest to collectors, but gamers can use them to (for instance) substitute for a card they don't want to scuff up in play, or even to invent new cards. Of course, each group will have to make its own house-rule decisions on the cards they invent themselves. We will not volunteer as mediators! Nor will we offer "official guidelines" for inventing new cards and making them "legal" . . . !! The blank cards are intended for fun among friends, and not to encourage weird, abusive strategies at tournaments.

Will there be a "Factory Set," with one of every card?

Yes, if there is sufficient interest . . . and right now it looks like there will be. It will be released sometime after the original edition. I don't know how much it will cost.

It will be playable as a stand-alone game set. It will include rules for at least two variant versions that will use only the cards from the factory set -- thus, a group of people can play with the factory set, instead of each owning their own decks. It will also include some blank cards.

The card faces will be slightly different from those of the original edition -- we haven't decided how. The backs will be the same, and the corners will be the same. Thus, you will be able to combine cards from the two sets, if you want to, but it will also be easy to exclude factory cards in a tournament or collector game.

Will there be supplements?

Yes -- if there's demand. I have three separate, evil ideas for supplement themes. And our playtest set includes more good cards than we can publish in the first edition.

Any other add-on projects in the works?

I'd like to put together a deluxe rulebook with lots of comments, art, background, lies and optional rules. The basic rulebook is only 16 pages, for simplicity's sake.

Introduction to World Conquest:
A 3-Player Learning Game

If you have two players who know the rules, and one who doesn't, you can still play a very good three-cornered game. (This works with the original Illuminati, too.)

The key is this: The two experienced players are really competing against each other. Each of them gives the newbie the best advice they can. Of course, that advice may be a bit slanted . . . but the newbie knows that!

It's a lot easier (and more fun) to learn the game by playing. And since the newbie holds the balance of power, he can have fun even though he doesn't know exactly what he's doing. He'll have two experts working hard to advise him! Both the experienced players should watch the newbie carefully to make sure he doesn't make any mistakes -- at least, mistakes that would benefit the other player. If they're smart, they'll even tell the newbie when he has a good attack against them . . . just to build up their credibility.

It's perfectly legal for either of the experienced players to attack the newbie . . . but it may not be smart to do too much to him, because it's likely to drive him into the arms of the opposition.

And if the newbie is a good enough negotiator to play his two mentors off against each other . . . well, that's Illuminati.

The Wizards Connection

This will be one of the first trading card games to come out from a company other than Wizards of the Coast. And how is WotC reacting to the competition?

They love it. "We want trading card games to become a new standard genre," says head wizard Peter Adkison. "We don't want Magic to be a one-time success." And WotC is doing a great deal to help its "competitors" enter the field.

The WotC magazine, Duellist, covers all trading card games, not just the Deckmaster series. Wizards freely shares its hard-earned expertise with newcomers to the field -- even to the extent of saying "We did thus and so, and it was wrong. Don't make the same mistake." At GenCon, the hundred-plus Wizards employees mingled and made friends. No new-rich clannishness here. And sure, they played Magic -- but they played a lot of other things, too.

Most amazing of all, to anyone who has spent years and years watching the rich companies turning into bullies . . . Wizards of the Coast actually loaned money to SJ Games to finance the first printing of INWO. Our pre-sales caught us by surprise; they were double what we'd let ourselves hope for. Thanks to the Wizards, we'll be able to meet that extra-large printing bill.

Peter, thank you. You and your team are setting one heck of an example. I hope it spreads.

-- Steve Jackson

Article publication date: December 1, 1994

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