This article originally appeared in Pyramid #15

There are
 Assassins out there...

By Steve Jackson

(Editor's Note: The deadline for this issue of Pyramid arrived before Evil Stevie was willing to finalize certain aspects of Assassins - or, at least, before he was willing to admit anything. But, with a gun to his head, here's what he told us.)

Assassins is the first expansion set for Illuminati: New World Order. It includes approximately a hundred cards; the actual number is still classified. Assassins will be released at GenCon (or shortly thereafter as we go to press, the schedule is very tight). Assassins will be sold only in 8-card booster packs.

Design Philosophy

death to all fanatics The design philosophy for Assassins can be summed up very simply."INWO was a hit; I never saw so much money in my life; people are asking for more cards; write more cards NOW."

Actually, there's a bit more to it than that. (Well, only a little bit. But still . . .) We could have cranked it out sooner if it was really just a question of coming up with a hundred new cards. But we did have some specific goals for the expansion. First: beef up some of the Attributes. With the original set, you couldn't build a strong Green deck, or a strong Commie one. There just weren't enough good cards to support the theme. Well, now there are. Second: encourage interaction in a multi-player game. It's possible to build an "isolationist" deck that marches toward victory by taking over its own Groups, interacting very little with other players. It depends on winning before someone else can, rather than fouling up someone else's win; it has a few generic defenses, and few or no good attacks. That's kind of boring, and this set should make it easier to drag an isolationist, kicking and screaming, into the game.

Third: have a wider variety of special abilities for groups. Players commented that too many of the original groups had generic "has +X bonus to attack Y" abilities. Well . . . right. So I tried very hard to avoid that, and come up with new kinds of abilities.

Not part of the original plan, but something that showed up very early: a few new types of Plots. As I write this, the names aren't final, but one type, which we're calling "Foo," lets you temporarily mess up all cards of a given alignment or attribute. Another, which we're calling "Paralysis," can lock up any enemy card until it's counteracted. And "Zaps" let you do a variety of evil things to your rival Illuminati . . .

The New Illuminati

Yes, there's a new Illuminati group in this set. Or, rather, a very old group returns in this set. The Society of Assassins, beloved of some players of the original Illuminati game (and be-hated by others) is back.

The Assassins' special ability is [Not Available At Your Clearance]. Their victory condition is [Not Available At Anybody's Clearance]. The Assassins will be distributed with Uncommon frequency, so everyone will have a decent chance at getting them.

Card Distribution

copies while you wait The original INWO has three different rarities: Common, Uncommon and Rare. This new set adds one more rarity level. A classified number of the cards in Assassins are "ultra-rare." Approximately one time in 10, the Rare card in a pack is replaced by an Ultra.

This creates what the trading card hobby calls "chase cards" that is, collectors "chase" them. Yes, it's an evil plot to make it harder to complete a collection. That's it exactly. It's not even a secret evil plot.

For game balance, the cards we picked as Ultras are very neat things to have in a deck . . . but a deck that depends on a lot of Ultras can be countered by certain Common cards. Thus, Mr. Suitcase can't walk all over a tournament.

Art and Graphics

The original press run of Assassins will be in the Limited Edition format (colored frames, gold title type). If we do a later printing (and maybe we will and maybe we won't how's that for definite?) it will be in the Unlimited Edition format. We really have no idea whether these cards will ever appear in a Factory Set sort of thing.

The art and coloring uses exactly the same team as the original INWO . . . illustration by Dan Smith, Shea Ryan and John Kovalic, coloring by Derek Pearcy, Jeff Koke and Rick Martin. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Ideas From All Over

The Usenet newsgroup rec.games.trading-cards.misc is full of INWO players . . . which means it's also full of feedback, questions, comments, flames . . . and suggestions for new cards. Most of them have said "Use my ideas if you like them." And sometimes we do. The Net, it's wonderful. There is also an Australian connection in Assassins.

We sponsored a contest in Australian Realms Magazine; readers were invited to create an appropriate card for Down Under. We got a lot of interesting ideas, not all of which we could even understand. (Obviously we're not cleared for that.) But some of the ones we did understand caused violent spasms of laughter. So Assassins will include the truly terrifying Disaster "No Beer!" (suggested by Glen Barnett) and the Resource "The Big Prawn" (the tourist attraction to end all tourist attractions, suggested by Ewan McDonnell). You people are strange.

And, with thanks to the recent mass-media interest in conspiracy theory, we added several more cards for Middle American paranoia. We now have Black Helicopters; Back To The Salt Mines (yep, yep, a hundred thousand Chinese troops are hidden right under Chicago, or is it Detroit, just waiting for that UN command); Family Values; and, of course, Alien Abduction.

Random Notes and Rumor Control

Yes, there's a card for Lyndon LaRouche. And for the Church of Violentology. And for Newt Gingrich (beware the Newt World Order).

Yes, there's a card that has different values depending on what day it is.

Yes, the Convenience Stores card is really in this set.

Yes, we left it out of the original set on purpose.

Yes, we considered leaving it out of this set too. But we decided that once was funny, and twice might get us lynched.

Yes, there's a card for Al Amarja, paralleling the Bavarian Illuminati card that appeared last year for Over the Edge. Thus, each game includes the other. It's fun working with the Atlas folks. They are very, very strange. We like that.

Yes, there are some "special" cards for magazine distribution. One of them is in this issue of Pyramid. There are others . . .

No, there's no special mark on these cards to indicate that they are from the Assassins set. Or if there is, you can't see it.

Fun With Blank Cards

Our other new INWO release, already in stores, is the Blank Card Set. Our graphics guys really liked these. ("You say we've done all the work on these already?!") Our printers liked them too.

Naturally, being idiots, we had to turn around and find a way to make an easy job more complicated. The original plan was to include a printed bit of paper in the front of each pack with the "Blank Cards" title and the UPC computer bars. Then that turned into a card, rather than a piece of paper, so the card-sorting machines could handle it. But then, as long as it was going to be a card, we had the perverse idea of making them all different, just for grins.

Originally, they were all going to be exactly the same, with different numbers on them a parody of collectibility. Then I had a stupid idea for making them all different in a way that would let you play a separate, simple game. Then that game idea turned out to be not so stupid . . . so we didn't use it. It may turn up someday as a separate, real trading card game.

Because Derek had another idea by then. He started collecting Stupid Uses For Blank Cards. He got a hundred or so. We trimmed it down to the strangest 50. (Example: "Tape them together into a giant pyramid and fly it like a kite. When the sky darkens, wait for further instructions.") And there they are.

So, if you really want to build a collection of these cards, you can. Jeff did some very spiffy black-and-white graphics, and my set of 50 does look kind of neat in the little plastic pages . . . And note that while most of the cards are identical except for the numbered Stupid Use, that's not completely true. Fnord.

The good news for collectors is that, because the Blank Cards are distributed in transparent packages, it's easy to tell which UPC card you're getting. The bad news is that unless you're actually going to go out and buy fifty packs of blank cards . . . which would be overdoing it . . . you're going to have to either mug other collectors, or bug all your gamer friends to save you that card when they buy a pack. Life is cruel.




Article publication date: October 1, 1995


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