This article originally appeared in Pyramid #18
by Steve Jackson
Assassins! The very word is sinister, sibilant, secretive. It evokes images of black cloaks and unmentionable deeds. And for me, it also evokes memories of months and months of the same questions:
"Hey, Steve! How's Assassins coming?" "When is it going to be out?" "I know I'm not supposed to mention Assassins, but can you tell me . . . ?" Well, at least it diverted attention from In Nomine for a while.
Assassins, for those of you who have been on a desert island somewhere, is the first supplement to Illuminati: New World Order. It includes 125 cards (two specials and 123 available in booster packs). Each pack contains 8 cards, and they are in stores now. Finally! But it was a struggle.
The project started off very nicely indeed; good art coming in, lots of good card ideas, lots of active playtest. The first hint of trouble (okay, more than a hint) came with the words "hard disk crash." About 40 completed, colored illustrations — a third of the whole project — had been on the dead disk.
No problem, right? We'll get them from the backup. Except that disk hadn't been backed up. No reason; it just hadn't been. (That was the second time in a few months that had happened. We have now networked all the Macs and completely automated our backups.)
No problem, still. Dead disks can be recovered. It's expensive, and it takes a couple of weeks, but there's a 95% success rate. Well, 80 to 90, depending on the disk. Better than half the time, anyway. Where is that disk? Haven't we heard back from the recovery people? It's been a long time . . . They're still trying?
After about three weeks, they gave up. The disk was toast. And so was everything on it. Time to rescan the black-and-white art and start over . . .
Convention season came, and I spent a lot of time at conventions telling people "This is late. I've got to finish it up." Instead of releasing the set at GenCon, I was standing at GenCon explaining why it wasn't out. When I would rather have been home finishing it up . . . For a while there I was really blocked. Too many playtest comments to go through, too many choices to make, too many cards to check against 400-odd existing cards for unexpected booby-traps that would lead to quick wins. So more weeks went by, even after we'd recovered from the disk crash, when I was growling at people, stacking and unstacking piles of paper, maybe fixing one card a day (and maybe not). This was not fun.
It came time to make my European trip. I'd been saying "If the game isn't ready, I won't go." I'd been trying to terrorize myself into productivity, and it hadn't worked — because I couldn't blow off the Essen show or the Gaelcon appearance. So I packed up all my notes, and I went. And Essen was a great show. Our German publisher, Pegasus, had a huge booth, and a lot of it was devoted to INWO, and a lot of people were playing. And (sigh) asking about Assassins. And I didn't get any writing done in Essen. But at least I got disconnected from the distractions of Austin. Meet people all day, go back to the hotel and crash, get up early and have breakfast (which might be the only meal of the day). Repeat. Essen is not a low-impact convention. But it did clear my mind. And when it ended, I was not just ready to write, I was dying to write.
I finally finished up the last draft in Fried-berg, Germany, over the space of a few days in between visits with Pegasus. Apparently a quiet little room where absolutely nobody was calling me, where I could spread stacks of papers over every piece of furniture and a lot of the floor, was just what I needed. I may try that again . . . At any rate, when I left Germany, the game was basically finished. I did change one more card in Ireland, when Simon Winston and Don Hoban suggested the Irish Flu! Then it was back to the US amid great rejoicing, for final playtesting (both live and on the net) while the production team finished up the cards. The playtest continued right down to the wire and beyond . . . we actually faxed one change to the printers the day after the Rare cards left the office.
Enough About Your Personal Problems. What's In The Game?
One new Illuminati, of course. The Society of Assassins collects Secret groups to win, and its special ability makes a Fanatic deck very worthwhile. For details, see the card . . .
27 other new Groups and 10 new Resources. Some powerful, some silly. Among the Groups are six new Personalities. I predict that the most played will be Newt Gingrich, with his "Newt World Order," but my personal favorite is Lama Ramadingdong.
87 new Plots, including three new goals and nine (!!) new NWO cards. That should make life interesting . . . And among the new Plots are three entirely new types of card.
Attribute Freeze cards, which temporarily stop all cards of a single attribute type from acting.
Paralysis cards, which completely stop one particular Group from acting, until they're dealt with. Each Paralysis card attacks a different alignment. And finally . . .
Zaps, which are aimed at the Illuminati themselves. A typical Zap might stop the target Illuminati from taking over one particular alignment, for instance. There are others . . .
New Strategies, New Decks
One of the main goals of this set was to bring a few more types of decks into play. The Fanatic deck, for instance, was a bad idea with the basic INWO game; Fanatics don't work well together. Except now, with the Assassins leading them, they do . . .
There are also Groups and Plots specifically designed to make Green and Communist decks practical. Both those attributes lend themselves to interesting (and paranoid) theme decks, but the original set just didn't have enough powerful cards for them. That's now fixed. In fact, there's a NWO that lets you build a good combined Commie/Green deck.
A Personality deck is also more viable with Assassins. When I first started, I added several nasty new Assassinations, just to keep up the theme of the deck. But that proved to be a bad idea. Personalities are already too vulnerable. In the end, I left in only a couple of new anti-Personality cards, and added several to help Personalities. Check out Dittoheads, for instance, and Secret Master. And the double-edged sword of Supreme Court Nomination!
Card Frequencies and Distribution
We did our frequency-sorting a bit differently this time, in two ways. First, there are no Common Group cards. All the Commons are Plots. This is a blatant effort to sell you fewer cards. Since nobody needs very many duplicates of any one Group, having Common Groups has led to a lot of useless cards. Well, not completely useless, because you can (and should) give the duplicates to your friends to get them started. But still, having no Common Groups should avoid some waste.
The second frequency change was the addition of an Ultra-Rare category. I took some heat over this: "just trying to sell more cards, Jackson?" Well, yes, of course . . . but not (I hope) by forcing people to buy extras. Sure, there are people who "collect" a set by buying a couple of displays, opening all the packets, sorting through them till they find all the cards and dumping the duplicates. Yawn.
What I'm hoping to do with the Ultras is get a little more trading going . . . not just among the collectors, but among the players too. The Ultras are not mega-powerful; we picked them for strangeness and for good (or very silly) art. Powergamers won't especially care about the Ultras; casual players may have a couple that they like, but won't need all of them. If I'm right, there should be plenty of Ultras out there to be traded for . . . but you're going to have to talk to people. Hey, the Illuminati are supposed to make deals!
Overall, there are 50 Common cards (again, all Plots), 32 Uncommon, 30 Rare and 10 Ultra. The card for the Society of Assassins is sorted as an Uncommon but appears 33% more often, to make it easier to get. The last two cards are specials; one appeared solely in Pyramid Magazine, the other in both Pyramid (in this very issue, as a matter of fact . . .) and the French magazine Lotus Noir.
Each packet contains 5 Common, 2 Uncommon, and 1 Rare. In one out of every ten packets, the Rare is replaced by an Ultra.
In all, we ordered 9,100 POP displays, which is 546,000 booster packs and 4,368,000 cards. The delay hurt us . . . our pre-orders based on the original ship date were about 20% higher. A lot of distributors and retailers have gotten scared of card games in the last few months. We knew from our mail that the gamers wanted these cards, but we have to base our print run on the orders we get from distributors; anything else is madness. So it goes.
Lifting the Veil
I was a guest at Philcon in Philadelphia the weekend after the cards went to press. (Great convention, by the way. If you get the chance, go.) And, just for the heck of it, I took the black-and-white proof sheets of all the new cards. So the players at the INWO tournament and demonstrations got a surprise . . . The whole time, people were looking through the sheets and laughing (or screaming, or making notes and giggling about the decks they were going to build). It was great. And for the tournament, I passed out blank cards and let everybody copy up to five Assassins cards to use in their play decks. That worked so well that Claudia Smith did the same thing at her INWO events the next weekend, at Dallas Fantasy Fair.
Thanks For The Help
One bad thing about the booster-pack format . . . there's no rulebook, and therefore no easy place to thank the people who offered help, suggestions and insane but encouraging laughter. But there were a lot of them, and I didn't promise not to expose them for what they are . . . utterly, utterly mad. Almost all of these ideas came in through the net, either in e-mail or on rec.games.trading-cards.misc, where INWO is kicked around constantly. So when you enjoy these Assassins cards, here's who to thank:
Al Amarja — appears by courtesy of John Nephew, as part of our continuing sinister pas-de-deux with Atlas Games. Don't ask; just check out the Bavarian Illuminati card in On The Edge.
Antitrust Legislation — suggested by Brennan M. O'Keefe.
Arms Dealers — based on a special ability suggested by Doug Sheppard (aka Sirilyan), the creator of Archive 23.
Australia — inspired by Chris Irvine and Dan McKinlay, who suggested that the Australian special ability would involve alcohol consumption . . .
The Big Prawn — This was Ewan McDonnell's prize-winning idea (illustrated by Dot McDonnell) in a contest sponsored by Australian Realms magazine. See, "prawn" is Aussie for lobster, and in Australia they have this strange tradition of huge beachside animal statues . . .
Dittoheads — These were Mike Sullivan's idea. He's right, you know.
End of the World — Suggested by Aaron Curtis.
Global Warming — The simple but elegant "meeble" text, and the original version of the card, were proposed by Dana Huyler as part of a long net.list.
Irish Flu — Simon Winston and Don Hoban. This was the last card to be added to the set, at Gaelcon. When Don mentioned the name and idea, I tossed out another Plot immediately to make room.
Nevermore! — John Karakash. There was a lot of talk about the details, but next time you trash someone's degenerate deck, think of John.
No Beer! — everyone's favorite new Disaster. This is Glen Barnett's idea, and took first place in that Australian Realms competition.
Orgone Grinder — The name came from Steven Flores.
Reverse Whammy — Another Karakash idea.
Sudden European Vacation — straight from the guilty conscience of Paul "Frog God" Lidberg.
Swingers — Lynette Cowper, our Internet rep, suggested not just the name, but the artwork — and the art idea was what sold me. Sick, sick, sick . . .
Vile Secretions — All right, it's an in-joke. In a net discussion of card protectors, Jonathan Woodward suggested they were needed to protect the cards from the "vile secretions" of one's opponents. I think he was joking. But we all liked the phrase . . .
You Are What You Eat — suggested (both name and ability) by Robert Turner.
And we got lots of great playtesting and comment from various Illuminated individuals, including Bob Asselin, Lynette Cowper, Alan De Smet, Robert DeLoura, Scott Haring, John Karakash, Jeff Koke, Mike Kuykendall, Jim McCoy, Tyler Novak, Craig O'Brien, Doug Sheppard, Claudia Smith, Jason Spivey, Monica Stephens, Mike Sullivan and Jonathan Woodward, Jonathan Young, and all their various cabals and hapless tools.
And as for the graphics team for Assassins:
As with the original INWO set, the art was created by Dan Smith, Shea Ryan and John Kovalic.
Derek Pearcy and Jeff Koke bore the brunt of the coloring this time, with help from Rick Martin, Heather McKinney, C. Brent Ferguson (the graphics wiz who designed the On The Edge boxes and cards), and one card from Richard Meaden.
The incredible graphics on the foil pack and POP display were created by Jeff Koke.
Printing was by Steketee-Van Huis in Holland, Michigan. Assembly and packaging is being taken care of by Avne Packaging in New York.
And One Last Thank-You
There's one person whose help I've never acknowledged for the basic INWO game. Larry Langley was the first to suggest the limit of three "doubling" groups for Goals, which proved to be such an elegant fix for some of the degenerate decks that were possible in Version 1.0 of the rules. Thanks, Larry!
The official INWO Assassins card list can be found here.
Article publication date: March 1, 1996
Copyright © 1996 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.