A Handcrafted Conspiracy, Part II

by Glen Barnett

Art by Keith Johnson

Editor's Note: You can read Part I in our archives.

A Handcrafted Conspiracy, Part II

Making your cards

There are a number of ways you can go about making cards. Here are some suggestions!

The obvious way to start is to write on a blank card. Sounds fast and easy, but INWO blanks have a shiny surface that's not all that easy to work on. They are also hard to change -- cards will often go through a couple of revisions during design, and a couple more after you start playing with them.

It is easier to design the card separately. I like to make them up on the computer and print them out. I generally use Word, but almost anything that lets you put text where you want it will work. I have made passable cards in a pure ASCII text editor.

You can glue the paper cards onto blanks or spare commons. I prefer the glue that they use on sticky notes, which you can buy in a stick. It lets you chop and change as much as you like, because the paper peels right off. When you first stick the card on, you can slide it around until it is just right. Permanent glues are rarely so forgiving.

One problem is getting the look of the card right -- the size of the card, the fonts and point sizes, etc. INWO cards are 3 1/2 by 2 3/8 inches (about 89 by 60 mm). If you are making lots of cards, make your card image slightly smaller, so you don't spend all day trimming corners.

I suggest Arial 10pt bold for the title, 8 point italic for the meeble (the italicized quote part between the picture and the card text) and 8 point regular for the card text. I have these set up as styles in Word. This gives neat, readable cards that look similar in style to the real cards.

I like to print plots onto pale blue paper, groups onto pale pink paper, and resources onto a purplish-pink paper; it helps distinguish them at a glance without being too dark a background for reading black text.

One way to sidestep the formatting problems is to use Sam Kington's homebrew site (http://www.illuminated.co.uk/inwo). The "Printer Ready" cards under Netscape 4 or Internet Explorer 4 look great.

Another problem with glued-on cards is shuffling them. The cards can also be a little thicker than normal cards, and sometimes you can spot this in the deck. Using soft plastic card sleeves easily solves both problems -- ordinary cheap ones work fine. This has the added advantage that you don't have to glue the paper cards on right away; if you insert them in the sleeves carefully, they'll work just fine on a temporary basis. This is especially handy if you make revisions after play.

What about Deluxe Illuminati?

The new Deluxe cards are the same size as INWO cards, and the font on the new Deluxe cards looks similar to Eurostile. The old Deluxe Illuminati cards are 3 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches. It came with three blank group cards. If you use all of these up and want to make a lot of cards, note that this is a standard playing-card size. You should be able to pick up a pack of cards of the right size cheaply. Ones with a simple back design in red and white (which are pretty standard) work quite well, though if you use sleeves with opaque backs it won't matter. Here I use Lucida Sans (12 point bold for the card title, 10.5 point for the rest), but the fonts probably aren't all that crucial -- in fact if you look closely, you can see that the font on some of the original cards is slightly different from the others.

Introducing Homemade Cards into play

Everyone in your play group has designed some cards and you want to play with them. How do you make sure that someone doesn't just put an "I win" card into their deck? This is probably the biggest single problem with homemade cards. The most obvious solution is to have an impartial judge decide if the cards are okay. This works really well, unless everyone qualified to judge also want to play!

One idea my play group had a couple of years ago was to restrict ourselves to cards that won a "Card of the Week" award on the inwo-cards mailing list (see the Steve Jackson Games INWO web pages at http://www.sjgames.com/inwo to find out how to subscribe to the various INWO mailing lists). Cards that are too powerful, too weak, don't quite work, or are just plain dull don't survive through the judging process. I highly recommend submitting your own cards there -- the feedback from the list members definitely helps you make better cards. If your brilliance goes unrecognized by an award, or you just don't want to share your genius with the rest of the world, here are a few other techniques you could try.

A Handcrafted Conspiracy, Part II

The One Big Deck Approach

Take the new cards that you and your friends have made up, as well as regular INWO cards, and play a One Big Deck game. That way everyone has a fair chance to get any card. Another idea is all the newly made groups start the game in the uncontrolled area. This serves the double purpose of giving everyone time to read them and think about what they do, and gives more opportunity for other players to stop the nastiest cards getting into play. If you are playing under SubGenius rules, you may want to make homemade cards in the uncontrolled area not count against the total.

Note that with SubGenius cards and rules you can play a game closer in style to the original Illuminati. If you liked the original game, and you have INWO cards, get your hands on SubGenius. If your store doesn't carry it, ask them to get it in. Most stores are very happy to do that. If they are a little hesitant, consider putting a deposit on it -- that convinces most retailers. If they still won't get it in (believe it or not, some retailers refuse to take a guaranteed profit), you can order it directly from Steve Jackson Games, who are happy to take your Megabucks.

Playing One Big Deck style gives you the chance to design the whole deck -- you can pick cards that work well in One Big Deck games and avoid those that don't work so well. You can make themed decks. Aaron Curtis ran a competition for designed One Big Decks on the inwo-list. You can find a link to the entries to the competition on the Steve Jackson Games INWO web pages. If you play OBD, they are well worth a look. Some of these decks would be a great place to showcase your best homemade cards

The Card Lottery

All the designed cards are put into a single pile, shuffled and dealt to each player. The players then make the rest of their deck around these cards. This encourages interesting, but not powerful cards, since each of your rivals has as much chance of getting them as you do.

The Card Sale

Each player places their homemade cards face up in front of them. Each player is dealt about 55 cards from a big deck (or everyone has half a starter). Other players bid with cards from their own decks on each card, and the designing player chooses the best bid (you may allow several rounds of bidding). Cards that attract no bids go into their designer's deck. There needs to be a limit on the number of cards designed by each player in the Card Sale; for myself, I'd suggest around five as a maximum.

The Card Auction

All homemade cards are placed face up on the table, so all players can examine them, before being shuffled together. Each player has 100 points to spend, and the cards are auctioned one at a time (whole point bids only). If all the points have been spent, any remaining cards are retained by their designers. (If you wish, you could use small metallic disks to represent points. Once spent, these could go into a pot, and the winner of the game takes the pot. Of course, we could never condone gambling.)

The players then design decks using the cards they just bid for and their own "official" cards, with some agreed time limit -- perhaps twenty minutes. Some limit on the number of cards each person may contribute should probably be agreed here as well, perhaps no more than six or eight cards (more if there are more points to spend). This differs from the Card Sale in that designers can bid on their own cards.

The Card Veto

Players make up their own decks, containing no more than, say three homemade cards. Whenever a made up card is played or used in some way -- except generic effects like being discarded to power a Plot -- other players may choose to veto the card. Everyone has 10 veto tokens, and five tokens from any combination of players means the card is discarded.

Spending veto tokens becomes another part of the negotiations in the game. Spent tokens are lost whether or not enough were spent to veto a card. A player without veto tokens may gain one by spending an Illuminati action. The tactics of when you spend your veto tokens, and when you play your designed cards add a little spice to the game.

The Baptism of Fire

This works just like a Card Veto, except now every card must make a roll to enter play. Normally a card must roll under 10 to enter play, but veto tokens may be spent to reduce the roll that must be made by 1, and roll changing cards (like Murphy's Law) can affect the result. You may like to increase the number of veto tokens per player a little.

Card Attack

This only works with group cards, but most designed cards are groups. Designed groups can only enter play via attacks to control, never by automatic takeover. This gives other players the opportunity to prevent any card entering play.

These ideas discourage unreasonably powerful cards; quirky and interesting cards are much more likely to get into play.

A Handcrafted Conspiracy, Part II

A Homebrew Tournament

It seems a pity that all this good card design might only be seen by a few people, so here's an idea for a tournament that will reward good designs. You might find tournaments at gaming conventions, perhaps science-fiction conventions, or even your local game store. Running tournaments is a great way to meet new players, see new strategies, and infect others with the INWO meme.

Each player needs a starter and some designed cards. In the first round, the designed cards and one 55 card starter deck for each player are put into one big deck. The winner of each game, plus the designer of the best card from each game (and their homemade cards!) advance to the next round. To save cards, the decks at the end of each round can be shuffled together and split up to make new big decks for later rounds. If there are some very good cards, the concentration of made-up cards can be allowed to increase each round -- you might have up to 10 or 12 in the deck for the first round, maybe 18-20 in the second round. You may want to limit the number of homemade cards per entrant, perhaps to three or so.

A topical theme for the cards can help get people started on designs -- the best "in theme" cards could win an extra prize. At the end, the regular cards can be used for minor prizes. Minor prizes could be anything you like -- the funniest card, or the second best card in each game.

There would be separate prizes at the end for best player and best card. If you don't have enough judges, or don't want to rely on their judgment, the players can vote on the best card -- each player gets three points (for example) to allocate to the one or two cards that they liked best, apart from their own. The winner is the player with the most votes, over all their cards. Voting should be by secret ballot. Ties count as shared victories for prizes.

More ideas on using homemade cards in play can be found on the Steve Jackson Games INWO pages (http://www.sjgames.com/inwo). Happy designing, making, and gaming!

Article publication date: June 25, 1999

Copyright © 1999 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 webmaster@sjgames.com.