Sunday, 11 September 2011

Illuminati (Deluxe Edition)

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

In Illuminati you play a secret organisation (or Illuminati) trying to take over the world by spreading your influence via various groups (which can be organisations, communities, political parties, etc). You start the game as a rich and powerful but lonely organisation. You gradually gain control of groups to add to your power structure, which will grow like a tree, spreading in all directions. You use the groups under your control to further spread your influence, further growing your power structure. Your groups have various characteristics and abilities which make them useful in different ways. You win the game by being the first player to control a certain number of groups, or by completing the special victory condition of the Illuminati group that you are playing.

Every turn a card is drawn from the deck. If it is a group it is added to the pool of groups that players can recruit. You can try to control these neutral groups. You can try to attack groups controlled by others. If you succeed, any puppet groups controlled by the targeted group come with it to join your power structure. So attacking another player can be very lucrative. If the circumstances are not so conducive for taking over an opponent's group, you can try to neutralise it (send it back to the uncontrolled pool), or even destroy it completely. The ways to calculate the odds for these three types of attacks (to control, neutralise or destroy) differ. E.g. it is easier to use a Liberal group to control another Liberal group because they have the same ideology; it is easier for a Peaceful group to destroy a Violent group because they are opposites.

Your groups earn money for you every round, and money is used to boost attack or defense. You need to decide whether to spend it on offense, or to keep some for defense on your opponents' turns. You need to move your money around, because each group can only use the money on its card, the exception being that money on the Illuminati card can always be used.

Players can trade and can support one another in attacks or in defense. So there can be some temporary alliances. It is even possible to negotiate joint victories, if the players involved can achieve victory at the same time.

Illuminati cards, i.e. the HQ, have black backgrounds (The Discordian Society, top right). To control another group, a card must use an outward pointing arrow. See how each pair of cards is linked by matching arrows. The characteristics and special abilities of each group are written on the cards.

A further expanded evil empire. Money is placed on the cards themselves. In preparation for the next round, I placed the income for the next round beside the cards. Cards have fixed income.

The Play

Han, Allen and I did a 3-player game, which is less than ideal. The recommended number of players is 4 to 6. My Illuminati's special victory condition was to control 5 Weird groups (like Trekkies). They were supposed to be rare, but somehow many appeared in our game, making my life much easier. Did I not shuffle the cards properly?

Groups closer to the core of the power structures (i.e. closer to the Illuminati) have stronger defense against attacks, but I find that the defense bonus isn't really that big. That means everyone still has to watch out for attacks against these groups, especially considering they likely have puppets attached to them. So during our game, we had to be on our toes all the time, watching out for attacks. I find that money is very important, in both attack and defense, which means earning money and moving money to where it is needed are very important.

In our game we mostly attacked to control, and did not attack to neutralise or attack to destroy much. The latter two can be easier to do, and they will result in pushing the victim back, while the attacker gains nothing. I wonder whether this will cause some games to drag on and on. Attacking to control is still more attractive to attackers, because the attackers will gain something if they succeed, so maybe this will prevent games from dragging.

Attacks are resolved by rolling two dice. Quite a number of factors need to be considered to calculate the odds, but they are all straight-forward. Rolling 11 or 12 are auto-failures, which means no attacks are 100% guaranteed, no matter how much extra money you spend. In our game there was one such unlucky attack was made by Han, targeting one of my groups. We had both spent a lot of money on this, but he was much richer and outspent me by a mile. I muttered "eleven" just as he rolled, and to my surprise (and his dismay), he rolled 11! Maybe I have some untapped superpower. Had the attack been successful, it would have set me back a lot, because I would have lost a sigfinicant sub-tree of my power structure. Soon after that, I quickly gained control of two uncontrolled Weird groups, and achieved my special victory condition. At that time all of us had about 7 or 8 groups, which is slightly over halfway to the target of 13 groups.

The Thoughts

It is interesting to plan and to grow your evil empire. The theme is quite fun, and I find many groups in the game quite humourous and relevant. Gameplay is aggressive, and players always need to watch out for attacks. The rise and fall of the evil empires are fluid. You can gain and lose many groups very quickly. There is much player interaction, as players fight each other for control over various groups. Players try to gang up on the perceived leader, trailing players try to help each other out to catch up.

The game is simple and light-hearted. I enjoy the unusual and rich theme. This is one good simple Ameritrash game to play when you need to take a break from Eurogames which sometimes just feel bland and too similar to one another. Illuminati was first published in 1983, close to 30 years ago, which is impressive. I don't think the game has aged much. It is still very relevant, and still a good game compared to recently published games.


Teh said...

Hello Hiew,

Just wondering, you've posted about having too many games and wanting to have a limit on yearly purchases,

Have you sold off any games before inline with that objective ?

How do you usually market your second hand games ?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

i actually haven't sold off any of my games. i have only ever traded off one game. i guess i'm just too lazy to bother with selling games. maybe when i really do run out of space. i haven't really thought about how to sell my 2nd hand games. likely i'll just try to post lists at local internet forums, and arrange to meet the buyers at the open gaming sessions organised by that's probably the least-hassle way.

Teh said...

Whoops sorry for the assumption,

are the boardgame trading market in Malaysia active enough in your opinion ? Could you share your story one a recent trade ?

Thank You

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I don't think there is much boardgame trading activity in Malaysia. The boardgame hobby seems to be still relatively small here. I do sometimes see game selling / trading on some local forums. The only experience that I had was at a locally organised game trading / game sales event. That was quite a number of years ago. Not many participants, probably a dozen or so.

Greg Aleknevicus said...

My recollection is that weird groups are not rare -- in fact, it may be one of the more common alignments. This is why the Discordians are one of the easiest Illuminati to win with. The downside is that weird groups are not particularly rich nor powerful so they don't aid to your overall power structure very much.

Attacks to neutralize and/or destroy become more likely with a greater number of players. (You usually need help when attacking another player and you're more likely to get this help if you aren't benefiting too much yourself.)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...


The rarity of Weird groups may indeed be just my incorrect presumption. I haven't really looked through the deck.

In your experience does the game sometimes drag out because players make more destructive moves (attack to neutralise or destroy) than constructive ones (attack to control)?

Greg Aleknevicus said...

Well, my experiences with Illuminati are mostly 20 years old, so take everything I say with that in mind. (The game did not go over well with my modern, Euro-centric group.) No, games did not tend to drag, but most were won with combined victories.

Such alliances were very "fluid" throughout the course of a game and much of the strategy was knowing when to form (or break) a partnership. If your group tends to form unbreakable alliances, I suspect the game will suffer.

This is similar to the problem my modern group had with Illuminati -- they failed to see why you would want to help (or hurt) other people and so the game devolved into simple, boring die-rolling.

I view Illuminati in a similar light as Diplomacy: the actual rules are merely a framework to allow the players to engage in the "real" game -- negotiating deals with other players. Failing to do so renders the game moot. (Which is also the reason why either game plays so much better with more players.)

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I've only played one game, and it was a 3-player game. This being a first game for all of us, we were more focused on our own power structures. Also the lower player number meant we didn't really explore alliances much, other than those one-shot collaborations to try to stop the leader. Indeed, the rules being quite simple, I can imagine Illuminati eventually becoming something like Diplomacy - it's playing your opponents with the game providing a framework.

I recently played The Message: Emissary Crisis, which is even more so in the playing-your-opponents camp. It seems to be similar to Coach Ride to Devil's Castle and Shadow Hunter, but I haven't played these two games myself.

DWolve said...

You might want to also look into Hacker by the same publisher. Hacker uses the very same system as Illuminati with some minor changes to fit the theme.

I have to agree with Greg on Discordian. My first and only gameplay was a 2 player game with a buddy of mine and if you are new to this, Discordian would be an easy win in controlling the weird groups. Probably if you play with more players who are used to the game and is familiar with the other groups powers, then you may see a more active gameplay. You may also want to use opposing goals like Discordian vs either Chtulhu or Assasinn, can't really remember where it's control vs destruction.