Monday, June 08, 2009

These are the gnomes I know (Illuminati: Deluxe edition)

In university, many of us went through a brief Magic: The gathering period. Me and Luch quickly moved on to Jyhad.

Shemp moved on to the Illuminati CCG.

The Illuminati CCG was a game that I enjoyed playing, but felt was ultimately frustrating because the sheer number of variables to consider made the game nearly impossible to play, and the decks needed to be changed rather frequently because surprise was required to win. Recently, Shemp decided to pick up the Illuminati board game. This week, we tried it out.

Illuminati is a game about powerful underground groups that control the world through the manipulation of other groups. Mysteries, wrapped in enigmas, surrounded by riddles and dipped in the sweet sauce of betrayal. Every player controls one such uber-group, and proceeds to try to influence enough real world groups to fulfill their goal. In doing so, players need to pit their group's power against the other group's resistance in order to control them, made easier if the two groups have the same alignments (peaceful, criminal, weird, etc) or harder if the opposite is true. Slightly different rules apply if attacking to destroy.

I played the Bermuda Triangle, and my special goal was to control groups until I had at least one group with each alignment in my power structure. Luch played the Gnomes of Zurich, Shemp played the U.F.O.s and Kozure played the Bavarian Illuminati.

We played the game pretty straight (which, I suspect, isn't the way it's meant to be played). We mostly tried to take over from the uncontrolled pool in the middle of the table, though a couple of takeovers did occur between players. Luch appeared to be breaking away with a big lead as he consolidated a number of high income groups, which also happen to generally be powerful groups. Given his special goal to accumulate a certain amount of health, things looked good for him. We all suspected that Shemp's secret goal was to accumulate a number of weird groups, so we kept an eye on that. Most remarkable of all, however, was fantastically bad rolling on Kozure's part. He missed an ENORMOUS amount of rolls, resulting in being somewhat behind for much of the game. For my part, I was plucking along collecting groups with all the alignments. I managed to get the orbital mind control lazers, which can temporarily add an alignment to your powerstructure, and snuck in a win just before Luch could finish it off.

I controlled the Moonies, who controlled the Photocopier shops, who control the junk mail. Girly magazines and a few others also unwittingly served the Triangle. It wasn't the most powerful powerstructure, nor the most coherent, but it sure was mysterious.

Anyway, Illuminati is a good time if played in the right spirit. Like Funny Friends, it's a fantastic theme stuck to mediocre mechanics, and if that's OK with you it's quite possible to really enjoy the game. Compared to the CCG, the boardgame has a much more manageable set of variables to consider (the NEW WORLD ORDERS, artifacts, secret goals, secret groups, personalities, nations, assassinations, etc, are all gone). The money system is much easier to keep track of than the token system in the CCG, etc, etc. All in all, the removed items make for a better game IMHO. Oddly, the graphic design of this newer, "Deluxe" edition looks much cheaper and dated than the CCGs of the 90s. Downtime could be an issue, but not too bad because you are potentially involved in everyone else's turn.

Bottom line: It's impossible not to chuckle at the combinations of group power structures that play out on the board, and just for that it's fun to play. If the players are in the mood to backstab and deceive, even better. Fun game.

As an aside, it's really remarkable how many of the groups are now made obsolete by today's technologies, particularly the internet. Interesting the impact that the web has had on our culture in so short a time.

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