In my year-long goal to play lots of new games, I’ve been trying games I thought I’d have no interest in. Appearances can be deceptive, after all, and since I’ve ended up liking a number of games I was sure I wouldn’t care for, I’m willing to give just about anything a try. So when our club was recently gifted a copy of Steve Jackson Games’ Illuminati, I was willing to give it a go.
Illuminati is almost as old as I am (and I’m getting up there), but I’d never played it before, and neither had most of our club members. Now, I’m not a conspiracy believer, so I wasn’t sure I’d care for the game at all. And as the rules were being explained to me, I felt like it was going to be more work than it was worth. Luckily, I was proven wrong yet again. I loved the game and would gladly play it any time!
We Are The Illuminati
Each player represents a member of the Illuminati, such as the Servants of Cthulhu or the Society of Assassins, with the goal of taking control of enough different groups, like the FBI, Texas, or Girlie Magazines, to take over the world. The exact number of groups you need under your control to win depends on how many people are playing. Each Illuminati also has another personal goal – like collecting a certain amount of money, or gaining a set amount of power – that alternatively wins the game for them if they meet it. So there are a lot of different strategies you can employ to come out on top.
How do you gain control of those groups? One roll of the dice determines your success, but your roll is modified by your own power, the added power of some groups you already control, and money. That’s right, you can pay to modify your roll. Unfortunately, the other players can also spend money to modify your roll – usually for the worse so they can screw you, but sometimes they will chip in to help you so you can work together to screw a different player.
Did I mention that this is the ultimate “Screw you!” game? I have to admit, I’m often hesitant when I start playing a game where there are ways to mess up the other players’ plans. I’m too nice for my own good. Why would I want to do something that would be bad for my friends? But the first time you get screwed, you get over your niceness and start dishing it right back out. Cheating is also encouraged, but as the rules note, only with people you either really know well or will never see again.
Seems Hard To Play, But It Isn’t
Illuminati has an 8-page rule booklet, which I admit I didn’t read before playing for the first time. Maybe I should have, because the explanation I was getting from my fellow players was daunting and confusing (especially after coming off a long, tiring shift at work). But once we started playing, it became easier with each turn. In fact, I ended up winning my first game! So I would strongly suggest that new players not be afraid to just jump in and start playing – if you try to memorize all the rules first you’ll never get around to playing and won’t have any fun. (Besides, there is a quick-reference page in the booklet if you need a little clarification on anything in a hurry.)
The game is designed for two to six players, but I think four or five is optimal. It’s not a quick game at all, and can easily last 2 hours or more, so keep that in mind when you sit down to play. (Though luckily, any player who has to leave can do so and it doesn’t affect the rest of the game at all.) There’s also quite a bit of plotting, scheming, and diplomacy involved – it’s a thinking gamer’s game. If you’re tired or in the mood for something mindless, Illuminati isn’t a great choice.
But if you’re ready to take over the world by any means or plans necessary, take the time to play Illuminati. You won’t regret it!
(Illuminati and its expansions are available directly from SJG, Amazon, or your favorite FLGS.)
Are you the Illuminati? Do you enjoy the game?