Illuminati: The Game of Conspiracy - Board Game Box Shot

Illuminati: The Game of Conspiracy

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They're all around us. Secret conspiracies are everywhere, and where can you find the only truth? Certainly not in the game of Illuminati. Fnord.

The object of Illuminati is to take control of the world. The phone company is controlled by creatures from outer space. The Congressional Wives have taken over the Pentagon. And the Boy Sprouts are cashing in their secret Swiss Bank Account to smash the IRS!

Illuminati was an instant hit when it was released in 1982 and won the Origins Award for Best Science Fiction Boardgame. It has been Steve Jackson's signature title ever since.

Two to six players compete to take control of groups ranging from the FBI and CIA to the Dentists, increasing their wealth and power for further takeovers, until one rules supreme. Every player has different victory conditions! No ploy is too devious, no stratagem too low, as you scheme your way to victory.

images © Steve Jackson Games

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“The History of the World…”

… Is the History of Warfare Between Secret Societies.

That is the great secret which THEY don’t want you to know. That is the great secret which YOU get to play out as one of these Secret Societies in Steve Jackson’s classic game Illuminati.

I bought the very first edition of Illuminati, in the old plastic pocket box format, in 1982 (NOTE: this review is of the 1982 edition). It quickly became a staple of my gaming group throughout our high school days. I kept it, and all three of the original expansions, lovingly tucked away in a box as I grew up and moved across the country. I haven’t played the game in many years, but I could never bring myself to get rid of it either. I’m glad to see it here on the site, as its appearance has made me break out my old copies and start going through them again. I’m going to have to introduce this at my local game club and share it with a whole new generation of gamers.
Let me start with you, gentle reader…

Illuminati is a game for 2 to 6 players, but I don’t really recommend it for two. It’s OK with two players, but the more players you have, the better it plays. Each player takes on the role of a Secret Society bent on Global Domination (insert evil laughter here). The original game came six such Societies (collectively called Illuminati groups): The Bavarian Illuminati (from whom the game takes its name), The Bermuda Triangle (thematically an odd ‘group’), The Discordian Society (from R.A. Wilsons Illuminatus! Trilogy), The Gnomes of Zurich (basically Swiss banking concerns), The UFOs (all hail our extra-galactic overlords!), and The Servants of Cthulhu (although it was in the base game, you could argue that the obligatory Cthulhu expansion for EVERY game made today started right here…). There are two ways to win the game: 1) depending on the number of players, the Illuminati group which controls a specified number of other groups (we’ll get to that) is declared the winner, or 2) each Illuminati group has its own special victory condition which, if they achieve, allows them to win immediately.

Now that you have a group, and a goal, how do you take over the world? Simply put, by controlling the various groups of people which comprise the world. Let’s back up for a second. Each Illuminati group has a card which represents it. This card has several things printed on it. The name of the group, that group’s special ability, some art for their group, two vital statistics (Power – which is what they use to take over other groups with; and Income – how much money they make each turn), and four arrows pointing out from each side of the card. These are the “control arrows” and show which groups are controlled by the Illuminati. Lesser groups have pretty much the same information, but also feature the following information: Resistance (which is their ability to resist attacks), and alignments (such as Violent, Government, Criminal, or Weird). Also, lesser groups don’t necessarily have four control arrows; they can have from one to four, but one of them will always be incoming (showing which group controls them).
As you build your power structure, you’ll place groups such that the incoming arrow on their card matches an outgoing arrow on either your Illuminati group, or of a lesser group which is already in your structure. There’s sort of a puzzle building aspect to the game which comes in here as you have to be aware where your arrows point. It is possible to cut of routes of control for a group with multiple arrows, so be careful.

So, here’s how the game plays.

After each player takes an Illuminati group (how you choose – random or player’s choice – is up to you), each player takes a number of Megabucks (MB) equal to their income and places it on their group. This is your starting bankroll. Decide who’s going first (high roll). Shuffle the lesser groups and the special event cards (there are just a few of these) into a deck and deal out the top four groups (if you draw an event, just return them to the deck and draw another group) face up in the center of the table. I’d tell you that you should choose one player to be the banker, but in this game, that’s a bad idea (you’ll see why…), so just place the pile of MB in in plain sight of all players. Starting with the first player, each gets a turn in order; play passes counter clockwise.

On your turn you do the following things in order:
Collect Income
Take the listed income for any groups (including your Illuminati group) you control. Yes, this means that on the first turn, the first player will have more money that everyone else. (start plotting against him… now!) You take the MBs from the pile and place onto the card(s) in question. This is important as each group (Illuminati or lesser) has it’s own treasury, and who has what to spend matters.
Draw a card from the deck
If it is a group, place it face up alongside any other groups in the center of the table. It is now available to be controlled.
If you drew a special event card, keep it to yourself. Horde it until you can use it to best effect. There is no limit to the number of special event cards you can hold in your ‘hand’, but there are only a few in the deck, so that’s not your worry (7 events vs 41 groups in the base game).
Take two (2) Actions
Available actions are making an attack (there are three kinds of attack – to control, to neutralize, or to destroy a group), transfer money from any group in your power structure to an adjacent group, or move a group to another location in your power structure.
Take any “Free” Actions
Technically some of these things are done during the Take Actions phase (above), but they don’t count as one of your two actions for the turn. You can drop a group from your power structure by placing it (and any groups it controls) back into the idle of the board as “uncontrolled”; you may aid an attack (while this is done as part of the attack, it is NOT an action to aid); you can give away money or special event cards – this can be done at any time not just on your turn (although, money given to another player must come from YOUR Illuminati treasury and go into HIS Illuminati treasury, not from/to subsidiary groups); you can check any or all of your own treasuries; and, lastly, you can use any Special Event cards you might have (note: Bribery is the exception to this as playing that card IS an action).
Transfer Money
You can take two “additional” money transfer actions, but only after your two actions and any free actions have been resolved. Yes, this means you could transfer monet four times (if you did nothing else that turn).
Take your Illuminati Special Power Action
Each Illuminati groups has a Special Power (e.g. – the Gnomes of Zurich may, once each turn, reorganize all the money in all their treasuries freely). Now is the time when you can use it.

As mentioned above, the game is all about taking control of the non-Illuminati groups and using them to control the world. You take over groups by attacking to control them. An attack (of any type) pretty much works like this: you decide which group (your Illuminati group, or one of the other groups you control) is making the attack. Then you compare that group’s power to the defending group’s resistance (Power – Resistance = target number) to see what you have to roll on 2d6 to succeed. You need to roll that number or less on the dice.

Example: It’s early in the game and my Illuminati group (the Bavarians) want to control the CIA. The Bavarians have a power of 10 and the CIA has a resistance of 5 which means I have to roll 5 or less to win and thus gain control of them.

Now, the target number will be modified in a variety of ways. I can spend money to gain a bonus to my roll (+1/MB spent), if I’m attacking with a lesser group I may be able to support the attack with my Illuminati or other groups by using transferable power (Power which is transferable will be noted as x/y – where the x is the groups power if they are attacking and the y is the power they can lend out to other groups in support of attacks), the alignment(s) of the groups involved can have an effect (groups of like alignemtns are easier to attack while those of opposing alignments are harder to attack), and, lastly, other players can contribute their MB to either aid or hinder your attack.

Back to our example: Later, if the Bavarians were successful in their bid to control the CIA, they now want to use the CIA to control other groups with. Let’s say the CIA wants to control Underground Newspapers. The CIA has a power of 6/4 and the newspapers have a resistance of 5 (which means the CIA would have to roll 1 or less on 2d6 to control them – not possible). BUT wait, there’s more. The CIA has the alignments Government and Violent while the Newspapers are Communist and Liberal. Government (in the case of the game assumed to be the US Gov’t) is the opposite alignment from Communist, so there is an additional -4 to the attack roll (now at -3 on 2d6). But, don’t despair! The Bavarians have a power of 10/10 (which means they have 10 power they can lend to the CIA for this attack) so the roll would them be 7 or less (much more manageable); plus either group – the CIA or the Baviarians could spend money out of their treasuries to modify the number). Combined they’ll spend 3MB for a total of 10 or less (a die roll of 11 or 12 is ALWAYS a failure, so why bother spending beyond that?). Other players could toss their money in to help the Newspapers remain free, and I can always spend more to resist their interference, etc… until we’re all spent out.
OR
I could have gone a different way; the Bavarians (power 10/10) could have tried to control the Newspapers directly with the support of the CIA. That roll would look like this: Bavarian Power 10 + CIA transferable power 4 – Newspaper resistance 5 = 9 or less. NOTE: the alignments aren’t a factor in this as only the alignments of the attacking/defending groups count and Illuminati groups have no alignment. And then, of course, comes the money throwing…
If for some reason I really want the CIA to control the Newspapers, it’s best for me to use one action to have the Bavarians attack to control (better odds) and then use my second action to move the Newspapers to another spot in my power structure (say, under the control of the CIA).

The three types of attacks vary only slightly in effect:
Attacks to Control may be made against either uncontrolled groups or against a group in another player’s power structure. If you succeed in controlling another player’s group it becomes part of your power structure along with any groups it may control. (This is harder that it sounds as groups in an existing power structure get bonuses to their defense, etc). Also, if you take over a lot of groups this way, they all have to fit into your power structure in the same way the fit into the other player’s (we’re back to the puzzle building aspect here), and groups which don’t fit (or can’t be made to fit) are lost back to the uncontrolled area of the table.

Attacks to Neutralize are a better way of hurting an opponent’s power structure as you get a +6 bonus to your die roll for only trying to neutralize them. Neutralized groups (and ay they control) are returned to the uncontrolled area of the table.

Attacks to Destroy groups are literally that; you are trying to wipe out the CIA (for example). Destroyed groups are removed from the game. Some Illuminati (the Servants of Cthulhu) have special victory conditions predicated on destroying a certain number of groups.

The few Special Event cards allow you to do things like revive a Destroyed group back into the uncontrolled area of the table, gain 25 MB into your Illuminati treasury, or other fun nasty surprises.

In a nutshell, that’s the game. I enjoyed all of the expansions, especially the first one where they made it ‘legal’ to cheat (and this would be why you don’t want any one player to act as the banker…). Cheating was broadly defined as bending the rules in any way you could get away with, and was only against the rules if you got caught.

Play with friends. Play with strangers. In the end, it all boils down to playing with enemies who can’t be trusted anyway. Invest in some mirror shades and you’ll be fine.

 

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