This article was contributed by Randy Ray.
The Illuminati card game is a conspiracy theory themed card game designed by Steve Jackson and published by Steve Jackson Games, a game company based in Austin, Texas. Illuminati uses a proprietary deck of cards; it cannot be played with a standard deck of cards. The game was designed in 1981 and published in 1982, so it’s one of the older proprietary card games on the market.
Between 2 and 8 players can play Illuminati, but the game runs best with 4 or 5 players. Theoretically, children from ages 8 and up can play, but the game has an involved set of rules and a lengthy playing time. Don’t try playing Illuminati with anyone under 12. The game can take between an hour and 6 hours to complete. Most youngsters under 12 won’t be interested in playing a single card game for several hours.
The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea inspired the Illuminati card game, but there is no official connection between the novels and the game. The science fiction trilogy features a complex plot involving the attempts of various secret societies to control the world. The trilogy is one of the earliest examples of modern conspiracy fiction, predating novels like The DaVinci Code by a couple of decades.
Besides the proprietary deck of cards, you need money chips and six-sided dice in order to play Illuminati. Both the dice and the money chips are provided with the game. The cards are divided into three types: Illuminati cards, group cards, and special cards.
The Illuminati cards represent the large conspiracies which are attempting to control the world. Each player receives one Illuminati card, which represents her special abilities and also her goal during the game. For example, the Gnomes of Zurich has a goal of amassing a certain amount of money in order to win. The Servants of Cthulhu has a goal of destroying a certain number of organizations in order to win.
The group cards represent small organizations that can be controlled or destroyed by other groups. For example, the Republican Party is one of the groups available in the game. Other groups include California and the Trekkies. Each group has a certain amount of influence and income.
Special cards represent various phenomena, and they usually work in concert with other cards, either increasing that card’s influence or income.
During a player’s turn, she usually tries to control new groups. The cards form a power structure, and the arrows on each card indicate how many groups that group can control, and where the cards are placed in the power structure. A large number of variables affect how easily a player can succeed in taking control of a group. For example, any money spent to take control of the group improves the player’s die roll. Or if the two groups have the same alignment, then the player gets a bonus to her die roll.
But players aren’t limited to controlling groups and expanding their power structure. They can also attack groups in order to destroy them, or attack groups to neutralize them, which removes them from the opponents’ power structure and returns them to the pool of uncontrolled groups in the middle of the table.
A game of Illuminati ends when a player meets the victory condition on her Illuminati card or when she controls a given number of groups. The number of groups required for victory is based on the number of players in the game.
Like many other proprietary card games, Illuminati has spawned several expansion and spinoff games through the years. These expansions feature new cards and new rules. The names of the Illuminati expansions include:
1. Illuminati: Bavarian Fire Drill
2. Illuminati: Brainwash
3. Illuminati: Y2K
A spinoff game called Illuminati: Crime Lords was also released as a standalone game with a similar theme and game play. A collectible card game version, Illuminati: New World Order, tried to take advantage of the popularity of collectible card games in the wake of Magic: The Gathering, but it never took off.
Illuminati is a lot of fun, especially for conspiracy theorists and science fiction fans familiar with the novels. The game does require a certain amount of strategic thinking, so it’s more involved than most beer and pretzels games. The game components are of reasonably good quality, although some of the artwork might seem a little dated to modern eyes. One thing is certain, though, the Illuminati card game is unlike any other card game you’ve ever tried.