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Predictive Programming: Steve Jackson’s “Illuminati” Card Game
Illuminati is a standalone card game made by Steve Jackson Games (SJG), inspired by the 1975 book, The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. The game has ominous secret societies competing with each other to control the world through sinister means, including legal, illegal, and even mystical. It was designed as a “tongue-in-cheek rather than serious” take on conspiracy theories. It contains groups named similarly to real world organizations, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Symbionese Liberation Army. It can be played by two to eight players. Depending on the number of players, a game can take between one and six hours.
Genesis of game
In September 1981, Steve Jackson and his regular freelance cover artist Dave Martin discussed their shared admiration of the Illuminatus! Trilogy, and the latter suggested a game. Steve Jackson decided against adapting the novel because of the expense of game rights, and the difficulty of adapting a novel with such convoluted plots. He decided “a game about the secret-conspiracy idea behind Illuminatus!” was viable. After researching the Illuminati and conspiracy theories, and “extensive and enthusiastic playtesting” it went on the market in July 1982 in the (at the time) usual SJG Pocket Box format. Over the next few years, three expansions for the Pocket Box Illuminati game were published. The first two were substantially incorporated into the deluxe edition, while the third was a version of what would become Illuminati: Brainwash.
Robert Shea provided a four-paragraph introduction to the rulebook for the Illuminati Expansion Set 1 (1983), in which he wrote, “Maybe the Illuminati are behind this game. They must be—they are, by definition, behind everything.”
In 2001 Wilson criticized some of these products for exploiting the Illuminatus! name without paying royalties by taking advantage of legal loopholes. Later commentators have attributed both the game and the Illuminatus! Trilogy as using real conspiracies as “targets of ridicule.”
The game is played with a deck of special cards, money chips (representing “millions of dollars in low-denomination unmarked banknotes”) and two six-sided dice. There are three types of cards:
- special cards
The players take role of Illuminati societies that struggle to take over the world. The Pocket Box edition depicted six Illuminati groups: The Bavarian Illuminati, The Discordian Society, The UFOs, The Servants of Cthulhu, The Bermuda Triangle, and The Gnomes of Zürich. The deluxe edition added the Society of Assassins and The Network, and the Illuminati Y2K expansion added the Church of The SubGenius and Shangri-La. The aim of the game is fulfilled when Illuminati build a power structure consisting of given number of cards (dependant on number of players), or when Illuminati fulfill its special goal, (such as controlling at least one card of each alignment for the Bermuda Triangle).
The world is represented by group cards such as Secret Masters of Fandom, the CIA, The International Communist Conspiracy, Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow, California, and many more – there are over 300 official cards available. Every group and Illuminati has some Power, Resistance and Income values; most of the world groups have an Alignment. The game is written with the usual SJG humor. The game uses a multitude of conspiracy theory in-jokes, with cards such as the Boy Sprouts (where sinister youth leaders influence the world leaders of tomorrow), the Orbital Mind Control Lasers, the Mafia, two headed Anti-Nuclear Activists, or Trekkies. Special cards represent unexpected phenomena and features, for example increasing Income or Resistance of a group.
The game is played in turns. The primary Illuminati (player) activity is taking control of groups. Other types of attacks are attacks to neutralize (removing from Illuminati power structure and returning to the table – to the world) and attack to destroy (removing from the game). Besides attacking groups the players can trade, form alliances, and many other activities. Tactics such as playing opponents off each other, backstabbing and concealing your true motives are encouraged in this game. In one variant of the game, players are allowed to cheat, steal money from the table and do anything it takes to win.
During an attack to take control, the attacker must overcome the Resistance of attacked groups with combined Power of his groups (affected by Alignment of attacker and attacked), money spent, and influence of special cards. The attacked group can be defended by spending money and special cards by other players (especially by a controlling Illuminati). After a successful attack to take control, the card is placed (along the special markers) next to Illuminati, or another already controlled group forming a power structure.
Each group has its own money, marked by money counters on that group. Most groups have an income collected at the beginning of each term; money can also be moved one step at a time between groups once per turn. Money in the Illuminated group is accessible for defense of or attacks on all groups in the entire world. Money in the groups can only be used by that group, but gives double defense bonus when spent in defense.
Although the game can support two to ten players, a group of four or five is considered ideal. Some Illuminati might seem unbalanced, such as the high-income Gnomes and the low-level Discordians, but sometimes their true value is not visible at first or valuable only in certain circumstances. Planning the power structure is important, since groups close to the Illuminated core have a defense bonus. Also, groups can “block” each other’s control arrows, through which groups control other groups. The flow of money is important, as a large lump of it will boost defense/ offense of the owning group.
The game has attained cult status in some circles, been referenced in some geek media (like User Friendly comic strip). It is also mentioned in Dan Brown‘s novel Angels & Demons, which concerns an apparent attack by the revived Illuminati; the game is referred to as an online computer game, but references to Steve Jackson make clear that the reference is to this game.
Available expansion sets are: Illuminati Mutual Assured Distraction (2010); Illuminati Bavarian Fire Drill (2007); Illuminati Y2K (1999); Illuminati Brainwash (1985).
Steve Jackson Games also released a collectible card game version called Illuminati: New World Order and a stand-alone version called Illuminati: Crime Lords. SJG also developed some Illuminated role-playing game modules for its GURPS system, including GURPS Illuminati, GURPS Illuminati University and GURPS Warehouse 23.
SJG also released two related games. One is the recent Illuminati: Crime Lords where the players control mobs in attempt to take over a city. This is a separate game based on a similar rules set. The other one is Hacker which is also similar to the original Illuminati (modulo terminology), but the players fight for the control of computer networks. It is more loose, and based primarily on interlocking access to different computer systems in the web. Players are not set directly towards each other, and several players can share access to a system.
Adventure Systems created a Play-by-mail game (PBM) version of Illuminati, based on and licensed from the Steve Jackson game, with many modifications. The game was eventually purchased, and is now run, by Flying Buffalo. The designer, Draper Kauffman, had been trying to develop a “global strategy game” for many years when he received a copy of Illuminati. Recalling the creation of the PBM version, Kauffman wrote, “It wasn’t long before I found that every problem in my own game design had a suspiciously similar solution: ‘Hey, how about if we just handle that like they did in Illuminati?”
Scott Haring stated that Illuminati is “too much fun and has too much replay value to fade away on its own. Indeed, 25 years after its initial release, Illuminati is still immensely popular, having spawned multiple editions, three expansion sets, Steve Jackson Games’ corporate logo, a spinoff collectible card game that is still the single biggest-selling product line in SJ Games history, and — my favorite — a complete set of color-coded pins that identified Illuminati members and their specialty.”
- Illuminati won the Origins Award for Best Science Fiction Boardgame of 1982.
- GURPS Illuminati won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Supplement of 1992.
- Illuminati: New World Order won the Origins Award for Best Card Game of 1994.
- Illuminati PBM won the Origins Award for Best Play-by-Mail Game of 1985, 1990–1994, tied in 1995 with Middle-Earth Play-By-Mail, and was then added to their Hall of Fame in 1997.
- Jackson, Steve. “Illuminati Designer Article”. Steve Jackson Games. Retrieved 2008-10-25.
- Sarrett, Peter. “Desert Island Games”. The Game Report. Archived from the original on 2013-05-08.
- Disinformation Website: In the RAW: Necessary Heresies originally published in REVelation magazine (#13, Autumn, 1995) pp. 36–40 Archived July 11, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. “RAW recently criticised several games companies who have marketed products exploiting Illuminatus! and the Discordians, and are able to escape paying royalties through legal loop-holes.” (URL accessed 28 February)
- Payne, Pat (2001-05-22). “Illuminating paranoia”. Oregon Daily Emerald. Retrieved 2008-10-25.[dead link]
- Dan Brown, Angels & Demons (paperback edition) (New York: Pocket Books, 2001), 99, 257-258.
- Haring, Scott (2007). “Illuminati”. In Lowder, James. Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 153–156. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
- Jackson, Steve (1982). “The Truth Behind ILLUMINATI”. Adventure Gaming. 2 (3): 11–13.
- Kauffman, Draper (1985). “Illuminati PBM Designer’s Notes”. Space Gamer. 72: 29.
- Award Winners – Origins International Game Expo
- The official Illuminati game home page
- The official Illuminati PBM game home page
- The official “Illuminati Game Revealed” game home page
- Illuminati: Deluxe Edition at BoardGameGeek
Steve Jackson Games
Steve Jackson Games (SJG) is a game company that creates and publishes role-playing, board, and card games. It was founded in 1980 by Steve Jackson.
Car Wars and Illuminati are two of SJ Games’ greatest successes. Founded six years after the birth of Dungeons & Dragons, and before the height of role-playing games, SJG created several role-playing and strategy games with science fiction themes. SJG borrowed and expanded upon ideas pioneered by strategy game companies such as Avalon Hill and TSR, Inc. Despite these similarities, SJG had a unique feel all their own and became popular with their releases. SJG’s early titles were all microgames initially sold in ziploc bags, later in similarly sized plastic shell cases. Games such as Ogre, Car Wars and G.E.V (an Ogre spin-off) were popular during SJG’s early years.
Today SJG publishes games of various varieties (card games, board games, strategy games) and genres (fantasy, sci-fi, gothic horror); they also publish the book Principia Discordia, the sacred text of the Discordian religion.
On March 1 1990, SJG’s offices in Austin, Texas were raided by the United states secret service. The manuscript for GURPS Cyberpunk was confiscated although this was merely coincidence and not the actual purpose of the raid at all. The raid is often thought to have been related to Operation Sundevil, a nationwide investigation of computer crime, however Sundevil was based in Arizona and the Steve Jackson Raid was coordinated out of Chicago. More than three years later, a federal court awarded damages of $50,000 and attorneys’ fees of $250,000 (amounts in USD) to SJ Games, ruling that the raid had been careless, illegal, and completely unjustified. Cyberpunk popularizer Bruce Sterling discussed the affair in his book The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier. The case also helped motivate the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
- Chez Geek, a card-game parody of Geek culture with many spin-offs and expansions.
- Hacker, a modern-day card game based on the mechanics of Illuminati.
- Illuminati, a conspiracy game, the original game on which INWO was based.
- INWO, Illuminati: New World Order, the trading card game of world domination.
- Munchkin, a card-game parody of hack-and-slash roleplaying with many spin-offs and expansions.
- Ninja Burger, a fast-paced ninja delivery card game.
- Car Wars, futuristic battles between automobiles.
- Frag, “a first-person shooter without a computer.”
- Knightmare Chess, a chess variant played with cards.
- Ogre, the classic simulation of future war involving a cybernetic armored juggernaut.
- Ogre: G.E.V., a spin-off of Ogre focusing on futuristic but “conventional” infantry, artillery, and armor units.
- GURPS, the Generic Universal Role Playing System.
- In Nomine, a game about Angels and Demons based on the popular French roleplaying game In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas.
- Toon, the cartoon roleplaying game.
- Ogre & G.E.V have also been published as in miniatures wargaming format.
Steve Jackson (American game designer)
|Born||c. 1953 (age 63–64)|
|Occupation||Game designer, founder of Steve Jackson Games|
|Known for||Car Wars, GURPS, Munchkin|
Steve Jackson is a 1974 graduate of Rice University, where he was a resident of Baker College before moving to Sid Richardson College when it opened in 1971. Jackson briefly attended the UT Law School, but left to pursue a career in game design.:102
While working at Metagaming Concepts, Jackson developed Monsters! Monsters! (ca1976) based on a design by Ken St. Andre related to his Tunnels & Trolls role-playing game, and Godsfire (1976), a 3D space conquest game designed by Lynn Willis.:78 Jackson’s first design for the company was Ogre (1977), followed by G.E.V. (1978), which were set in the same futuristic universe that Jackson created.:79
Jackson became interested in Dungeons & Dragons, but found the various-sized dice irritating and the combat rules confusing and unsatisfying, and did not like the lack of tactics, so he designed Melee in response.:79 Jackson joined the SCA to gain a better understanding of combat, but he soon became more interested and started fighting in SCA live-action combat as Vargskol, the Viking-Celt.:79 Metagaming also published his game Wizard. While designing Melee, Jackson realized this idea could be expanded into a full fantasy role-playing game to compete with D&D, and started working on The Fantasy Trip. While the game was originally scheduled for release in February 1978, the design and development required more work than Jackson had anticipated and the game was not released until March 1980.:79Howard Thompson, owner of Metagaming, decided to release The Fantasy Trip as four separate books instead of a boxed set, and changed his production methods so that Jackson would not be able to check the final proofs of the game. As a result of these actions, Jackson left Metagaming and founded Steve Jackson Games later that year.:79–80 His game Raid on Iran was an immediate success. Jackson bought The Space Gamer from Metagaming, and sold the rights to The Fantasy Trip to Metagaming. However, Thompson sought legal action against SJG for the rights to a short wargame called One-Page Bulge, and the lawsuit was settled with an agreement that was reached on November 26, 1981 which gave Jackson full rights to One-Page Bulge, and to Ogre and G.E.V. (whose ownership was questioned during the legal proceedings).:80 Jackson tried to purchase The Fantasy Trip from Thompson after Metagaming ceased operations in April 1983, but Thompson declined the offered price of $250,000.:81
Jackson designed or co-designed many of the games published by SJ Games, including minigames such as Car Wars (1981) and Illuminati (1983), Undead (1981), and a published version of an informal game played on college campuses, called Killer.:103 Jackson wanted to get into computer gaming software in the early 1980s, but instead wound up licensing gaming rights to Origin Systems, which produced games such as Autoduel (1985) and Ogre (1986).:104 Jackson became interested in designing and publishing a new roleplaying system in the middle of 1981, intending it to be detailed and realistic, logical and well-organized, and adaptable to any setting and any level of play; he announced GURPS in 1983, although the company’s magazines delayed development of GURPS until 1984, making the combat system book Man to Man: Fantasy Combat from GURPS (1985) available for Origins 1985, and the full GURPS Basic Set appeared the next year in 1986.:105 In 1995, Sean Punch took over for Jackson as the GURPS line editor.:110 Jackson also designed the strategy card games Munchkin(2001):112 and Ninja Burger (2003), and the dice games Zombie Dice (2010) and Cthulhu Dice (2010), as well as Zombie Dice variants Trophy Buck (2011) and Dino Hunt Dice (2013).
Jackson is often mistaken for Steve Jackson, a British gamebook and video game writer who co-founded Games Workshop. The confusion is exacerbated by the fact that while the UK Jackson was co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, the US Jackson also wrote three books in this series (Scorpion Swamp, Demons of the Deep, and Robot Commando), and the books did not acknowledge that this was a different ‘Steve Jackson’.
On March 1, 1990, the United States Secret Service raided the offices of Steve Jackson Games based on suspicion of illegal hacker activity by game designer Loyd Blankenship, and seized (among other materials and media) his manuscript for GURPS Cyberpunk; when Jackson went to Secret Service headquarters the next day to retrieve his book drafts, he was told that GURPS Cyberpunk was a “handbook for computer crime”, despite his protestations that it was just a game. SJG filed a successful lawsuit against the government, which went to trial in 1993 as Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service, which was made possible through the newly created civil-rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation.:108–109
Jackson has combined his fondness for model trains and LEGO through the LEGO train community and has been an active member of several LEGO Users Groups including TBRR (Texas Brick Railroad) and the Texas LEGO Users Group.
On May 11, 2012, Steve Jackson’s Kickstarter funding project for the 6th Edition of his Ogre game became the highest grossing boardgame project at Kickstarter, with 5,512 backers pledging a total of $923,680. The success of the Ogre Designer’s Edition project has prompted a new project (date of start/finish unknown at this time) to help re-launch the popular Car Wars franchise as well. The use of Kickstarter as a combination of market research tool and funding program for development is a first in the gaming industry.
- Jackson has received over a dozen Origins Awards.
- In 1982, he became the youngest game designer to be inducted in the Origins Awards Hall of Fame.
- His role-playing game GURPS and card game Munchkin were named to the Origins Hall of Fame for 1999 and 2012 respectively.
- “Rice University Class of 1974 Commencement program”
- Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7.
- Jackson, Steve (2007). “Paranoia“. In Lowder, James. Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 231–235. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
- Steve Jackson – Biography and Public Warning from Steve Jackson’s personal website
- “WorldCon 2006”. Archived from the original on December 14, 2007. Retrieved February 26, 2007. from Wired
- Kickstarter project page for Ogre Designer’s Edition
- “AAGAD Hall of Fame”. The Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA). Retrieved February 11, 2014.
- “Awards for Steve Jackson Games”. Steve Jackson Games. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
- “Poker Deck”. Flying Buffalo. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
- Steve Jackson’s official website
- Details on Steve Jackson Games v. US Secret Service
- Brief Steve Jackson Biography
- Steve Jackson at BoardGameGeek
- Interview by Tom Vasel
- Interview on Off The Hook just after the Secret Service case
- Pen & Paper listing for Steve Jackson (US) at the Wayback Machine (archived May 6, 2009)
Biography and Public Warning
Last Revised December 14, 2010
Steve Jackson graduated from Rice University in Houston. While there, he spent most of his time playing wargames and working on the student paper, the Thresher (he spent two years as editor). He became a writer and game publisher, proving that college can be very valuable as long as you don’t let classes get in your way.He has survived involvements with the Republican Party (alternate delegate to the 1972 convention, but he got better – he now considers himself a small-l libertarian), the SCA (former landed baron and National Chronicler) and law school (escaping before the bar exam; game design was more fun).Steve’s first professional design work was for Metagaming, which published his Ogre, its sequel G.E.V., Melee, Wizard, and several other games. In 1980, Steve bought the rights to Ogre and The Space Gamer magazine from Metagaming and started his own company. That company, Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, is now 30 years old and employs more than 20 people.One of the first releases on the SJ Games label, Raid on Iran (1981), was a critical and sales success. The next year, SJ Games released its first big hit, Car Wars . . . followed shortly by Illuminati.He’s still writing games. Some of the high points:
- In 1983, Steve was elected to the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame.
- In 1984, he tried his hand at interactive books or “game novels.” His first one, Scorpion Swamp, was published by Penguin and spent six months on the British children’s bestseller list.
- 1986 saw the launch of GURPS, the “Generic Universal Roleplaying System.” As of 2010, the GURPS system – now in its fourth edition – has won a number of awards and is still being supported with new releases.
- In 1990, SJ Games made national news when it filed suit after a destructive raid by the Secret Service. The SS agents, in search of “hackers,” nearly forced the company out of business by seizing hardware and data files. With the help of the newly formed Electronic Frontier Foundation, SJ Games took the case to federal court, proved that the raid had been unjustified and improperly executed, and won more than $50,000 in damages. The EFF remains active to prevent similar abuses.
- In 1994, Steve reworked the old faithful Illuminati to jump on the trading-card bandwagon. INWO (Illuminati: New World Order) became the company’s first million-dollar preship.
- In 2001 came Munchkin, which started as a silly card-game parody of a dungeon crawl and grew into the biggest hit we’ve ever had. For the next few years, most of his creative effort went into Munchkin sequels and supplements.
- In 2009, Steve created two quick dice games, Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice. Both were hobby hits which made it onto mass-market shelves . . .and sold more than any other non-Munchkin release that year.
Steve is a dedicated SF reader and fan, and enjoys attending both gaming and SF conventions. He writes filksongs (adequately) and sings (very badly). His other interests include gardening (especially water gardening), Lego, pirates, trains, beekeeping, dinosaurs and tropical fish. In his copious free time, he looks at webcomics, eats, and sleeps.