I'll admit it; when I picked this up, I was looking for a new SJ game. Partially because I've had a blast with every other one I've played (Munchkin, Assassin, ect), partially because I'd heard great reviews (word of mouth) for this game in particular anyway, and partially because, well, Ogre's been out of print for years. I wasn't at all dissapointed by this one, and here's why:
The game comes in a good sized and very sturdy box that includes 110 full color cards, 2 d6, and a cardboard punch sheet for money (MegaBucks). The cards aren't anything you're going to want to frame, but are brightly colored, easily identifiable, and pleasing to the eye. Game mechanics on each card (arrows, costs) are large and clearly visible to all players. The money is on good quality cardboard, and although very small, has never proven difficult to handle in my experience. While it may be more realistic (to Americans) for all the money to be the same color, it would have been helpful for there to be a little color variation among the denominations.
First off, take heed of the game's recommendations for # of players. 4-6 really is what's needed to make this game work properly; with less, there doesn't feel like there's enough balance, with more, the game goes on for absurd amounts of time. Each player represents a randomly drawn secret society (like the Servants of Cthulhu or the Discordian Society) trying to either fufill their own goals (Destroy 8 Groups, control 5 Weird Groups), or simply Control a number of Groups decided by the number of players. Groups are randomly drawn to a pool accessable to all players. Several things can be done to a Group (in the pool, or owned by another player). You can attempt to Control a Group, wherein you get to add the Group to your Power Structure (a web of cards spreading out from your Illuminati card and growing based on arrows on the cards themselves). This gives you access to the Group's Income (if any), and the Group may have to power to Control other Groups, as well. If the Group you attacked belonged to another player, you also get whatever money was on the Group, as well as Control of any Groups it controlled! Secondly, you can attack another player's Group to Neutralize it, thus sending it back to the pool. This is easier than trying to Destroy a group, and will also Neutralize any Groups that Group Controlled. Finally, you can attempt to Destroy a Group, which removes the card from the game, thus denying it to all players. Additionally, if that Group Controlled any other Groups, they are now Neutralized. All of this is done politically, and thus uses a combination of Group Power ratings and money. A key strategy of the game is shuffling money among your Groups, as when a Group is attacked, it can only use its own money to defend itself. However, the mechanic that makes the game is the fact that, during an attack, any uninvolved player can use their Illuminati's money to interfere with the attack, helping one side or the other. This leads to a lot of tense (and often desperate) alliances (and backstabbing!) that only escalate as the game goes on. On top of all of this, the sheer absurdity of the links between groups that are formed in the game provide a good deal of humor (in one game, the Communist Party ended up Controlling the Porn Industry. In the game this review was named after, the Servants of Cthulhu were rebuffed three times in attacks to Destroy...by the Congressional Wives).
Since Illuminati cards are randomly assigned, new tactics must be used each game. Since Groups are drawn randomly, Power Structures always vary wildly, making no two games anything alike. The only limiting factor here is game time (expect 2-3 hours).
This game really succeeds partially because it's one of the few games that can be humorous, but still have some very serious strategic elements. It's a long game, but due to the nature of the Power Structure, player's attacks get bolder and bigger as the game goes on, keeping things intense throughout. Anyone who doesn't mind a little backstabbing in their games should definatly try this out.
tim Tim TIm TIM TIMMY!!
Thanks for the write up, sounds great, just got this one, can't wait to play it. 2-3 hours is just a tad to long, IMO - but I am sure my volunteers will enjoy not working and playing a longer game for a change of pace.
Sounds like you could replay it a lot, IMO, you probably need 4 games to figure out the group you control, and with 8 of them that is 32 games just to get a feel for it from all angles, and a few more I bet to really get a great grasp on it!
But I like to write reviews after 20-30 games at least, some over 50 -70 before I feel I actually know the game enough to really review it.