Illuminati: New World Order is an odd fish in many ways, starting with the theme, of course.
The basic premise is that all those tinfoil-wearing conspiracy theorists are right and there really are unseen powerful secret groups manipulating world events.
In the game this manifests itself with players constructing decks made up of two basic kinds of cards: Groups, which the player is trying to control or destroy, and Plots, which are the tools used to help get control, destroy or defend groups.
The game is heavily satirical and explicitly not Politically Correct, although all groups, ideologies and cultures are mocked equally.
Also making the game an odd duck is its status. Is it dead, alive or something in between?
On the one hand, it's a member of the Class of 1995 first wave of CCG's that came out after Magic: The Gathering was recognized as having created a whole new genre of games. Only a handful of games from that era survive, although M:TG is going strong.
On the other hand, INWO is still available from Steve Jackson Games, the original publisher, which would seem to qualify it as "alive."
But on yet another hand, there hasn't been anything new published for about a decade, which implies a certain like of vitality, to say the least.
However you characterize it, the current state of INWO means that it avoids some of the more annoying aspects of CCGs. No cards have become obsolete. There is a finite set to collect and yet there's always the possibility some new cards will show up.
The M:TG-style collectibility is further undermined by Steve Jackson's less than wholehearted support of the concept. Yes, he admittedly jumped on the bandwagon, by his own account, but never went whole hog. There were very few promo cards and no ultra rares. There are at least two ways to buy into the game while by-passing the whole collectible aspect. SJG offers a "One-with-everything factory set" that includes all the first edition cards. There is also the INWO Subgenius (which is even more weird than INWO) which is a completely standalone 100-card INWO game but also fully compatible with the regular INWO.
Players build a conspiracy structure based on their particular variety of Illuminati (UFOs, Bemuda Triangle, Bavarian Illuminati, etc.) trying to meet their goal. This can involve controlling a certain number of groups, but can also involve destroying groups or meeting other special victory conditions. The available groups run the gamut from personalities such as Bill Clinton, countries such as Canada, organizations such as the CIA or even loose groups of like-minded folks like wargamers!.
As a multi-player game INWO is best played with a group, but the off-beat theme may make it hard to find a group that are all interested in playing it. I think a wargaming group may be willing to try it, it is after all, a game of conquest, but is is not really a game of maneuver. There's a lot of strategy in it but it tends to be more Sun Tzu or Machiavelli than Clausewitz or Napoleon.
The game is, as I noted, still available from Steve Jackson Games, but players can also pick up cards off of eBay on a regular basis. Casual players who want to try the game out can either buy the Subgenius expansion or the regular Illuminati non-collectible card game, which plays much the same.
See my game blog at http://pawnderings.blogspot.com
Well this is a review of a game ... without playing it.
The rules are not so easy at first, and the rulebook in the starter set is neither clear nor easy to follow. I strongly suggest the use of rulebook and errata on the Steve Jackson Web Site or the old (and wonderful) Illuminati Guide Book.
Players accustomed to more conventional CCG can find at first some difficulties with all the possible and different modifiers to the die rolls for combat and for control (by alignment, by distance from the illuminati, by card modifiers etc); here real wargamer would be on very familiar ground ;-)
BUT if you really try to play it, after the first difficulties you will discover how much this game can be fun, as you begin to see all the possibilities of a very weird and mean game, where every turn (and every card played) things can change dramatically, and the most absurd situations are the norm.
By far, this is the CCG where the creation of your deck can be most fun and full of different options: my favourite is ONE SINGLE huge deck in common, where every player takes his cards during the game and must try to build some working strategy !
If you have the possibility to grab some sets of this old un-dead CCG, please give it a try. Even with only few random and common cards it could be worth it !