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Subject: My first, and hopefully last, game of Illuminati rss

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Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
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My dear friend Rich has a Wednesday night gaming group. My regular group is off playing D&D so I figured I would sit in with my buddy and try something new. That something new was Illuminati. Having known Rich for years, I've heard him talk about this game quite a lot. I figured it was time to give it a try. Along for the ride were seasoned Illuminatus Earl, Kenny, and Tom. My friend Vinny came along as well which put both of us as the noobs at the table.

The Illuminati cards were drawn and Vinny got the Bavarian Illuminati whilst I drew the Discordian Society. I remember that Tom had the Assassins, Earl had some peaceful group, and Rick (who's nickname is Klondike) drew the UFO's. I really can't recall what Kenny had.

The game started off easily enough with people just trying attacks for control. The cards went around the table and came to me. One of them was a Weird group which I eagerly took. My special victory condition was to control 5 Weird groups so I went after it. I was lucky enough to get the Reformed Church of Satan which made me happy. I'm not a satanist, but I enjoy el diablo from time to time.

As the game progressed, I had accumulated 4 Weird cards and when my turn came I was poised to grab the 5th. And then it happened. Every fear I had about this game was realized. Basically everyone at the table told me not to even try it because they wouldn't let it happen. I was instantly hit with a complete sense of futility. How the hell could anyone win this game? Basically the game gets to a point where someone can win and every other player gangs up on them. This rotates around the table until ultimately someone gets lucky enough to have all the other players run out of money, rendering the move unstoppable.

We continued to play for another hour and a half. Klondike got close to victory and was smashed by Tom. Earl got close and Kenny stopped him. Eventually, Vinny made a power play and spent all of his money to try and win. It wasn't enough and he was left with almost no megabucks. Then it was my turn and I tried the same thing. Again, they all had enough money to stop me. Tom was next and with his first attack, he neutralized Hitler's Brain from Klondike. Tom then played a special card which gave him control of any uncontrolled artifact. He took Hitler's Brain which gave him 9 groups and the victory.

3 hours is just way to long for a game of this type. If it had lasted even 2 then I would have been okay. However that 3rd hour was painful especially when you know you can't win. I don't like how this game penalizes you for being in a winning position. Its just not what I want in a game that lasts this long. Honestly, we could have played Battlestar Galactica in that same time frame and had all the backstabbing. Plus I would have gotten to call people frakkin' toasters.
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Martin Gallo
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Sorry you did not have fun.

The endgame generally takes some luck, timing and courage. Some people prefer action, and the Illuminati end game is not exactly all about action - most of the time.

One thing you can do as the Discordians is acquire 3 Wierd groups and wait and see if anybody leaves two Weird groups 'exposed' on a branch and make a private attack.

Experience with this game is a big help.
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Gene Warren
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The endgame problem you describe is also an issue with another SJ game, Munchkin. (Note: both Munchkin and Illuminati are favorites of mine).

In both games winning involves a lot of bluffing and metagaming, trying to determine whether or not your opponents can actually stop you as they claim. A lot of the strategy involves getting them to burn their spoiler cards on the other players, or spending a lot of their resources trying to stop a straw-man win attempt one round to leave things more open for your real win attempt on your following turn. Since the the ability to actually carry out these strategies is heavily dependent both on your knowledge of the game and your knowledge of the other players, a deficit in either can leave them feeling random and/or futile.

Whether it's worth it to invest the time required for these strategies to be possible is going to vary from player to player. Given the massive amount of titles available today, and that games with similar buy-in times can include much weightier, strategic (and fun?) games - (TI3, heavy euros, wargames) etc, it's not at all surprising that absent some special fondness for the themes or mechanics they aren't going to get a lot of takers.
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Ian Klinck
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Yeah, Illuminati is definitely "old school". I still have it on the shelf, but I don't think it's likely to hit the table anytime soon... We're definitely more of a Eurogamer group these days.
 
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Born To Lose, Live To Win
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Two words: Privileged Attack.

Many games I have played have been trying to get into position to win with a privileged attack. Also, you can play the "I'm going for the basic victory conditions" gambit and try to stealthily build your special victory condition. One other thing is that money is a premium, try to get people to spend money by attacking others. There is alot of fun to be had in the meta-game of playing people off each other so that they are weakened when you make your move. If people are able to block you when you coup de grace comes, you haven't been preparing.
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Daniel Kearns
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Yep. The origins of "Ameritrash".
 
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Troy W
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Am I wrong, or isn't a major point of Illuminati that *several* players can win at once? This is also a huuuge factor in the endgame...try to make a deal with someone else to share victory, and maybe even keep your word...
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matt bradford
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It's also about the specials, or team up for a team win and maybe back stab him in the process. Just go crazy with it.
 
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Gabriel Ouimet
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VanVeen wrote:
Am I wrong, or isn't a major point of Illuminati that *several* players can win at once? This is also a huuuge factor in the endgame...try to make a deal with someone else to share victory, and maybe even keep your word...


It is highly improbable that two or more players could win at once.

You win by controlling a certain number of groups, something that can be accomplished only by one player at a time (during his turn). You can also win by completing your special victory condition which can rarely be accomplished at the same time as any other player.

The only way I could see it be accomplished is by giving the Gnomes of Zurich money to help a different player win. However, either the Gnomes or the other player would win first, not simultaneously.
 
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The Mad Hatter
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The last time I won a game of "Illuminati," I lied to my fellow players that I wasn't anywhere near the victory condition. "Nah, I've got like two more groups I need to acquire before I can win. Don't bother trying to prevent me from getting this group...save your money for so-and-so."

Of course,they were too embroiled in their squabbling and scheming to actually look down at my cards and COUNT the groups in front of me; if they had, they would have realized I told them an out-and-out lie. devil
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Christian Link
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Fun with Illuminati (or any game for that matter) takes not just the right players, but the stars have be aligned just right too. No one or nothing is to blame.

Try house rules for cheating...may push the spirit along.
 
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Martin Gallo
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cptwacky wrote:
Fun with Illuminati (or any game for that matter) takes not just the right players, but the stars have be aligned just right too. No one or nothing is to blame.

Try house rules for cheating...may push the spirit along.


This is one of those games that is MUCH better when played with your friends.
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Matt R
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I can easily see why a new person with inaccurate expectations of what to get out of the game could find it frustrating, but you're clearly misunderstanding a fundamental aspect of the game: it is not a linear march towards a visible and simple end goal.

While this is one of the reasons I truly love this game, if you think that getting 4 weird groups means you have nearly completed your goal, you are simply misunderstanding the way the game works. The game is about getting your opponents out of the way; neutering them, tricking them, or smashing them to such an extent that they are unable to stop your (or your allies') plans. The objective of the game is not to fulfill the goal of your individual group, but to establish yourself into a position where, for whatever reason, you are able to do what needs to be done to win.

If you want to play a game where you need to actively maneuver around and manipulate your opponents into unwittingly or unwillingly giving you the upper hand, then this game is awesome. If you want to play a game where you are playing against the game and statistics in a struggle to outplay your opponents at a fundamentally similar random task, then you will be hopelessly frustrated by this game.
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DeltaDemon wrote:
It is highly improbable that two or more players could win at once.

You win by controlling a certain number of groups, something that can be accomplished only by one player at a time (during his turn). You can also win by completing your special victory condition which can rarely be accomplished at the same time as any other player.

The only way I could see it be accomplished is by giving the Gnomes of Zurich money to help a different player win. However, either the Gnomes or the other player would win first, not simultaneously.

Actually, consider a simple trade... A sneaky Discordian with 4 Weird groups and 2 Violent groups notes that the Assassin across the table has 4 Violent groups and a Weird group in his structure. She puts her violent groups together in an arm of her power structure. On her next turn, she can offer the Assassin across the table a trade of her controlling Violent group (and its puppets) for his Weird group. Victory is shared. Likewise, perhaps she could buy, for her whole treasury (if enough), a 5th Weird group from the Zurich player, ensuring a shared victory. Actions such as these can blindside the rest of the players and win mad props. This is the kind of insidious thinking that the game is all about. :-)

See pages 7-8 of the manual (deluxe ed) for exactly how this works... this is prior to the "cheating" section and is normal gameplay. This can add a whole new dimension to the game for you, with the catch that it's not really as available in two player games.
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Troy W
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x86Daddy has got it exactly right. Shared victories were common in the gajillions of sessions of this I played in college. Although not as common as *promised* shared victories that, ah, didn't work out at the last minute devil
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Apollo Andy
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And also, since victory conditions are only checked at the end of the turn and since immediate deals (which SJ interpreted to mean deals that apply on this turn) are binding, other exchanges like "I'll help Servants destroy this group if he trades me the last group I need" also work. Of course, you and the servants have to be pretty explicit about what "helping them" does or does not entail.
 
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Stephen Harkleroad
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This is why I preferred the CCG version of this game. Players had a hand of hidden cards, so it was never readily apparently exactly how close a player was to their goal. (There were also hidden goals and certain combined goals, along with tons of cards to change things like Power and Alignment to make it less apparent who was about to win.) There are a lot of different issues with that version of the game, and there was still a bash-the-leader element, but anyone who wanted to could cook up some sneaky ways to pull out an improbable win.
 
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Quote:
I can easily see why a new person with inaccurate expectations of what to get out of the game could find it frustrating, but you're clearly misunderstanding a fundamental aspect of the game: it is not a linear march towards a visible and simple end goal.


I don't think it's fair to call them "inaccurate expectations". There are win conditions, and you need to go for them. Four out of five weird groups is very nearly there. That's how you win. That's also how you have to approach the game as a new player. Lay off the noobs.

I take your point about establising position. This game is like a deeper version of Munchkin. As often as not, both games seem to be about judging the metagame for the right time to push for your win condition. In Munchkin you want to wait until everyone's exhausted their hands of attack cards. In this one you want to deceive other players as to your intentions long enough that you can make a grab for the last card you need. It is linear, but there's metagaming a-plenty, and the key is positioning in the late game.

But my feelings are similar to the OP's. I found the game really inaccessable to noobs. I'm a noob - I've played this game about five times in total, mainly in 3-player games, and always with my girlfriend, who owns it. She's played it a LOT more than I have, and it really shows.

The learning curve for this game is steep. Part of the problem is the high degree of obfuscation written into the game. The goals aren't listed on the cards. You're not allowed to see how much money people have. For example, if your opponent has the Gnomes of Zurich, you're not going to see their victory coming, because they don't have to declare it until it's already too late. Sure, you can launch attacks at them that are calculated to drain their cash, but you need a nuanced knowledge of how the maths behind the game so you can make sure you don't just bankrupt yourself in the process. That's something noobs just don't have.

Second, there's the luck factor. If you draw a low-resistance, high-income group, you're set. you'll get it first, and it's too hard a target to knock off, witha ll the money on it. I played a game where one player had an income of 34 by the third turn. The other player and I hadn't broken 15. It was sheer luck.

Third, there's the fact you need a high degree of situational awareness. At any time you need to be constantly assessing your opponent's networks for number of groups with quality X, or cash, or transferable power, etc. Situational awareness only comes with experience, and when you're playing a game with this much obfuscation, it's going to be annoying.

After three games in a row, I finally scored a win, by keeping my head down, making one attack a turn and hoarding transferable power. The same way my girlfriend always won. My final attack was unstoppable because of transferable power and the sheer amount of money I had. I was unimpressed at the strategic depth of the game.

I've played it once with four and once with six. It is DEFINITELY more fun with more players, but lay off the noobs - this game SUCKS to learn.

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Apollo Andy
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Playing with any less than 4 is (as suggested in the rules) going to result in a fairly degenerate game. The reason is that money counts double on defense so two people attacking one is a draw and turtling becomes a viable strategy rather than waiting for a chance to make a bold play for the win. There is no meta-game which is the whole meat of Illuminati.

It is annoying to figure out all the pluses and minuses on any given attack, and it's even harder to become familiar enough with them to know if an attack will succeed or fail by sight alone, but I don't think that's what makes it suck to learn. I think the real issue is when a n00b is under the assumption that 4 out of 5 weird groups is 80% of the way to victory. 4 out of 5 weird groups is actually probably further from victory (in a 5 or 6 player game) than 3 out of 5 because it makes you a target.
 
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