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W. Eric Martin
Not every game is for every player, whether due to the playing time required or the complexity of the rules or a certain opponent's loathing of blind bidding or a game designer's determination to hit every hot-topic button possible in one little card game, as is the case with Christophe Boelinger's Illegal, a party game released by his company Ludically in France in September 2014 and debuting on the world stage at Spiel 2014.
Illegal is for 5-9 players, with one player in the position of game manager (GM) and everyone else taking the role of both dealer and buyer of eyebrow-raising, possibly illegal material such as guns, alcohol, stolen data or call girls. Before the game begins, the GM sets up as many player packs as the number of players in the game; each player receives a dealer card, five resource cards representing what that dealer offers, one resource card of another illegal substance, and a buyer card matching neither the dealer nor either substance. The GM also prepares paired suspect cards, with each pair matching the dealer/buyer combination in the player packs. Finally, the GM prepares four resource packs that contain one copy of each resource in the game.
Gameplay is akin to the classic goods-trading game Pit in that once everyone has received their player pack, they have three minutes to pair off and swap resource cards with one another. All trades should be done in secret — but with the cards revealed before agreeing to the trade — so that only those two players know what they've traded. After all, if you're dealing in something shady, you probably don't want others to know about it.
After three minutes, the GM calls everyone back to the table, lays out all of the cards in a resource pack, then lets everyone grab one card that they want. Following this resource injection, the players trade for another three minutes.
Following the fourth resource booster and the fifth trading session, the GM calls everyone back to endure the tribunal, a period of judgment in which everyone tries to call out everyone else for what they've done while getting off the hook themselves. The GM reveals one of the dealer/buyer suspect pairs prepared earlier, then everyone yells about who they think represents this pair. After one minute, the GM calls a vote with everyone pointing at their suspect; whoever has collected the most accusing fingers acquires the suspect cards, and in the event of a tie, they're removed from the game.
Once all of the suspects have been handed out, players tally their scores, receiving one point for each incorrect suspect card they hold and each resource card in hand that matches their buyer, then losing five points for each suspect card in front of them that does match their identity. Whoever has the most points wins. For a more loosely scripted game — say, for when you're at a bar mitzvah or bridal shower and have other things occupying your attention — you can allow for more time to trade and have the GM walk around the room handing out resources at random; for those who are keen readers of guilty looks, you can increase the challenge by having each suspect card evaluated individually instead of in pairs.
Boelinger, best known for Dungeon Twister and Archipelago, notes that he's still looking for a U.S. distributor for Illegal as the subject matter has proven somewhat more combustible than his usual work, a statement that does not surprise me in the slightest, so if you're in the distribution business and want to have strangers yell at you for abetting the corruption of society, feel free to get in touch with him. He's ready to deal if you're ready to buy...
Alcohol and gun dealers at front; data, cars and a powder-hungry rock star at back