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Subject: An expansion that will please Illuminati fans rss

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Brian Morris
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Illuminati: A History

There is an expression in movies about a film having legs. Meaning that a film has staying power at the box office and doesn't quickly fade away. A film with good legs comes along only once in a while and the same can be said about games in our hobby. After over two decades I think we can say Illuminati definitely has legs.



Illuminati will soon celebrate it's 25th anniversary. It was originally published by Steve Jackson games in 1983. Back then it came in a snap tight case. The cards were small and featured black & white illustrations but it became a good seller for Steve Jackson and resulted in several expansions. It was a gaming mainstay for me and my gaming group in the 1980s.

In the late 90s the game was re-released in a deluxe edition that combined the original game with it's first two expansions. This deluxe edition featured larger cards and color artwork. Some cards were removed and some added but over all it was the same game that was released in 1983. Then in 1999 a new expansion was added called Y2K. It was pretty much just an addition of new cards for the game which helped upgrade the original with more socially current groups.



Bavarian Fire Drill

Bavarian Fire Drill was suppose to be the follow up expansion to Y2K but the problem was it kept getting delayed....and delayed....and delayed and.... Well, you get the picture. It got to the point that it was thought by many that this long awaited expansion was never going to come out. However after years of delays the game is finally out. Was it worth the wait? Well I am not sure any game expansion is worth this much waiting but it definitely is a great expansion.



What you get in the box

Ok, you want to know what you get in the box. Well, you get a lot of cards. 110 to be exact featuring new groups to control, new special cards and of course the much talked about artifacts. The cards themselves are of the same quality as the original cards from the Deluxe Edition and Y2k expansion. In fact they've actually matched the card backs color wise so perfectly that you won't be able to tell which cards are from which release which is excellent.

One fear I had when I picked up Bavarian Fire Drill is will all the cards fit in the Deluxe Edition box. The good news is the answer is yes. All of the cards from the original Deluxe Edition, Y2K and BFD will fit in the Deluxe Edition box rather nicely. You'll likely have to have 2 card decks to draw from on the table but the additional variety the new cards provide are well worth such a simple concession.



New Groups

The new groups in BFD bring the game more up to date with today's society. While most of the original groups are still applicable to today a few are a touch dated such as the SLA and the Phone Freaks. The new expansion brings in a number of new groups dealing with today's technology such as Cell Phones, Bloggers and Online Auctions. While at the same time we also see some of the fun oddball groups that made the original game so much fun such as the Church of Elvis and the Paranoids. Another interesting new group is The Great Pyramid of Giza which seems a bit odd as a group but will be a very valuable card for those who wish to control artifact cards. Lastly the Reformed Church of Satan from the 1983 edition has returned after being left out of the Deluxe Edition.



Special Cards

I was a bit concerned with the new edition about balance, in particular when it came to special cards. Special cards are important to the game as it allows players to make privileged attacks and more importantly to abolish them. The good news is the new expansion features a nice number of special cards that should preserve the original balance nicely. These new cards also provide a number of unique uses. Rather than the specials in BFD simply being a rehash of special cards from the older editions the new specials effect the game in a variety of new ways including being able to add extra income to groups of a specific alignment or to give you an extra action.



Artifacts

This is without question the biggest addition or change to the game provided by BFD. There has been a lot of speculation about what the new artifact cards will do for the game. These cards which include such things as The Holy Grail, The Perpetual Motion Machine and Hitler's Brain add a new dimension to the game by allowing their owners certain special abilities such as extra income or the ability to draw an extra card. They are for the most part treated like a regular group, thus you can control them and even steal them from other players. In rare instances you can even destroy them. However they are not added to your power structure like other groups but simply held and placed on the table alongside it. Once controlled they receive the same +10 resistance as a card in your power structure that is connected to your main Illuminati card.

I was as curious as anyone as to how these new artifacts would effect the game but I'm happy to say they are a great addition. They are great cards to own but at the same time they aren't overpowering. This is in part because first they are rather rare (Of the three games I have played so far only three have shown up all total) and secondly they are about as powerful as a mid level card although some artifacts definitely hold more advantage for some such as the Midas Machine which will especially benefit the Gnomes of Zurich.



Summery

One thing that has impressed me with this expansion is the balance that it has achieved. I was concerned originally that the expansion might unbalance the game due to the effects of artifacts or simply that to many cards might be overwhelming. That has not been the case. I've found the expansion extremely well balanced with all that it contains adding to the original game without having any off kilter effects.

Overall this is a fantastic expansion that Illuminati fans will not be disappointed in. BFD adds tons of stuff to an already great game without altering the fun game play. The new groups and special cards will add a nice touch of variety for long time players while at the same time updating it to the 21st Century world we live in. Last and perhaps most importantly the addition of the artifacts adds a new element to Illuminati without disrupting the basic game itself. At less than $20 this addition to Illuminati is a must buy in my opinion for anyone who enjoys the original game. It was worth the wait.

I rate this a 10

FNORD
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Jon W
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Nice review. One thing I'm pleased by is the inclusion of a new rule that ensures there will always be at least two groups in the unclaimed pile. Group lockup was often an issue for us even in the original, but with so many specials added with Y2K and BFD, this new rule seems essential.

I haven't yet gone through the groups to confirm this, but it seems like there are fewer Weird groups than in Y2K (which had too many, IMO, and made the Discordians too strong, as well as filling up everyone's structures with junky little oddball groups), and more Violent groups. Again, not sure, just offhand impression after opening it last night.

One thing that I'm still unsettled on is whether I like having so many specials in play. It feels like it's trying to be INWO, but I'd rather preserve the distinctions between them. Don't get me wrong, I love INWO, but one of the charms of the original was just how rare specials were and thus how most of the action was right there on the board, but now hand management begins to figure a bit too prominently into the equation.
 
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Tyler
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waddball wrote:
I haven't yet gone through the groups to confirm this, but it seems like there are fewer Weird groups than in Y2K (which had too many, IMO, and made the Discordians too strong, as well as filling up everyone's structures with junky little oddball groups), and more Violent groups. Again, not sure, just offhand impression after opening it last night.


According to a poster on the SJG forum, there are 17 Weird groups, plus Voice Mails, which change their alignment to that of whomever controls them. You can find the rest of his census here: http://forums.sjgames.com/showpost.php?p=470128&postcount=3

waddball wrote:
One thing that I'm still unsettled on is whether I like having so many specials in play. It feels like it's trying to be INWO, but I'd rather preserve the distinctions between them. Don't get me wrong, I love INWO, but one of the charms of the original was just how rare specials were and thus how most of the action was right there on the board, but now hand management begins to figure a bit too prominently into the equation.


Agreed. Just before BFD hit stores, I was fiddling with a pared down deck using elements from Deluxe and Y2K. At the time, though, it was mostly removing alignment-specific specials and many of the power-less dead end groups.

Now with BFD in the mix, I think I'd still reduce the number of specials, just to reduce the number of privileged attacks in a game. I mean, when they institute a rule that two specials can negate privilege, I think that's an indicator that are too many special cards flying round.
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Jon W
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After a full game, and the helpful link above, I dug up some more facts:

DI has 8 Illuminati, 15 Specials, 83 Groups
Y2K has 2 Illuminati, 26 Specials, 76 Groups
BFD has 0 Illuminati, 31 Specials, 63 Groups, 16 Artifacts

Alignments stack up like this [DI/Y2K/BFD]:

Conservative: 37 (16/10/11)
Liberal: 43 (17/13/13)
Straight: 40 (14/14/12)
Weird: 53 (18/18/17)
Peaceful: 31 (8/11/12)
Violent: 45 (23/6/16)
Government: 30 (9/10/11)
Communist: 24 (9/6/9)
Criminal: 31 (10/13/8)
Fanatic: 33 (12/9/12)

So proportionally to BFD only, Weird went down (Y2K was 16%, BFD 14%), but it's still vastly overrepresented as a whole, with 14% of the overall card set. I like the alignment distribution to be asymmetrical, but the victory conditions should keep pace (so Discordia needing 6, or maybe even 7, seems obvious, and that's factoring in the weakness of a Weird power structure). Shangri-La meanwhile gets 8% of the set to work with. Assassins did get a boost with BFD, but it was already common. I didn't do a check of transferrable power, but just off the cuff the Network is still hosed.

The new Specials ratio will impact every game. It's clear SJ wanted to change the feel: in the original you'd see a Special in 6.5 draws; in Y2K, 4.8 draws; and in BFD, 4.3 draws. This hits the Network pretty hard (rather, it grants everyone else about a third of their special power) and eases Bavaria's privilege stranglehold. In fact, privileged attacks (and interference/Deep Agent counters--which are now lame draws, BTW) are commonplace. Most of the new Specials are very INWO-like, so they're quite situational (add 10 to Straight defense, or 10 to an attack on Liberal, or immediately gain income for Criminal, etc.). I think our 6p game saw perhaps 12 drawn, with 3 used as written, 4 or 5 used as privileged attacks, and 2 used as "Deep Agent" (the balance were unused when the Network won a conventional victory).

Again, not sure how I feel about this. It's not that it's bad, but it's different. If I had only played with expansions, I'd likely think nothing of it. But the original made a much bigger deal out of owning Specials. If you had one, it mattered, as they were (almost all) powerful--often potential game-winners. It's not like Illuminati is a finely-tuned game, but without getting into a really exhaustive analysis, I would have preferred to see fewer Specials with more powerful functions, more concentrated transferrable power groups, more Artifacts (only 1 in 19?), and of course a new Illuminati or three. Maybe the idea here was to ignore Y2K altogether (a view I'm not entirely unsympathetic toward).
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Brent Lloyd
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I have also been an Illuminati player for a long time, I own all the various editions. I am concerned with the number of specials as well, they should be rare and powerful. In our games, if someone drew one, they were a target for other nastyness because of it.

The card backs were done well, too bad the actual cards are different sizes than the original sets!

Thanks for the breakdown of the different alignments, thats helpful information.

Peace
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Tyler
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waddball wrote:
Again, not sure how I feel about this. It's not that it's bad, but it's different. If I had only played with expansions, I'd likely think nothing of it. But the original made a much bigger deal out of owning Specials. If you had one, it mattered, as they were (almost all) powerful--often potential game-winners. It's not like Illuminati is a finely-tuned game, but without getting into a really exhaustive analysis, I would have preferred to see fewer Specials with more powerful functions, more concentrated transferrable power groups, more Artifacts (only 1 in 19?), and of course a new Illuminati or three. Maybe the idea here was to ignore Y2K altogether (a view I'm not entirely unsympathetic toward).


Well, they are reprinting Y2K, so I guess SJG isn't being completely revisionist.

I played several games of Illuminati this weekend that consisted of the basic set plus Bavarian Fire Drill. I was surprised by how many artifacts showed up over the course of events. One game including the Network probably helped, but still.

With those experiences under my belt, I've begun to consider drafting a heavily overhauled core Illuminati deck of about 110 cards -- essentially the size of one of the expansions. It would retain the original ratio of specials to groups, as well as the overall proportions of powerful groups to weaker ones, and alignments. It would probably skew to the newer cards, for topicality's sake, while including classics like the Orbital Mind Control Lasers and such.

This just popped into my head and it seems more and more like a large undertaking, but I think I'd like to try it out.
 
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leonardo regis
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I really liked it as a hole.
The two expancions "events cards" added more bluffing to the game and "money" to make deals with the other players, and as sayed before the rule, to have at least 2 groups in the table made destruction of groups lucrative!!! After all when u kill a group (when are 2 in the table) you are given the other player a new group, that can be better than what is at the table, so why not as for a little money for that (5 mb is fair).

Not telling about the efects of the arctifacts in play, they gave the game a 3 dimension, after all, some artifacts together can be very cool !
Just put together the perpectual machine and the (artifact that destroy groups and give u cards , sorry i forgot the name, soon i will correct it) you can get a lot of events cards and make a good bargain to keep some groups "alive" at the game.

As a entusiast of this game, its a must to buy(the two expancions by the way)
 
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Paul Jenkins
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Thunder wrote:


The card backs were done well, too bad the actual cards are different sizes than the original sets!


Peace


I'm glad I am not the only one to notice this. I feel cheated because of this. It is obvious when a BFD card is coming up because it sticks out like a sore thumb in the deck.
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