Illuminati: Mutual Assured Distraction

A couple months back now, Steve Jackson Games quietly released Mutual Assured Distraction, a mini-expansion to their conspiracy card game Illuminati. It imports the New World Order mechanic from the old Illuminati: New World Order collectible card game to the original, non-collectible version. The expansion consists of eighteen New World Order cards, which are, essentially, global alignment modifiers, plus four special cards, which do the usual things special cards do in Illuminati.

These modifier cards go into the deck. On drawing a New World Order, it goes into the middle of the table, where it takes effect. Typically, these cards modify the power and resistance of various alignments. Peace In Our Time, for instance, makes groups with the Peaceful alignment more powerful while making Violent groups less so and more susceptible to takeover. The player who drew the card gets another draw — depending on how many expansions are in one’s Illuminati set, this can lead to drawing multiple New World Orders in a row.

It’s an easy thing to integrate into an Illuminati set. The trick is tracking all the modifiers. There are three colors of New World Order: red, blue and yellow. Since one of each color can be on the table at the same time, the way they interact can become complex. An alignment’s modifiers may turn out to be a wash, depending on which New World Orders are on the table. While Mutual Assured Distraction‘s cards don’t radically alter the way in which Illuminati plays, they do make things more interesting in the narrative players cobble together from acquiring and squabbling over groups: “Because of the Economic Stimulus, the L-4 Society finally has the funds to influence the Supreme Court!” And so on in that fashion.

I had the opportunity to participate in the playtest for Mutual Assured Distraction, which shows up the differences between rough and refined game concepts. At that stage in the expansion’s development, there were five colors of New World Orders. Keeping track of that many modifiers at once was, frankly, ridiculous. I’m inclined to think that even three is too many for my poor brain, but it’s certainly much more manageable.1

In the rounds of Illuminati we’ve played at Quarterstaff Games on Tuesday nights, it consisted of the basic set and the Mutual Assured Distraction cards because I wanted to see their maximum effect. My intention for the next time I bring Illuminati along is to add in the expansions’ cards. If the frequency of New World Orders appearing drops drastically, I think their influence could become much more pronounced when it does occur. A long-lasting boost to Weird groups could change things more if that boost lasted for a long time and might tempt players into trying to destroy New World Orders, since they can’t rely on the cards switching out on their own nearly as much.

I hope the mini-expansion model takes off. Mutual Assured Distraction seemingly got through the production remarkably fast. The cost ratio isn’t bad, either — 21 cents per card in a $4.95 pack of 24 compared to 17 cents per card in a $17.95 tuckbox of 110. The only difference is volume and frankly, the only way Illuminati needs more cards would be if the basic set were updated with groups and jokes from the 2000s, rather than the 1980s.

1 Additionally, the modifiers in Mutual Assured Distraction make me wonder how many, if any, people who bought the Brainwash expansion enjoyed it. That one has an alignment wheel to track modifiers. I have yet to try it, but it seemed a complicated addition, as it also added new steps to the turn order.

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