Fixing Illuminati: New World Order
Illuminati New World Order, and the graphics on this page, are copyright Steve Jackson Games.

[The 13th Circle] [Speed] [Timing] [Other Rules]

Faster and Simpler - Fixing INWO
Martin Lærkes

There is something fundamentally wrong with INWO!
Fortunately it can be fixed with a little errata.
The problem has 2 parts. First, non-degenerate play has become tremendously slow, because some very degenerate speed decks cropped up, forcing SJ Games to respond by creating some all-purpose victory stoppers. The victory stoppers do slow down the speed decks, but unfortunately they bring non-degenerate decks to a complete standstill.

Secondly, certain parts of the rules are unnecessarily convoluted. This makes veterans reach for the rulebook at the most inconvenient moments, and makes the game very hard to teach to newcomers. Newcomers to any CCG are faced with the task of mastering hundreds of cards, so the addition of complex rules makes for an almost insurmountable challenge.

The article below deals with these 2 problems under 3 headings: Speed, timing, and other rules. The speed issue is very important to the game. Fixing it should make both tournament-level INWO and non-degenerate INWO a lot more enjoyable and balanced. The other suggested changes will make the game simpler and smoother.

The speed issue concerns how quickly (or slowly) victory can be achieved.

When the one big deck game Illuminati game was transformed into the trading card game INWO, some of the illuminated goals remained unchanged. In this new environment, where each player brings the perfect cards for his twisted scheme, the old goals are so easy to achieve that players can build decks that win on the second turn. These hyper speed decks are extremely powerful. They may not be infallible, but on a decent day they beat all other deck types.

In most INWO cabals, this problem is dealt with by a simple gentleman's agreement concerning deck construction. After all, we're just playing for laughs, and the hyper speed decks pretty much ruin the fun. But having "gentleman's agreements" deal with a major problem is hardly a desirable situation, as you will discover if you participate in tournament-level INWO or play against opponents from another cabal.
The official rules ought to deal with the problem.

With the release of Assassins SJ Games did respond to the hyper speed isolationist decks. Thus, victory stoppers like Interesting Times, Apathy, The Magic Goes Away, Nevermore! and the paralyzes were added to the existing Upheaval. Later came Sultan of Slack.
SJ Games also weakened the doubling goals. By letting only 3 groups count double, decks relying on these goals could no longer win with 5-6 groups in play. But, for some reason the non-doubling goals were left alone, even though these goals can be achieved with even less groups!

The alterations worked. The cheap all-purpose victory stoppers weakened the hyper speed decks, because these decks usually don't have any way to recover if their initial burst of speed doesn't lead to victory. Unfortunately, while the changes pretty much fixed tournament-level INWO, they had a profound and detrimental impact on non-degenerate INWO. The same cards that slowed down the hyper speed decks, can make every other deck come to a grinding halt. Six hour games are not uncommon under the current rules, not to mention games that end in a disappointing stalemate.

So, the intended fix turned out to create a ripple effect, generating a new devastating problem.
In order to deal with both the original issue and the ripple effect, it is necessary return to the source of the problem.

The Solution
The suggested solution comes in 2 parts.
First, anti-speed rules to shut down the hyper speed decks. Then, anti-stop errata to deal with the now obsolete victory stopping cards.

The fast goals should be changed from an absolute victory condition to modifying the basic goal. By ensuring that no deck can circumvent the basic goal, every deck will need a few turns to expand. Furthermore, goals may no longer be combined. This prevents the doubling goals from working in tandem with the reworded goals, and is also a nice and simple rule.

The altered goals look like this:

The 4-5 group discounts ensure that these absolute goals are still appealing compared to a doubling goal. They just can't be abused. This errata makes second turn victories virtually impossible, and third turn victories a lot harder to achieve.

After slowing down the hyper speed decks, the existing speed bumps are no longer needed. A simple solution might be to ban these cards altogether, but rewriting them instead allows players to still use their cards.

The timing rules are confusing, not least thanks to the fact that the World Domination Handbook got hem wrong! This needs to be taken care of.

General Timing
The World Domination Handbook version 1.2 contains two timing rules:

  1. Cards take effect in the order they are played. A card takes effect before the next one can be played.
  2. Cards that cancel either tokens or plots are played immediately after the event that they are intended to cancel, and this cancellation takes effect before the original card takes effect.

Unfortunately, the rulebook then proceeds to explain rule one, with a situation which isn't covered by rule one! The example given is that the Nuclear Power Companies would not be able to cancel an attempt by the Discordians to make the NPCs straight.
Ignore the example!

Furthermore, the rulebook goes on to list all kinds of exceptions to rule one - exceptions that involve canceling. Again - ignore the exceptions, because they aren't really exceptions at all, they simply fall under rule two. So, it is in fact not an exception that you can cancel a privilege or an attempt to get at somebody's plots, since canceling happens before the event cancelled.
Stick to the two rules, ignore the examples, and everything should be a lot simpler.

Manipulating Dice Rolls
For the sake of simplicity, plots or special abilities that allow a player to manipulate or re-roll dice rolls should be included in the timing rules for canceling. This means that the new score replaces the original one before the original roll happened. Thus, there won't be any confusion concerning the temporary outcome of an attack, because the attack hasn't ended until all players are through manipulating the roll.

Timing During Attacks
With just the two timing rules to keep track of, the game becomes a lot less complicated. Unfortunately, these simple timing rules do not currently apply while an attack is in progress. During an attack, events do not happen in the order played. Instead, later events can make earlier ones illegal, and you can even cancel an attack way after it has been declared. Confusion ensues.

To make things easier, the rules for attacks should be changed to accommodate the two timing rules:
Attacks no longer take place in a time-vacuum where everything happens simultaneously. Instead, attacks consist of a series of isolated actions. This means that if you want to cancel an attack, then you have to cancel the first token when it is spent. It also means that NWOs will not affect the attack retroactively, but will kick in at the point they are played - only affecting yet unspent tokens.

The new attack sequence is divided into 5 steps:

  1. Initiation
    Declare the attack, and spend the token of the attacking group (with any +10s as normal) - the attack is now committed. The attack must be cancelled or made illegal before the next step, if at all.
  2. Privilege
    Invoke privilege if possible. Some plots establishing privilege depend on an aiding group - this group must act now for the privilege to take effect. The source of the privilege must be cancelled now if at all. However, abilities or cards that let players interfere in a privilege may be used at a later point. (Interference and cancellation is not the same thing).
  3. Calculate Base Roll
    Calculate the base roll of the attack, based on the power of the attacking groups token, minus the defending group's current power or resistance. Modify for shared/conflicting alignments and Illuminati proximity as described in the rules. Altering any of these will only affect the roll in this step.
  4. Abilities, Plots and Aiding
    Spend tokens to aid the attack or the defense, play plots (including +10s on the defending group) or use special abilities (including modifiers), etc. All of these are subject to the normal timing rules - meaning that playing NWO will not have a retroactive effect.
  5. Roll
    When all players are done affecting the base roll of the attack, the attack will resolve.
    Roll 2 dice, and compare to the final strength of the attack - as described in the rulebook.

Summing Up
The full timing rules now look like this:

  1. Cards or abilities take effect in the order they are played. A card or ability takes effect before the next one can be played.
  2. The only exception to this is cards or abilities that either change a die-roll or explicitly cancel events. These cards or abilities must be played immediately after the roll or event that they are intended to affect, and take effect before the original event, preventing it from happening.
    This means that attempts to manipulate rolls or cancel take priority over any other kind of play, since any new play would render the manipulation or cancellation too late.

Note that cancellation or dice-manipulation is still a play, so they too are subject to further cancellation or manipulation.

Other Rules
The remaining topics covered below do not concern problems of the same magnitude as the speed or timing issue. However, they are quite complicated rules, and simplifying them would make the game much easier.

Any Time is Any Time
It seems strange that cards and abilities which can be played "at any time" can in fact not be played at any time. They can be played at any time, except at the beginning of your own turn.

Most players get around this by asking the rival before them to say when his end of turn begins, virtually circumventing the counter-intuitive rule. Thus, the rule has limited impact on the game, yet confuses both newbies and veterans, and contradict what many of the cards literally say. So why have it in the first place?

When asked about it, the INWO gods have replied that the rule is there to prevent abuse of temporary alignment changes and specific goals. This doesn't refer to the doubling goals, but to the Shangri-La and Bermuda illuminated goal - primarily Shangri-La, who can win using temporary alignment changes on groups in rival power structures. This would allow Shangri-La to win with very few groups in play.

However, the anti-speed rules introduced above have already dealt with both Bermuda and Shangri-La, making this abusive play a lot less powerful. So - there is every reason to allow players to use their any time cards at any time.

The secrecy rules often confuse newbies. Not only do they break the normal rules about which groups can aid an attack, but it can also be tricky to figure out which special abilities affect secret groups. All we get in return for these complicated rules is the existence of some extremely powerful isolationist decks.

This rule replaces all of the old secrecy rules: If a non-secret, non-illuminati group initiates an attack on a secret group, then the secret group gets a +5 bonus to its defense. Non-secret groups with a special ability allowing them to attack secret groups ignore this bonus.

The immunity rules keep growing and growing. All explanations, examples and new rulebook chapters aside, time and again immunity keeps producing new questions and headaches.

Rather than adding yet more paragraphs to the immunity rules, it is better to rewrite them entirely, basing them on something substantial - the action token. This will mean that immunity no longer protects against all the things that it used to. On the other hand it will also apply in some new situations, such as plots powered against the immune power structure. This should render immunity no better or worse, simply different.

Under the new rules immunity from alignments means immunity from the action tokens of these groups.
When a group is immune to attacks from groups with a specific alignment or attribute, it means that it's groups are immune to the tokens of these groups. If the immunity applies to the entire power structure then it also applies to the hand and deck of the player. If a rival's group, to which you are immune, spends a token to perform any of the actions listed below, then the action is illegal, and the token is automatically cancelled:

Immunity from specific kinds of attacks means that tokens or cards spent to initiate or aid such an attack are automatically cancelled.

And that's it.
There have been some changes, but nothing too drastic.
Some are downright necessary, others just make the game better.
The new rules render INWO faster to play and easier to understand (and teach to newbies).
Now, go drink some coffee and take over the world.