|From:Steve Jackson Games Cost: $15 (Illuminati required) Players: 3-6 Playing Time: Type of game: Beer 'n' Pretzels / Strategy Skill level: Complexity: Reviewed by: Matthew Baldwin, Issue 6.1 (21), Summer 1999|
Illuminati Y2K is an expansion set to the newly-released color Deluxe Illuminati set. Y2K introduces 76 new groups, 26 new special cards and two new Illuminati: The Church of the SubGenius and the Shangri-La. Most of the new cards depict groups or things that have become commonplace in modern society (the WWW, El Nino, paparazzi) and that fit in comfortably with any conspiracy theory; other cards just add some new oddball organizations (vampires, arms smugglers, chain letters) that could have just as easily been part of the first set. There are very few high Power groups in the Y2k supplement: "Microstuff" weighs in with a power of six, "Credit Card Companies" boast a power of four, but a majority of the new groups have little or no power whatsoever (Pale People in Black). And a few of the cards are probably a little too contemporary for their own good (Special Persecutor is good for a chuckle now but the real-life position is already on the verge of elimination, and Virtual Pets shows a Tamagachi, which is so, like, three years ago ...)
There are no guidelines for integrating the new cards with your pre-existing set, so we’re presumably just supposed to throw them all in. This makes for a pretty hefty deck (200 cards in all), and makes shuffling a chore. The actual effect on gameplay is subtle, but will be noticed by anyone who has played Illuminati before. For one thing, the number of "good' groups that are available at any given time has decreased, diluted by the scads of fair-to-middling groups Y2K introduces. Also bear in mind that most Illuminati have some "key card" that they covet, like the Semiconscious Liberation Army for the Bermuda Triangle and the Clone Arrangers for Cthuhlu; but with 159 groups in the deck- only half of which you'll see in a given game- it's quite likely that your perfect card will never come into play.
Special Cards are also much more readily available when the Y2K set is added. The original set contains 98 cards, 15% of which are Specials; when combined with Y2K, the percentage of Specials jumps to 26%. Because each player now has a one-fourth chance of drawing a Special at the start of his turn, the number of groups brought into play is reduced and this, in turn, limits the options available to players. Because of this, the "skip your action, collect 5 MB" rule gets invoked a lot more often now. You will also recall that a player may discard a Special to make a privileged attack on his turn, and the quantity of Specials makes that a lot more common with Y2K. For this reason, Y2K introduces one (and only one) new rule: now you can negate a Privileged Attack by discarding two Specials from your hand.
The two new Illuminati are interesting, but difficult to play. Shangri-La now has the toughest special victory condition of the lot: control 5 peaceful groups. Sure, the Shangri-La get a +6 on any attempt to control a peaceful group, but such groups are fairly rare- and Y2K does not add a disproportional number of them to the mix- so snaring five is no piece of cake (in the one game I played as Shangri-La, only one Peaceful group appeared in the whole game!). The Church of the SubGenius' special victory condition is simply that it's regular goal is one less than for every other Illuminati, so if you're playing to 10 groups, SubGenius only needs 9. Although this Condition fits quite well into the Churches "Doctrine of Slack", it's also somewhat unimaginative and only gives the SubGenius player a single way to win.
But, hey: when all is said and done it's still Illuminati, and it's got to rank as one of my favorites even in this current incarnation. I admittedly don't foresee myself playing it as often I may have a decade ago, and it's clear to me now that the combined Illuminati / Y2K deck will need some tuning before it works, but I will certainly be getting the gang together a few more times to plot world domination over pizza and beers. Because Illuminati is a lot like that movie you loved in your youth: its age is showing and its shortcomings are now painfully obvious, but you love it despite its flaws. Indeed, to some degree you love it because of them.