Non Isolationist Inwo

By Steve Hatherley

INWO is occasionally criticised for producing 'isolationist' games, games in which the players do not interract. I believe the criticism is valid. I have seen too many games consist of a slow build-up until a quick and savage explosion determines the winner.

I use 'isolationist' in this sense to mean attacking other players.

A number of factors encourage isolationism:

#1 INWO is the only game I know of where you can win by doing nothing positive. Your Automatic Takeover means you inch toward the basic goal without having to lift a finger. A conservative, isolationist strategy is not only viable, but definitely encouraged.

Suggestion: Reduce the total number of automatic takeovers. For example, no more than 3 groups per player. Or you may only make automatic takeovers of groups with Printed Power totalling no greater than 10. Alternatively, you can only make an Automatic Takeover of a group to your Illuminati's control arrows.

These suggestions may make Resources more popular - after a while that's all you will be able to take over. I think that's a good thing; Resources are fun.

#2 There are too many groups. There is no incentive to attack other players when you have groups in hand to control. Fewer groups increases conflict.

Suggestion: Reduce the starting group cards from 6 to 3. This slows direct expansion and encourages conflict. (If this gives luck too great a hand in things, choose 3 from 6 and return the others to your goup deck.) Alternatively limit the number of group cards allowed in a deck (I don't like this one).

#3 Attacking another player is difficult. You need power, and lots of it. Also, almost everyone else will oppose you - an attack to control directly profits you, while an attack to destroy probably profits you. This means that opposition is high and support is low as aiding the attack may lead to your win. Therefore, why attack another player when attacking from your hand is easier and safer?

Suggestion: introduce Attacks to Neutralise (as per the original Illuminati). These are identical to Attacks to Control except:

  • +6 Bonus
  • if successful the group is discarded. It does not count for goals, it is not destroyed, and you can then try to control it from your hand.
  • Attacks to neutralise ought to be more popular as they do not directly benefit anyone.

Combined with the above two points is the perception of vulnerability. Being seen to be weak in INWO is lethal. (How many back-from-the-dead victories have you seen?) You need action tokens to defend and it is sometimes difficult to interfere effectively without looking vulnerable in turn.

All this means that it is not decks that make the game isolationist, but the way the game plays. It is easy and safe to play the isolationist game - just rely on your automatic takeover, supplemented with attacks from your hand.

I posted this to the INWO Mailing List and the spirited discussion resulted in me developing the following variant:

Non-Isolationist INWO

INWO is occasionally criticised for being isolationist, for producing games where the players do not interact. To counter this, try any of the following suggestions:

  • When you draw your initial 6 cards, return 3 to your group deck. [The INWO Book, P.30]
  • You may skip your automatic takeover and instead take a +10 attack to control against a group in a rival's power structure. [Ralph Melton]
  • You may make automatic takeovers to your Illuminati's control arrows only.
  • At least one of the groups that you use to win must have been in a rival's power structure.

Adding Attacks to Neutralise into the basic rules was considered a Bad Idea as nobody would make Attacks to Destroy. (Instead we now have the Schizm card in the SubGenius set.)

I have tested the last variant quite extensively - it's a lot of fun in two player (which is, alas, how I usually play INWO). The variant used to permit counting a group in a rival's power structure, but that gave Shangri-La wins far too easily. It also allows you to be sneaky - there are lots of other ways of getting that tricky group (Upheaval/Recyling Centers, an assassination/Clone Arrangers, a simple trade).

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