In 1995 games designer Steve Jackson created a role-playing card game called Illuminati: The Game of Conspiracy. When playing, you take on the role of the shadowy puppet masters who supposedly make up the ruling elite of the Illuminati. Your mission is to launch black-ops false flag attacks on your own people, and generally conspire to act out evil plans to elevate your own wealth and, more importantly, to strengthen your ironfisted grip on world domination.
With the cards dealt, you can launch terrorist nukes into tall buildings, bomb the Pentagon, spread an artificially created disease, and even rewrite the history books to aid your reign of behind-the-scenes terror. The most remarkable thing about this game, however, is the illustrations on each card, some of which bear an uncanny resemblance to real life disasters like 9/11 and the Deepwater Horizon oil leak. Many conspiracy theorists are certain that the Illuminati truly exists, and that Steve Jackson had insider information on their heinous plot to implement the New World Order—an all singing, all dancing boot of tyranny put in place to stamp repeatedly on our faces in the near future.
They believe Jackson and his team of art directors, illustrators, and graphic designers, made these cards to subliminally warn us of the impending doom that would approach in the following 20 or so years. It seems far-fetched, but after digging around for a while, I began to wonder if there could actually be some truth to this bizarre theory.
There are 330 cards in total. Each was drawn by hand in the early 90s by a team of five illustrators who were given guidelines by art director Alain Dawson and editor Steve Jackson. SJ Games (Jackson’s company) was a small outfit at the time, headed by a college dropout. Where could they have gotten top-secret information from the highest echelons of a shadowy, world-controlling organization? It could’ve been from hackers who worked for them.
In 1990, the offices of SJ Games were raided by the American Secret Service, who took documents and hard drives, some of which contained information on the Illuminati game. Those who believe in this conspiracy will tell you that the secret services struck because they knew Steve Jackson and his crew were going to slyly reveal the Illuminati’s plan of action through this card game. While this does tie in nicely with the cloak and dagger aspects of the theory, the offices were actually raided because SJ Games was employing a hacker named Loyd Blankenship, better known as “The Mentor.”
Blankenship was the system operator for a hacking Bulletin Board System (BBS) known as “The Phoenix Project,” which published a stolen set of files that detailed how the 911 emergency response systems worked (the E911 documents). He was also the system operator for SJ Games’ Illuminati bulletin board. I managed to speak with Blankenship about the raid.
“SJ Games got raided because they knew I was a sysop [system operator] there,” he says. “And the Secret Services couldn’t believe that I wasn’t using the SJ Games BBS as a hacker board as well. The Secret Services assumed they’d swoop in with a weak warrant and find so much incriminating evidence that I’d be forced to accept a plea bargain. Unfortunately for them, I had nothing incriminating at SJ Games.”
All of Blankenship’s hacking related information sat at home (which was also raided) on his hard drive for his hacking forum. At work at the SJ Games offices he managed the Illuminati bulletin board like he was supposed to—as a place for customer support, games testing, and eventually a forum for people interested in conspiracy, sci-fi, and all things out of the ordinary.
Speaking on Steve Jackson, Blankenship says: “Steve is a huge fan of conspiracy theories. Not that he believes in them—as far as I could tell in five years of working with him—rather, he is immensely entertained by them. As for the "predictions" from the cards, it's pretty much like any psychic—say that a Middle Eastern leader will be killed next year and you have a decent chance of getting it right.”
Looking at the playing cards, it’s not hard to see why those with an eye for conspiracy and a lingering sense of paranoia interpret them as being prophesies for world disasters. The detailed images of exploding twin towers, earthquakes, and brutal martial law enforcement don’t need to be folded in half or studied upside down to see what the supposed message is. The illustrations are stark—albeit by probable coincidence—enough to send shivers down the spines of even the most hardened cynics and sceptics.
I got in touch with Dan Smith, the main card illustrator, who told me, “Unknown to most, and I say this with a degree of apprehension, speaking out now that the events are in the past, Steve dabbled in reprehensible, unclean practices to obtain his card ideas. I wouldn't say a Golden Dawn level of occult mastery, but there were times I would get messages from people who I didn't know… Steve often kidded that he was Nostradamus' second cousin's grand-nephew. Now I wonder…”
I was pretty sure Smith was bullshitting me, so I spoke to John Grigni, another one of the illustrators who lent his skills to around 20 of the cards.
He spoke about the “Twin Towers card,” which shows two skyscrapers standing next to each other, with a fiery explosion at about the same place where the first plane hit the World Trade Center in 2001.
“The Twin Towers card is actually titled Terrorist Nuke, which I recall from that time was a concern relating to the collapse of the Soviet Union,” says Grigni. “Terrorism was heating up as a 'headline seller' without the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, but we were still looking at Hamas and Palestine as likely culprits for such acts. Art direction-wise, frankly a nuke wouldn't just blow up one building, even a 'tactical' nuke would do damage on a much larger scale. It does seem oddly prescient, given the 'twin towers’ shown.”
To be clear, I don’t think Illuminati: The Game of Conspiracy is a destructive master plan hidden in a card game, but I have to admit the similarities between the cards and some of the biggest catastrophes in the last two decades, coupled with the Secret Service raid and the company’s relationship to hackers, is a bit unsettling.
Perhaps the most ominous card for our current moment is the one above, featuring what looks like London’s Big Ben clock tower being blown up with five men running from it—each one dressed in colors suspiciously close to those of the Olympic rings. Spooky.
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