1994 game’s creepy COVID-19 prediction

An out-of-print card game released more than 25 years ago appears to have eerily foreshadowed COVID-19 and Donald Trump’s election.

An out-of-print conspiracy theory collectable card game released more than 25 years ago appears to have eerily foreshadowed current events including the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest in Washington DC and the rise of political correctness.

Sealed decks of Illuminati: New World Order (INWO) cards currently fetch up to $1300 on sites like Amazon and eBay.

Some sought-after individual cards – such as “Terrorist Nuke”, which depicts a scene uncannily similar to the 9/11 attacks – go for more than $50 apiece.

A long-time favourite of collectors, INWO, released in 1994 by Steve Jackson Games, is a Magic: The Gathering-style spin-off of the company’s Illuminati board game, which itself was based on the 1975 Illuminatis! Trilogy novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

Internet users and conspiracy theorists have drawn attention to the cards over the years for the apparent prescience of the irreverent, apocalyptic artwork – notably after September 11, 2001, due to an image resembling the explosion as the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and another depicting flames coming out of the Pentagon.

Other cards – there are 330 in total – have been highlighted on social media more recently for their apparent relevance to current events.

They include Donald Trump’s presidency – a blond-haired “Charismatic Leader” depicted speaking to a large crowd – the COVID-19 pandemic, violent riots and protests in the US, and images of a militarised White House surrounded by wire fencing.

One card, “Epidemic”, depicts a pile of body-bags, a face mask, gloves, disinfectant and the word “quarantine”.

“Disaster! This is an Attack to Destroy any Place,” the text reads. “If the attack succeeds, the target is Devastated. This attack cannot actually destroy the target.”

Another card, “Center for Disease Control”, reads, “As its action, the CDC can supply Relief to one Devastated location each turn. If the CDC makes a direct attack to destroy a Place, it can use biological warfare to get a +15 (!!) to its attack.”

A card dubbed “Political Correctness” depicts two men hanging by nooses with signs reading “used insensitive pronoun” and “ate flesh of dead animals”. “Good thoughts are now required,” the card says. “Increase the Power of all Liberal groups by 3. All Conservative groups with a Power of 0 or 1 become Criminal as well.”

Several cards relate to unrest in the streets, including “Upheaval!”, which depicts a protester punching riot police, and “Law and Order”, which features a cop swinging a baton at a cowering person.

Other cards include “Market Manipulation”, “Sweeping Reforms”, “Rewriting History”, “Gun Control”, “March on Washington”, “Combined Disasters”, “Media Blitz”, “Urban Gangs” and “World War Three”.

One supernatural-themed card appropriately features a “Plague of Demons” swarming around the US Congress building, while the “Watermelons” card reads, “One-time Communists, looking for a new cause, drift into Green movements. All Green groups are considered Communist and vice versa.”

Game designer Steve Jackson, writing in Dragon Magazine, has previously described the origins of the Illuminati games and that he wanted the tone to be “tongue-in-cheek rather than serious”.

“It’s possible to get deadly serious about the idea of conspiracies and assassinations,” he said. “I didn’t want that. Among all the material I’d read, the articles with the really wacky theories – even if they were presented totally seriously – were the most fun to read. Logically, then, a wacky game should be more fun to play.”

He added that “as much as possible, I wanted to retain the ‘flavour’ of the conspiracy material I’d been reading”.

“That’s why groups like the South American Nazis, the Cattle Mutilators, the Fluoridators, the Communists, the Oil Companies, and the United Nations, are in there,” he said.

“You can’t have a good conspiracy theory without stringing together all these elements and a dozen more – so here they are.”

John Grigni, one of the illustrators who worked on the cards, spoke to Vice News in 2012 about some of the seemingly prophetic imagery.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Loyd Blankenship, a hacker who worked for Steve Jackson Games and was responsible for the company’s offices being raided by the Secret Service in 1990, told the publication Mr Jackson was 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,” he said.

“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.”


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