I am nothing if not predictable.
Much as I loved and played the heck out of both Car Wars and Ogre, of all the Steve Jackson microgames, it was Illuminati to which my heart truly belonged. First published in 1982, Illuminati was a fast-moving -- and humorous -- card game of secret societies vying with one another for control of the world. Like all the best games, Illuminati was easy to learn and difficult to master and much of its fun came from that most unpredictable of elements -- the players themselves.
Players took on the role of one of several world-spanning conspiracies, such as the Discordian Society, the UFOs, or the Servants of Cthulhu. They attempt to win the game through controlling other "lesser" organizations, from the CIA to the Boy Sprouts to Trekkies, creating a power structure through which they can amass money, power, and influence with which to control even more organizations and, of course, attack opposing conspiracies. Each conspiracy has its own goals and victory comes with achieving those goals. For example, the Gnomes of Zürich need to amass a certain amount of money to win the game, while the Bavarian Illuminati need to amass a certain of power to do so. Some goals are harder to achieve than others, but that, too, is part of the game's lasting appeal, since certain conspiracies could be considered "advanced" options for players looking for a real challenge.
I say that, of all Steve Jackson's microgames, my heart belongs to Illuminati, but that doesn't mean I actually played the game as often as I played the others. Compared to Car Wars and Ogre, Illuminati isn't something you did on a lark. A typical game could take a couple of hours to complete in my experience, because the game involved lots of negotiations and deal making amongst the players, as they formed temporary alliances against one another. This aspect of the game, which I loved, tended to drag out game play and so Illuminati was one of those games you didn't just pick and play while waiting for your friends to arrive. You had to decide in advance to play Illuminati and set aside the time to do so and you needed at least four or five players to get the most out of it.
An aspect of the game that my friends and I always found amusing was looking at the power structures we created through play and imagining a world where it really was the case that the UFOs controlled orbital mind control lasers who controlled the Mafia, who controlled the CIA, who controlled Hollywood, etc. Illuminati power cards were a lot of fun just to read, since, in addition to the name and humorous illustrations on them, they included game statistics, such as power, income, and resistance. Each card also had an alignment such as "liberal," "government," or "violent." Alignment played a big role in the play of the game, since it was always easier for a power group to control another group whose alignment was similar (or at least not opposed) to its own. Reading the alignments is fun too, if only to get some insight into the mind of designer Steve Jackson, whose politics and sense of humor are not always in synch with those of other gamers.
Unlike the previous two SJG microgames I've discussed recently, Illuminati still appears to be available for sale, albeit in a "deluxe" format that incorporates a lot of additional rules and power groups from expansions to the original. I've never played this current version, so I can't say how close it is to the game I played in the early 80s, but I assume there's a fair degree of continuity. Consequently, you can give the game a try yourself, if you're not put off by its $34.95 price tag. I'm half-tempted to pick up a copy myself, since I no longer own my 1982 pocket box edition, but I have to admit that the price and the fact that it's an expanded edition is a bit off-putting to me. In addition to their simplicity, one of the great appeals of those microgames of old was their price and portability. A kid with limited funds could easily afford to buy them and you could carry them anywhere and play. They don't seem to make games like that anymore or, if they do, they're not as widely accessible as these microgames once were and that's a shame.