One of the (few) saving graces from attending Strategy Game Con last weekend was the fact that I got to play a couple of games of the new Pandemic game: Reign of Cthulhu.
Reign of Cthulhu is a co-operative game for between two and four players. Players take the role of one of seven investigator: Magician, Hunter , Reporter, Detective, Doctor, Mystic and Driver – each has their own special ability which can be used during the game. Each investigator has its own 25mm plastic miniature.
Other miniatures in the game include 26 Cultists and three Shoggoths. There are various card tokens and lots of full colour cards. The production values of the game are very good. The miniatures are nice and the artwork is excellent. The card quality is good, without being outstanding.
The board depicts four of the classic fictional towns from the Lovecraft novels: Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport. Each town is split into 6 locations, each of which contains a bus station, and a gate.
The idea of the game? As with most Cthulhu games, players have to seal gates in all four towns in order to prevent Cthulhu from entering the world, and thus win the game.
As with most Pandemic games, the ways to lose are myriad: If the Summoning Deck is ever empty, if the player Deck runs out (effectively putting a time limit on the game), if you cannot place a cultist figure on the board, if you cannot place a Shoggoth figure on the board, or if Cthulhu himself is summoned (he is always the last of the seven Old One cards that are face down on the board) the game ends in defeat for our intrepid investigators.
Seeded into the player deck are a selection of relic cards which can provide players with items to aid their cause, but there are also four ‘Evil Stirs’ cards (like ‘Outbreak’ cards in Pandemic) which cause Old Ones to be summoned and a Shoggoth to appear on the board. Old Ones can also be summoned if ever a fourth cultist figure is required to be placed in a location, or if ever a Shoggoth moves through a gate.
It being a Cthulhu game, players also have a level of sanity, which can be lost by encountering Shoggoths, or by travelling through gates. If these events occur, a custom dice is rolled, with the different faces of the dice depicting different results. Should a player’s character go insane, they can still play, but their card is flipped over and their abilities are reduced.
The method of play will be familiar to anyone who has played the likes of Pandemic, Forbidden Island or Shadows over Camelot. Each player has a number of actions in which they can move, battle cultists or Shoggoths, and perhaps exchange clues or items, after which ‘bad things happen’!
There are now a fair number of co-operative boardgames on the market with a Cthulhu theme – Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Elder Sign (my personal favourite) to name a few- so I was wondering before I played if yet another Cthulhu game was really needed.
I suppose it all depends if you like the mechanics of Pandemic style games or not. If you do, or if you are a fan of the Lovecraft theme,, then I think you will enjoy this game – it strikes me very much as ‘Pandemic lite’. Reign of Cthulhu doesn’t appear to be quite as difficult Pandemic – especially as there is no such thing as the infamous outbreak cascade mechanic which can seriously ruin anyone’s day in Pandemic. It also seems easier to move around the board. My record for the day was played two, won one. Now admittedly, we were playing on the ‘Easy’ setting, but the game didn’t seem to throw quite as much at you at one time as its progenitor.
Having won our first game with relative ease, I was keen to try again immediately, just to see if that game had just gone particularly well – the second game duly obliged by kicking our collective butts and we lost horribly. The moral of the story is to get a plan early and don’t get distracted from closing the gates – otherwise it’s very easy to run out of time – although, as is typical in this game, we would have lost in about three different ways in the space of a single turn.
The game is due for release in mid-September, and will retail for around £40.