|Peer Beyond the Bounds of Infinity
An Introduction to the Lovecraftian Terrors of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game
|Call of Cthulhu LCG | Published 29 October 2013|
“I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down daemons from the stars… I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness…”
–H.P. Lovecraft, From Beyond
The mythos of H.P. Lovecraft’s eerie fiction is filled with crazed psychotics, murderous cultists, dark tomes, horrific evils, and terrifying, ancient entities that exist just beyond the boundaries of our reality and of human perception. Naturally, its silent forests, cobwebbed mansions, and decrepit museums make excellent, exciting settings for games about encounters with the supernatural.
This Thursday, on Halloween, while your neighbors don costumes and celebrate all the ghosts, zombies, dragons, monsters, and other creatures that have long captured our imaginations, we encourage you to try one of our Arkham-themed games and imagine the terrors you’d experience if you ever really encountered any of those supernatural entities.
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve reviewed the horrifying thrills of both Elder Sign and Mansions of Madness. While each of these games allows you to experience a unique take on the eerie world of Lovecraft’s mythos, today’s game, Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game stands alone for three reasons:
Unearth Ancient Secrets
At the heart of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game lies the understanding that we humans are not the only sentient beings in the universe. There are other dimensions we can’t perceive and other realms that lie beyond our experience. Hidden within these realms, existing just beyond our mortal perception, the Ancient Ones and other terrible monsters reside. They are innumerable in form and shape and nature of being, some possess raw power that is simply unfathomable, and their entrance to our world could prove disastrous.
In Call of Cthulhu, players compete to win stories, which represent strange tales and horrors, as well as important discoveries unearthed by dedicated research. The truth that doesn’t drive you insane will set you free, and the first player to win three stories wins the game.
However, as the game’s cultists, cops, criminals, and monsters compete for control of various stories, players must engage in four types of struggles. Each of these struggles is indicated, in sequence, by an icon on the story card, and each carries its own risks and rewards:
|Terror: The loser of a Terror struggle must drive insane one of the characters he has committed to the story.|
|Combat: The loser of a Combat struggle must assign a wound to one of the characters he has committed to the story.|
|Arcane: The winner of an Arcane struggle may ready one of his exhausted characters committed to the story.|
|Investigation: The winner of an Investigation struggle may place a success token at the story.|
After you and your opponent have resolved all of a story’s struggles, the active player “succeeds” at the story if he has committed characters with higher total skill than the defending player. If the active player succeeds at the story, he places a success token at it. If the defending player has no characters committed to a story where the active player succeeds (or if his characters’ total skill is zero), the active player places a bonus success token at the story for going “unopposed.” Generally, you win a story when you place your fifth success token at it.
When you win a story, you have the option to trigger its game effect. Story effects, like that on The Shadow out of Time (Core Set, 157), are often powerful, but two-sided. They spur dramatic changes within a game; however, they typically benefit or penalize both players at the same time. Once unearthed, the truths of Call of Cthulhu are rarely confined to a single player.
Save the World. Or Plunge It into Darkness.
During a Call of Cthulhu game, your exploration into dark secrets will lead to some characters being wounded, some being devoured, and some driven insane. You’ll also have the option to use the knowledge you uncover to seal portals and make the world safe for humanity… or perform dark rituals and call down the ancients.
Call of Cthulhu features eight different factions (seven in the Core Set), and these are divided into four human factions and four mythos factions. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as its own personality, which takes shape as the cards in your deck work together to help define its methods and ambitions.
|The Agency – With its network of police officers and concerned citizens, the Blackwood Detective Agency combs Arkham’s dive bars, docks, and back alleys, hunting the servants of the Mythos. This faction's specialty is Combat and appeals to aggressive and destructive players.|
|Miskatonic University – No human beings know more about the Mythos than the learned professors at Miskatonic U. Miskatonic's chief strategy is to get in, get the information, and get out as fast as possible, hopefully avoiding Terror and Combat. Miskatonic excels at speedy Investigation and card draw, and appeals to "rushing" players.|
|The Syndicate – The seedy underbelly of Arkham. These guys know what's going on, and are trying to figure out how to turn it to their advantage. They are amoral criminals of all sorts, but compared to the forces of the Ancient Ones, even criminals can seem like the good guys. The Syndicate's specialty, naturally, is sneakiness: exhausting opponent's characters, lowering skill, and switching stories are just some of tricks up The Syndicate's sleeve.|
|The Order of the Silver Twilight – The Order is ostensibly a private club for high society's movers and shakers, but behind this facade lies an unending quest into the darkest corners of magic in search of power and world dominance. The Order specializes in prolonged Rituals, sacrifices, and effects that return characters to their owners’ hands. The Order of the Silver Twilight is not included in the Call of Cthulhu Core Set. It is introduced in the Order of the Silver Twilight expansion.|
|Cthulhu – The cult of Cthulhu can be found throughout the world's history, in all cultures, among all races, human and otherwise. As can be expected from the faction of Cthulhu itself, this faction specializes in striking terror into opponents and then destroying them utterly. This faction can often turn on itself, though, so invoke Cthulhu carefully!|
|Hastur – The subtle cult of Hastur is composed of deranged artists and raving lunatics, many of whom do not even truly realize who it is they serve, and they delight in the spread of insanity's slow poison. Hastur is a very strong control faction, with cancellation as well as hand control, and it appeals to the slower, more defensive player.|
|Yog-Sothoth – Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet; its worshippers know the secret ways between the worlds. Where Yog-Sothoth outpaces every other faction is in recursion – returning cards from discard – as well as search cards to help you find what you need when you need it.|
|Shub-Niggurath – The horrid Mother spawns uncountable servants of all forms and types, as well as attracting worshippers from the outcast, the perverse, and the deranged. Accordingly, Shub-Niggurath excels at flooding the playing field with creatures, both low-level grunts and high-cost monsters that enter play at reduced cost. It also excels at support destruction. Shub-Niggurath lends itself well to "rushing" players who also like to engage in combat.|
In Call of Cthulhu, not only are you free to represent the faction of your choice as you attempt to save the world or plunge it into darkness, but you can mix and match factions as you wish. You can build a deck that allies the University’s brain trust with Agency’s firepower, or you can imagine the dark horrors of a deck that unites the cults of Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath. You can even forge dark pacts between human and mythos factions. Will any of your University professors be seduced by the dark powers they discover and give themselves over to Yog-Sothoth? Who really runs the Syndicate’s operations? Perhaps, it’s a servitor of Hastur…
Call of Cthulhu is a fantastic game for players who enjoy deck-building and evocative themes. Though Heroic and Villainous characters won’t work together, you’ll be able to explore nearly any other combination you can imagine, and in the world of Lovecraft’s eerie fiction, nearly any of those combinations makes sense… in a deranged sort of way.
Playing the Game
The best way to get started with Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game is to pick up a Core Set, play against a friend, and see which factions and play styles best match your tastes. The Core Set includes seven different faction decks (one for each faction but Silver Twilight) and two packets of neutral cards. Mix any two faction decks and one of the neutral packets, and you’re all set to play against your buddy.
Each game takes place over a number of turns. The number varies, depending how long it takes a player to win three stories, but each turn is divided into five distinct phases:
In Call of Cthulhu, players drain domains to pay for their cards. You can’t drain multiple domains to pay for a single card, so you need to have a number of resources equal to or greater than your card’s cost all stacked under a single domain.
At the beginning of a game, both players resource three domains, stacking one card from their hands under each domain. In the resource phase, you can stack one single card from your hand under a single domain. This means that after your first resource phase, you can have three domains at 2-1-1.
Three domains resourced at 2-1-1
After your second resource phase, you can have three domains at 3-1-1 or 2-2-1.
Three domains resourced at 3-1-1
Three domains resourced at 2-2-1
Any card in your hand can become a resource, so if you can’t play it the turn you draw it, you have two options: Save it until you can play it, or resource it to help pay for other cards.
Learning how to resource your cards is essential to mastering the game’s tempo. Also, because you need at least one of the resources stacked under your domain to match the faction of the card you wish to play, you’ll need learn how to balance both the size and variety of your domains in order to play more complicated decks. Still, players find that the result of mastering the intricacies of resourcing is worth the effort. You will never be unable to draw your resources or caught with an absolutely unplayable card.
At first blush, the story phase may seem like a simple matter of math. Count the number of relevant icons on your readied characters, and count the number of icons on your opponent’s relevant characters. In each struggle, the player who commits more of the matching icons wins the struggle. You can thus anticipate what’s likely to happen if your opponent commits characters the way you think would be best.
However, strange things happen in Call of Cthulhu, even during the story phase. The boundaries between worlds always seem to be most vulnerable at critical junctures, and events and other triggered abilities can drastically impact the way your icon struggles resolve. Perhaps, your opponent will open a Twilight Gate (Twilight Horror, 12) and summon a Many-angled Thing (The Gleaming Spiral, 99), forcing you to sacrifice one of your characters. He could then commit the Many-angled Thing to a story where you have no Terror icons and force another of your characters to go insane!
In this way – and many, many others – Call of Cthulhu immerses you in the terrors of a world that imagines it’s safe, but is precariously perched above an abyss of unfathomable depth and horror.
Can you survive its terrors and discover the knowledge you need to win?
Beyond the Core Set
This Thursday, celebrate Halloween by exploring the spooky, otherworldly terrors and thematic gameplay of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. Play a game with your friend!
Also, once you find yourself snared by its mysteries and madness, Call of Cthulhu touches upon boundless worlds beyond the Core Set. As a Living Card Game (LCG), Call of Cthulhu evolves with each of its expansions. In fact, Call of Cthulhu is one of Fantasy Flight Games’ most venerable LCGs, and dozens of expansions already exist.
While many veteran card players are exhilarated by the possibilities inherent in such a deep card pool, other players are sometimes initially overwhelmed by the options available to them as they look to push beyond the Core Set. Accordingly, our next article will serve as your guide along your journey deeper into the game, exploring some of the best ways for you to expand your Call of Cthulhu experience. We’ll also look at some tips for successfully bolstering your Call of Cthulhu playgroup!
Based on the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and his literary circle, Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game takes two players deep into the Cthulhu Mythos where investigators clash with the Ancient Ones and Elder Gods for the fate of the world. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Asylum Pack expansions to the core game.