Over the years a large number of deck building games have sprung to life, with some being better than others. For me, the best is still the father of them all: Dominion. To be honest though, Dominion rarely hits the table anymore and therefore I’m always looking for a new deck builder to take its place. Enter the Cthulhu Deckbuilder.
At its core, the Cthulhu Deckbuilder game borrows the Ascension mechanic (constantly refreshed resource row) but adds some nice twists of its own. In proper Cthulhu style, the game uses Insanity Points as a threshold for defeating certain Horrors and Elder Gods. But, there is a fine line between being just crazy enough to hear whispers in the shadows and jumping out of a 10th floor window because the voices said you could fly. The game balances this nicely and players will gain and lose Insanity frequently throughout the course of a game. For fans of Lovecraft and/or Cthulhu, the Cthulhu Deckbuilder is a no-brainer to purchase (or back via Kickstarter depending on when you are reading this). The game takes itself seriously and presents a lot of Lovecraftian folklore. If you like Ascension or the DC Deck Builder, but want something a little darker, definitely check out the Cthulhu Deckbuilder game.
Setting up the game is a breeze thanks to the starting cards all having the word “Starter” printed on them. The first thing you’ll do is choose your Investigator, all of which have a unique special ability. After that, you’ll need to separate the Ancient Ones from the rest of the cards; these powerful beings go into their own deck. You’ll then use the Story Deck to form the “Story Board”, which is where you’ll gain the majority of your cards during play. During each turn, you’ll purchase any number of available cards from the Story Board, assuming you can pay for them. Potentially polluting your deck are cards like Corruption and Fear, which you’ll want to get rid of if possible. Among the many things you’ll find in the Story Board are Events. When an Event is revealed, it is resolved immediately. If any card has a Surprise Effect, it is triggered after an Event. Lastly, if a new Ancient One has been revealed, it’s Awakening and Haunting effects happen.
There are a few ways to end the game, from defeating all of the Ancient Ones to all players losing their minds (due to an insanity score of 20 or more). You’ll need to ride a fine line between sane and insane in this game, as certain Horrors and Ancient Ones simply can’t be perceived by a sane mind. But, if you cross over the threshold, going too far off the deep end, you’ll lose your mind completely (and no longer be part of the game). If at least two players are still in the game when it ends, they will total the victory points on all the cards in their deck. The player with the highest score wins.
You’ll spend most of your turns gaining equipment, spells, allies, locations, etc until you have enough power to defeat an Ancient One. But, you’ll need to face and defeat a few Horrors before you’ll be ready to stand before an Ancient One. Horrors do all sorts of things in the game, but you can usually count on them to add or subtract to your insanity score. Most of the Ancient Ones have fairly high insanity thresholds so you’ll need to continuously be exposed to the unexplained in order to defeat them.
The prototype Cthulhu Deckbuilder game that I received came with custom spin-down d20s to track Insanity. These look really cool, with numbers 13 – 20 in red and the rest of the numbers in white. The 20 is a pentagram. These are top-notch dice. The graphic design on the cards work well with the theme and setting of the game, which combined with the artwork contributes to the pre-1950s vibe. The rulebook is well laid out and easy to follow, and even includes a few variant options for playing the game.
With over 240 cards, there is certainly a lot of replayability. I’ve played a few times now and I’m still seeing cards appear in the Story Board for the first time. The game is decently difficult and depending on the luck of the draw, everyone might lose. If you’re like me, you aren’t going to be satisfied with losing so you’ll want to play again in hopes that you’ll be able to overcome the odds. The different Investigators that are available all have special and unique powers, which add to the replayability.
The Insanity Requirement and how insanity works in the game (you can be too crazy and lose) is effective and feels like it should. The amount of Lovecraftian lore packed into this game is huge: the Events, Horrors, Locations, Ancient Ones, etc are all directly tied to the mythos that Lovecraft created. Fans of the genre will not be disappointed and fans of deck builders should certainly check out the Cthulhu Deckbuilder as it offers some new twists on the familiar game type. All in all, the Cthulhu Deckbuilder card game is a welcomed addition to my gaming shelf. Head over to Kickstarter to check it out.
((Note: A prototype copy of the Cthulhu Deckbuilder was provided for this review. Some of the art seen above is not final. Art and other aspects are subject to change before production.