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Welcome again to “A Review a Week” – my attempt to somehow manage to play and rate every single game in my collection. This will mark 3 months of doing this and it looks like I have many, many years of doing this to follow. As always, if you see a game in my collection that you would like me to review, let me know and I will try and fulfill your request. Today’s review is for one of my faithful followers…

Mike
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So direct any complaints about the game to him. Finally, because I say this every time, all of my games were either purchased by me or given to me by a friend or family member.

Now before I get into the proper portion of the review, let me tell you a story. A story of the before time, in long time ago land. Back in the day (1993 or so) a young UndeadViking was going to college and discovering the joys of keg beer and girls that were finally out from underneath their parents' thumbs and had Daddy issues. Oh he still did the occasional geeky thing, but for the most part, his weekends were about studying (HA!) and tracking down the closest house that was selling a plastic cup for under $4. One day however, he ran into his friend Joel at a late night pancake house who proceeded to show him a fantastic new fantasy game he had recently discovered. The game was something he called “Magic”.

You see Joel had recently been to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul for those of you not from the northern central US) and had picked up a few “packs” of cards on the urging of some of his friends. Now, young UndeadViking was intrigued by the game, and quickly sat down with this friend and spent the next 3 hours playing this card game with his friend. Thank goodness for free refills on soda. Young UV decided at that moment that he absolutely had to own as much of these cards as humanly possible, so the next day he went to the local gaming store (back when his hometown of Fargo still had a local gaming store) and asked them for some packs of cards post haste.

Sadly, it was not meant to be. Apparently this game was so fantastically popular, that no one could get it in stock. The overweight grumpy man behind the counter told him that he had some on order, but the company was between print runs. He took down young UV’s name and phone number and assured him that he would call him when he had some in stock, but he did warn him that his name was pretty far down the list, so it might be a couple of shipments before he would be able to fulfill his request.

Gloomily, young UV went back to his dorm room and drowned his sorrows in warm keg beer – and promptly forgot all about his order. As is the nature of these things, young UV’s interests moved on to other things, like whiskey and drunk co-eds, so when he got the phone call that he could come in and purchase his Magic cards, he looked in his wallet and decided the cash in there was better spent on Milwaukee’s Best pounders and Funyuns, and so his dream of owning his own Magic deck was soon thrown to the wayside.

I tell you this story, because I realize what a huge bullet I dodged back then, after I watched my friends who were into the game drop paycheck after paycheck on booster pack after booster pack in the attempt to make that “perfect” deck of cards that would allow them to destroy any and all of their opponents. I also mention this story because I want you to realize that this review is from the viewpoint of a guy that has minimal deck building skills, who might have trouble with some of the over arching strategies of CCG’s. When I sit down to play a game of this type, my goal is to have a good time, and that’s it. Most of the time, friends of mine will wipe the floor with me when I play stuff like this, but if a game keeps me coming back for more, then I know I have a winner.

Anyway, if you made it this far without being bored and or annoyed, we can now start talking about the game.

Overview and Components

Call of Cthulhu is a “Living Card Game” that pits you and another player against each other in a titanic struggle between factions that thematically, usually end in the worlds demise. While that may seem a little bleak, think of it this way, if the world was going to end, and there was nothing you could do to stop it, wouldn’t you want to have some sort of hand in it?

As far as how the game looks, you should not be disappointed in the slightest. While there are other components besides the cards (a game board, cardboard chits, and cute little plastic Cthulhus) these are all completely unneeded. I guess you need some sort of marker to keep track of who is winning a certain battle, but this could be pennies, dice, glass beads, or pieces of lint. That being said, the afore mentioned components are all well made and nice to look at.

The cards themselves are excellent quality, and they should be since they are the only part of the game that really matters. They are of standard CCG size if sleeving is your thing. Each card has a colorful picture (some nicer than others – as would be expected) and are very easy to read and interpret. On most of the cards there is a line or two of flavor text that is nice to read the first time you look at the card, but will be quickly forgotten and looked over on subsequent views. It is important to note that the cards have a white border on the picture side. This apparently is to cut down on noticeable wear and tear from multiple shuffles of unsleeved cards – a nice touch.

 


How Do You Play?

Well if you have a background in CCG’s, this game will come fairly easily for you. I was a little out of practice when I picked this up so the rules were a bit obtuse for me for the first play or so, but pretty soon things will click for you. This is important, because in any CCG, the game itself should be very smooth, so you can concentrate on your strategy and plans, and not on the mechanics of the game itself. That being said, I won’t try and give you an exhaustive step by step explanation of the game here, but I will give you a good idea of what goes on during a game. The following instructions are given presuming that you own the core set of the game and nothing else.

You begin the game by shuffling up the 10 story cards and placing them on their location on the game board. The Story Cards are what you as the players are going to war over. If you manage to “win” 3 of these battles (and therefore claim the Story Card) you win the game. The Story Cards themselves have some sort of reaction when they are claimed as well, some good some bad. You may find yourself avoiding certain “stories” since claiming them will weaken you in some way, and on the reverse, you may go after certain stories because they will help you or damage your opponent.

Next you place three face down cards in front of each player. These are your “domains”. The cards used for this purpose will never be looked at or used for anything other than a place marker. Theoretically, you could use anything for this, but just grab some unused cards out of the box as suggested by the rules. If you want to pimp out your game, go crazy with whatever you wish, just make sure they are about the same size as a playing card since their purpose is to obscure the cards that are placed underneath them.

Now make your deck. You can do this however you like, and if you start buying up the expansions to the game, you will definitely be trying lots of combinations. Let your creativity go wild and take a look here on the forums for the game, or at the FFG site for suggestions. Personally, I like just trying whatever comes to mind as something that seems “cool”, but judging from my record, “cool” does not equal many victories. Of course, I rationalize that even though I don’t win much, I get style points for every single game I play, both wins and losses, so I come up pretty much even.

Once you have your decks ready, decide who goes first by whatever means you wish and draw the first three cards on the story deck and put them on the board in front of you. Take a few moments to look them over and figure out what your plans are.

Now each person draws 8 cards from their deck, and then chooses 3 of those cards to be their “resources”. Take each “resource” card and place it upside down and underneath each of your “domain” cards. Only the color and resource type should be able to be seen at this point, however this does not mean they are hidden to your opponent. At any time during the game you can request to see the resource cards under your opponents domains. After all of this is done, you are ready to actually begin the game.

Actual gameplay is broken down into phases. Here is a quick rundown in order. Note that if you are just starting, a lot of the beginning actions won't take place because of obvious reasons.

1. Refresh Phase - This is when you get to flip over any one of your insane characters and exhaust them. You then refresh every single one of your other exhausted characters. If any of your domains have been drained, this is when you remove the token from those domains to show that they are ready to be used.

2. Draw Phase - Simply draw 2 cards from your deck. If this happens to be the first turn of the game, the first player only gets to draw one card as a penalty. (It's good to go first as you get the jump on your opponent)

3. Resource Phase - The current player may choose one card from his deck to add to one of his domains as a resource. If you choose to do this, simply place the card face up and upside down under one of your domains so you can see the icon and nothing else.

4. Operations Phase - The current player can now play any number of cards from his hand by draining the domains in front of them. This allows you to put down your minions and their support cards so you can take part in the next phase of the game. It is important to note that when you play a card, you must have at least one matching resource in the domain you drain corresponding to the card you are playing.

5. Story Phase - Now you can try and take over one of the Story Cards. The current player picks what characters they are going to commit to what stories. Once they are done, the opposing player can choose which characters will be committed to oppose those characters. Now you move on to resolve those "combats".

Resolving a story will take a little time right away as you get a feel for the game, but will get a lot easier as you play. Each character in the game has stats that help it in their battles for the stories. They can have stats in Terror, Combat, Arcane, and Investigation. You will need to total up these stats as you handle these struggles in order. here is a quick run down of these struggles in the sequence that they occur. A tie in any of these struggles results in nothing happening.

Terror Struggle - Whoever has the least number of this stat has to choose one of their characters and have them go insane. Turn that card upside down and remove it from the Story Struggle.

Combat Struggle - If you lose this part, you have to pick one character and have them suffer a wound. Usually this will result in the character being destroyed and discarded, but some characters can suffer more than one wound.

Arcane Struggle - If you win this contest, you get to pick one of your characters committed to this story and un-exhaust them. They are still considered committed to the story, but they can be used later, most likely for defense on your opponents turn or for a special power they may possess.

Investigation Struggle - If you win an investigation struggle, you get to immediately place a token on the Story Card (5 tokens wins the story). This may cause the Story to be won immediatly, in which case you do not need to take the final step.

However - if the story has not been claimed, total up the remaining skill values of the characters involved committed to the story - dead and insane characters no longer count. If the attacker has at least 1 skill point AND has more skill than their opponent, they get to place a token on the story. As mentioned earlier, if this should result in the player having 5 tokens, they get to claim the story.

Now the other player gets to start all over with the first phase on down. Continue trading turns until one player claims 3 stories and wins the game.

My Opinion

First - let me apologize again for the length of this sucker. If you made it this far and honestly read the whole thing, let me know and I will throw some GG pennies your way.

Now as I said earlier, I am not a great CCG player, just like I am not a good Dominion player, or a good Race for the Galaxy player. My brain is just not wired up for figuring out the long term strategies that are needed to be uber successful. I still enjoy every single one of those games, but I know I will never be great at them.

However, Call of Cthulhu is the first card game I have ever played (besides poker) that makes me WANT to be an awesome player.

There is a reason why Lovecraft is resoundingly popular these days. Giant sleeping gods sleeping in the depths of the ocean or in outer space are just cool. Anything that lets you even try to interact with these ideas, by proxy, is cool as well.

But if all this game had going for it was theme, it would suck. The mechanics of a card game have to be simple, yet have layers. Layers of strategy that you slowly realize and comprehend as you play the game. Layers that cause that "PING" noise to go off in your brain as you play them, or when you reflect on what you just did after you have packed up your cards.

Call of Cthulhu has this in spades. I did not go into all the different types of cards and factions because for one, I did not want this review to be twice as long, and for two, there is just too much to digest. With FFG coming out with a LCG booster deck every other month or so, you are constantly revamping and tweaking, adding touches and flourishes to your "END-GAME" deck that you are certain will be the ultimate deal closer.

And that is another reason why this game is awesome - the fact that nobody has to go and buy booster pack after booster pack to try and get every card. You don't have to cruise eBay to try and find a cheap rare to finish off a build. Sure, FFG could have made more money with blind boosters, but I seriously don't think they missed a beat, and they know they have a winner on their hands. Look at the hype for Warhammer: Invasion.

But this is a review of the core box for the game and nothing else. And this is a review that is directed towards the casual player. If you only buy the core set will you have fun? Oh my yes. Will the game get old? Sincerely doubtful. Even the rulebook itself touts that there are 21 different faction combinations that are playable out of the box.

My only warning is this - you won't be able to stop at just the core set. Whenever they come out with another "Asylum Pack" you will buy it, as I have, and you will anxiously await the next release as well. Thankfully, you can pick most of these packs up rather cheaply online, maybe $7 or $8 each, and they make for a perfect addition when you are only a couple bucks off of getting free shipping from your favorite OLGS.

In a lot of ways I am thankful that this format didn't exist in 1993, I might not have been able to resist it like I did Magic all those years ago. On the flip side, I am sure there are some girls I ended up dating back then that wish it had.



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Jeremy Brown
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Just one more review to put me over the edge--I have been eying this one for a bit now and have it coming to me next week. I have been so excited to get into it this game. I suspect that I will also end up acquiring all the asylum packs; getting a mini-expansion every other month is very exciting.

Thanks for your contextualized review.
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Ebon Hawk
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I play with the previous CCG version mixed with the new cards since they do work together even though the backs of the cards are different. We simply use opaque card protectors. Sure, it isn't "legal" for organized play, but that really doesn't exist any more and I have a ton of cards from the CCG.

Nice review by the way. I have played a ton of CCGs and this one is by far my favorite (and the only one I did not dump during a massive game purge). The mechanics really are simply with great complexity to be found in deck building and card play.
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Brad Miller
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It's a fun game. Sucks though if you can't build a decent deck. My son has won 20 out of 21 games against me
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Gabriel Tomàs i Grimalt
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I think is a great game that has become more available to many in the new LCG format. Now you don't have to suffer to achieve an impossible card... you simply expands a base board/card game, like many others!
Cheers!!
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Nate Merchant
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Good review. I didn't have a very fond appreciation of this game when I played it as a CCG, but hopefully as an LCG it has tightened up a bit. Even so, it fails even more than AH to convey the important Lovecraftian existential dread. I don't think different packaging will change that, but we'll see.
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Gunther Schmidl
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Once again we're left with "make a deck". And that's where, for me, all these games that aren't Magic fall down -- it's too effing hard. I don't need to know a lot about Magic to at least make a serviceable deck, but I wouldn't even know where to start with any of these LCGs, and there aren't really any good pointers that I've seen.
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Mike
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Thanks for the great review! This in depth look has certainly pushed me from the maybe category, to the "ordering that from CoolStuffInc right now" category! thumbsupthumbsup

I'm very glad to hear that you can enjoy this game with the core set. A big part of my problem with collectible card games and miniatures is that getting started is a hassle. The LCG format seems to be very sensible and easy to do at your own pace. I was worried how the Cthulhu theme would mesh into a card game, but you make it sound fairly awesome. It's also nice to hear that the mechanics are actually worthwhile too. You have me very excited for this game and I can't wait for it to arrive!

I'm very excited for this and I'll be watching Warhammer Invasion very closely. FFG is firing on all cylinders lately and I might as well just start sending part of my paycheck directly to them...

Thanks again for the great review!

~ Bones
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Lance
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gschmidl wrote:
Once again we're left with "make a deck". And that's where, for me, all these games that aren't Magic fall down -- it's too effing hard. I don't need to know a lot about Magic to at least make a serviceable deck, but I wouldn't even know where to start with any of these LCGs, and there aren't really any good pointers that I've seen.


Best pointer I could give you is start with a faction that appeals to you, and then buy a couple of the Asylum packs so you can make a “one faction” deck. After a few plays, the strategies of the game should start to unravel for you.

Of course, this requires a little investment in the game, so unless you are sure the game will appeal to you, it might not be the best plan.
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Gunther Schmidl
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UndeadViking wrote:
Best pointer I could give you is start with a faction that appeals to you, and then buy a couple of the Asylum packs so you can make a “one faction” deck. After a few plays, the strategies of the game should start to unravel for you.

Of course, this requires a little investment in the game, so unless you are sure the game will appeal to you, it might not be the best plan.


Yeah, the problem here is I tried both this and AgoT when they were still CCGs and got nowhere with either. Better for the wallet, I guess.
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Rauli Kettunen
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gschmidl wrote:
UndeadViking wrote:
Best pointer I could give you is start with a faction that appeals to you, and then buy a couple of the Asylum packs so you can make a “one faction” deck. After a few plays, the strategies of the game should start to unravel for you.

Of course, this requires a little investment in the game, so unless you are sure the game will appeal to you, it might not be the best plan.


Yeah, the problem here is I tried both this and AgoT when they were still CCGs and got nowhere with either. Better for the wallet, I guess.


I think the big question is what is your primary play preference: casual or hard-core? I own Core Set + Ancient Horrors AP and go with casual (each picks 2 factions, add random Neutrals to even the numbers if needed, shuffle and play). No need to spend time deckbuilding.

If you want to really make decks, then you'll probably need 3x Core and multiple copies of each/some AP.
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Brad Miller
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Dam the Man wrote:

If you want to really make decks, then you'll probably need 3x Core and multiple copies of each/some AP.


Maybe for tournament level decks. I'm a one Core one of each AP CoC buyer, and we make decks just fine. Well, at least my son does, my decks apparently suck pretty bad. What makes it weird is that the cards from the APs become the "core" of your decks, as you have some x3 cards there.

And if you are playing in a sanctioned league event, those restrict you to one core set and an AP.
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Marco Arnaudo
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why do you do this to me, Lance? Why? WHY????? Like there aren't enough games that I want to buy and play already... and now after reading your excellent review I HAVE to also get this one... and get addicted to just one more game... shake

but, seriously, thanks!
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Picked this one up online the other day due to your review, but have not gotten it out of the box yet. I will have to corner a family member to play it with me!
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