Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game is a two-player Living Card Game (LCG) inspired by the literary creations of H. P. Lovecraft. Nightmarish creatures and secret organizations inhabit this world and are constantly at war with one another. Deep sea horrors, intrepid investigators, shambling monsters, and social elites make up the characters who are trying to stop their opposing forces from winning. The theme will make those of a nervous disposition a little shaken… so don’t play it too close to bedtime!
A Living Card game is a card game that can be played with the base set to create a variety of decks without having to buy lots of boosters to make them. Within this base set you can find 165 cards and 7 different factions to play with enabling you to create up to 21 different decks by combining different factions together. This is certainly yet another fine quality publication from Fantasy Flight Games.
Is Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game a great addition to the LCG realm or does it need to go back to the deep? Read on to find out…
Call of Cthulhu is a player versus player dueling card game that uses a few unique game systems to make it feel like a completely new experience. Setup is fairly quick, so long as you don’t want to have too many factions working together in one deck. The suggestion is that you pick two from those available and then mix in one of the neutral card packs. Keeping the number of factions down to two will mean less dilution for the deck and an easier understanding of how to play the game within the first few turns.
Before any play you will need to setup your Domains. A Domain is where you spend the resources required to play any of your cards, so long as you can afford the costs or meet the cards’ requirements. You also get three Cthulhu markers to place on top of an exhausted Domain when you spend from it. These little markers are cool and disturbing, and I can only imagine how eerie they would be if they were in color!
I had to have the glossary open through my first few games because there are a lot of keywords within this game that aren’t quite self-explanatory. I found some games took a long time to get through and this is because of the downtime involved when waiting for the opponent to make their choices during each of the game’s phases. The player interaction only happens in a few phases through the use of Event cards or via the Story phase.
There are six phases in all and it’s quite easy to remember what to do in each one after a few turns. The Story phase has the most sub-sections to it as this is where the bulk of the player interaction takes place. Actions can be taken during many turns and this will usually be triggered from a Character or Event card, but can also include the Support cards too. You may only play Character and Support cards in the Operations phase, and Event cards can be played during any phase, unless the card states otherwise.
Each turn can take quite some time because you have to wait for the opponent to draw, decide what to put into a Domain, play cards during their Operations phase, and then finally decide what to commit to the Story or Stories of their choice. Then you can finally commit your own Characters to those same Stories and try to stop them from progressing on that Story. A player wins a Story when they have 5 Success tokens on that Story. Winning 3 Story cards will result in that player immediately winning the game, no matter what else is yet to resolve.
Of course we can play Actions from any of our cards during this time, but the downtime during each turn can feel like an age and each duel easily went on for longer than the suggested 30 minutes – 1 hour play time. The saving grace is that we get to spend time looking at the amazing artwork on the cards that really do a good job of bringing the horrific and vile creatures of the H. P. Lovecraft universe to life.
I found it hard to make any real concrete gameplay maneuvers from the cards available in Call of Cthulhu. Characters are easy to bring to the board, but not to get rid of. Both my opponent and I never really over-committed to any stories and that meant that it was hard to make too much ground against one another. The obvious thing is to either focus on exhausting their Characters before you make your plays, or try your best to make them go insane through the use of Event cards during the Story phase.
During the course of a turn you should be adding a card from your hand to one of your Domains as a resource. Because you draw two each turn, this should be easily accomplished. It’s not so much of a requirement to do so in the late game, or if you have a bunch of low cost cards at the start. Keep in mind what is in the deck and what you’ve already added to your Domains. If you have a card that has the Loyal keyword, then you’ll need to keep one of your Domain pools undiluted from other resource types in order to play it.
There appears to be a lack of strategic depth from the core set offering. I’m sure that once you invest in a few expansions you can combo cards for extraordinary effects. As it stands the game feels a little on the vanilla side, which is a shame when we consider the number of decks we can make from the start.
Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game currently has 9 expansions with one in development. Purchasing this product ensures that you will get plenty of longevity out of it with the current and planned expansion and Asylum packs. Some expansions are better than others, but they usually run alongside the Asylum packs for a cycle. A cycle can contain many Asylum packs and have a particular theme throughout. There are also two draft packs that will challenge your deck building skills by having to build your deck from a shared pool of cards. This is the type of gameplay style that I love and I am instantly impressed to see this in an LCG.
Of the current 9 expansions, it is hard to suggest what to opt for as an initial purchase. Every expansion adds something different, but here are a couple that appear to be fan favorites.
- Terror in Venice – This is the fifth expansion in the series and one of the highest rated by the fans. This set contains 165 (three copies each of fifty-five) all new cards. Terror in Venice puts the focus on Relics within the city and the factions race to control them. New mechanics feature Day and Night conditions, and the expansion also introduces the Relics card type and new powerful Characters with the ‘Fated’ keyword. A scenario in Venice wouldn’t be complete without Masks, which imbue the wearer with some protection.
- The Thousand Young – Another 165 new cards in this, the latest expansion. This expansion grants new depth and resilience for the Shub-Niggurath faction. Expect to see a whole host of new Character cards that bend to the will of the All Mother and an all new Dark Mother card too. Avatars serving Nyarlathotep manage to infiltrate all of the game’s factions for their own desires. Expect to see a few new Location and Curse cards here too. This expansion comes highly recommended by many fans of the series.
Asylum Packs contain an additional 60 cards per pack with many duplicates. These packs can introduce new themes and game mechanics to expand your gaming experience. Within these you can expect to find new character, support, event, and story cards that can be used with many of the current factions available. The packs usually run in a series and should often be tackled in turn, but that’s just the suggestion. For competitive players, you’d need a couple of one pack to get the required number of cards to put into your tournament deck. It’s still a darn sight cheaper than buying a booster box of the latest trading card game!
Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game is a decently designed LCG that suffers a little on the player interaction side. The game tends to lean far too heavily on the Story phase for the player interactions and leaves the other phases, although short, interaction free. I often found myself doing other things whilst waiting for the other player to make their choices, as it was a better use of my time. Perhaps once familiarity sets in with card effects and optimum plays, the wait time will decrease.
Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will definitely want to check this out. The stories that can be told through the cards being played really paint a vivid picture of the struggles between the forces of good and evil. The deep ones want to take our souls and drive us insane, whilst the brave humans of various factions on the side of good do their best to stop these horrors from becoming all too real. You get a real sense of what these people must have to go through in order to protect the rest of humanity. Not many games can paint a great story during the midst of gameplay, yet Call of Cthulhu does this effortlessly.
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