“We all go a little mad sometimes” – Anthony Perkins Psycho
First off, if you’ve read Lovecraft before you know that his work tends to be much more psychological horror than what you find in games of this ilk. Fantasy Flight has quite a large selection of games under this mythos and they all have more of a pulp feel to them, and that’s fine. In Lovecraft’s work you will find the characters slowly slipping into madness while their minds try to comprehend beings that are literally without comprehension. They emphasize the dread and horror of the unknowable and the sheer hopelessness of battling entities with power beyond anything you could imagine. In this game, and others of it’s kind, you will find characters kicking down doors and unloading a shotgun into some foul creature from another world. That is the kind of story this game brings. Basically, you are investigators trying to stop a dark cult from unleashing powerful elder gods into our world. So, while the psychological horror and feel is a bit different from the source material, it still makes for a wonderful and entertaining experience. This game oozes theme. The story comes through in every aspect. The art and gameplay go so well together and combine to make a truly terrific story. Even in the modest narrative provided in the core campaign it’s hard not to become immersed in the story and what is happening to your investigators.
There isn’t too much to say about components. The game comes with a good assortment of cards, small tokens to keep track of resources and health, tokens to use for skill checks, the box and rulebooks. The cards are typical for a Living Card Game. I’m sure a lot of die hard fans will end up sleeving their cards, but to me it’s an added expense that I feel just isn’t necessary. The art and flavor text on all the cards is wonderful and does a great job of pulling you into the theme. the tokens that represent resources, health, etc. all work well and are good quality. I will admit that I did put my chaos tokens into 26mm capsules. I felt they were being man handled more than the cards. I also like the nice chunky feel and the clink of them rolling around as you rummage in the bag hoping to draw a positive token. I really liked this addition to the gameplay. I tend to get really annoyed with dice rolls for skill checks and find this method much more fun and enjoyable. It would have been nice for Fantasy Flight to provide a bag to put them in, but I think this is a small concern. You could easily put them into a bowl or cup, but I bought a small dice bag that works great. This game comes, as all Fantasy Flight games, with two rulebooks. You have the quick learn to play guide and then a more dense reference guide with more detailed rules. It did take me a few games to get all the basic rules down. There are a good amount of little rules and steps to remember here and there, and keeping track of effects of different cards in play as they pile up can be a bit tricky. Although, after a few games it gets easier to remember and even if you forget, the experience is still enjoyable. The base box the game comes in is quite small and won’t be able to hold cards for long if you plan on getting expansions as they come out.
The art for this game is gorgeous. Each card does a great job giving you a visual depiction of the card ability. Not only this, they do an excellent job of helping immerse you into the story of your investigator and their horrific adventures.
Gameplay and Set-Up
Set up for this game can be a little lengthy, but it’s made a bit easier with some organization. All of my cards are sorted into their different encounter sets and player cards with dividers I’ve printed up. This makes it much easier to find the sets I need during set up. For your very first scenario you’ll have to put tokens in the chaos bag based on the difficulty level you’re going for and whether your playing campaign or a standalone scenario. You’ll also have to choose which investigators you will be playing with and find all their character specific cards. If you flip to the back of each character card you will find what cards they start with such as assets and weaknesses. They will also have specific deck building instructions on what kinds of cards they can put into their deck. This initial portion of the set up can be a little time consuming, but in my opinion is not as demanding as other deck construction games. Next, you use the location cards gathered to build the play area where the investigators will move around. Some scenarios have special cards that may be put aside out of play and they will show up when events bring them into play. You use the rest of the cards to build the encounter deck that you will be drawing from for the remainder of the game. Next, you will have to put the various tokens into their piles and each investigator receives five resource tokens and draws five cards. You can’t have weaknesses in hand at the beginning and can put back any amount of the initial five and draw one more card for each you put back. The game is guided by an agenda and an act deck. The agenda deck is how far your enemies are advancing towards their goals and the act deck keeps track of the investigators progress through the story. Players go through various phases until they achieve their goals or their enemies achieve their own. The investigator phase is the main part of the game where players will take turns performing three actions such as move, fight, evade or investigate. Most of these actions are played in the form of cards or at least buffed up by cards. Investigating allows them to gather clues to advance the act deck and is the main way they will progress towards their end goal. The enemy phase comes next where any enemies you may be engaged with get to attack you, and hopefully you will have ways to avoid these attacks or absorb some of the damage. Finally, you get to draw cards and get resources. This will lead into the next round where you will start off with the mythos phase (which does not occur in the first round). You will add one doom to the agenda deck which may advance when enough doom has built up within the game. Next, each player will draw a card from the encounter deck which all have various terrible things you will have to deal with. These things range from testing one of your stats to enemies spawning throughout the play area. You continue on throughout the campaign until some sort of resolution is achieved.
This game is absolutely wonderful solo and is, in fact, not only my number one solo game, but my number one game overall. You can play the game one-handed with one character or even with two to four characters if you have enough cards and are willing to keep track of all that info on your own. I would say some characters will take more easily to playing solo as you will want someone that has a more even stat line that can deal with various skill checks and more readily handle anything the game may throw at them. With just a core set this will be trickier, but as expansions are released and the card pool grows you will be able to customize your characters to better deal with any events and enemies that they may face. I myself have played multiple games controlling 1, 2 and 3 characters. One is good fun, but my favourite way to play is with two. Doing this I am able to play with more characters more often and create different combos of characters that play off of each other and help cover each others weaker attributes. Three was a bit too much and crossed that threshold of too much to keep track of for each character (at least for me).
I’ve heard several people claim on various online forums and sites that they think this game has low replay value. Obviously this is their opinion and to them the game is definitely not re-playable, but I have a different opinion. It is true that once you play through a scenario you will know the basic flow of the story line and what will occur, but there is more to the game than just the story. There are five different factions in the game and each one has a different playstyle. Guardians focus on combat and protecting other factions, Rogues are good at evading and sneaking around performing actions, survivors are good at getting out of sticky situations, seekers are your primary clue gatherers and help move the act deck along and finally mystics are a high risk high reward faction that can make big plays that may come with a potential negative cost. Each one can give a scenario a different feel. Also, each scenario has more than one ending depending on what happens during the course of play. So, even if you have played a scenario before and seen the events played out each game will be very different depending on what characters your using and what encounter cards might come out and when. I will also say that even though this review is focusing on the core box I have played all other expansion scenarios and can say that they grow and evolve in much more complex, variable and interesting ways. The core box is meant as more of an introduction to the game mechanics and how they work, but I still found it quite enjoyable and played through the core campaign four or five times before moving on to anything else.
I’ve already stated that this is not only a game I love, but is in fact my number one game. To me there is just so much to enjoy. First and foremost is the story. You get an initial introduction to each scenario in the campaign guide and then the agenda and act deck also spice up the game by injecting story elements throughout the play of the game. Once each scenario is ended you also get a little story snippet that will vary depending on how the game played out. The game can also change ever so slightly in future scenarios depending on how well you have done and what choices you have made. I have played many “narrative” games such as Agents of Smersh, Robinson Crusoe and Eldritch Horror, but in my opinion none of them can hold a candle to this one in terms of story. I also like how you can pick different characters based on your playstyle and then customize them even further with how you construct your deck. The cards are extremely thematic and really fit the feel and ability that they are trying to convey. Spell cards can allow investigators to do incredible things, but they risk their sanity slipping further away. A quick dynamite tossed down can deal massive damage to a gang of enemies that is hunting for you. Each character also starts with two unique weaknesses that can really throw a wrench in the works if drawn at the wrong time. The cards are also multi-use, which is another thing I love. They each depict an ability they convey to the player and a set of icons at the side. Most cards can be discarded to use their icons to buff your stats in skill checks for fights, investigations and other actions. So, you have to decide if you want to use a card to help with this current skill check I’m about to do or do I really want to save it because I love the ability it will give me. Speaking of skill checks, I’m a big fan of the chaos tokens pulled from the bag as opposed to using dice. Imagine reaching into the bag, rooting around, finally grasping a token you’ve decided to take a chance on, pulling your hand out and slowly opening your hand to determine how you’ve done on your check. It is so much more satisfying than rolling a dice and seeing what happens and it also makes the difficulty very customizable. Although, there may be a few negatives to the game depending on who you ask. The game can be very random. You have random card draws from your own decks, random draws from the encounter deck and random draws from the chaos bag. So, if you don’t like randomness this game may not be for you. With games like this you need randomness to create a challenge within the game and the difficulty can be adjusted, but it still may rub some the wrong way. Some people may not be overly fond of having to construct decks before beginning to play. It is a bit time consuming, but in my opinion not nearly as demanding as other games such as Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Also, if you want to be able to do more varied deck construction you will definitely have to get into buying expansion packs, which won’t be cheap. Some will say you must get at least one extra core box. If you want to play a four player game with just core material that is true. The core box alone is not enough to build four decks, but I myself only own one core and that combined with expansions has been sufficient to build multiple decks at a time. The rules can also be a bit tricky at first with different key words and smaller rules that can be hard to remember until you’ve gotten a few games under your belt. Needless to say, I find this game to be outstanding and think that If you find the core box even mildly entertaining you should definitely give expansions a chance as they considerably increase the game in every aspect. I have only had this game for about a year and a half, but it has already become my most played game by far.