Cthulhu. A character that pretty much every gamer under the sun nowadays has heard of. The board game industry has absolutely exploded with various takes on the Lovecraftian universe, in particular by Fantasy Flight Games, with Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror being some of the more notable ones in recent years, as well as the classic Arkham Horror. A lot of this coincides with the rising popularity of purely co-operative experiences, and in today’s article, we look at three more of these co-op battles against the dark and terrible forces of the universe.
Far and away the largest game of the three, Mansions of Madness Second Edition departs notably from the original in that it is now a fully co-operative game. Gone are the days of the “dungeon master” type player; now everyone can work together to solve the mysteries and best the horrors they encounter.
How does it achieve this?
By making use of a companion app, just as games like XCOM have in the past.
The app comes with stories spoken aloud and many useful tools for keeping track of various game elements, such as damage on enemies and slowly revealing information that would normally be controlled by the dungeon master player. In my opinion, this is where the app will really shine; damage tokens can get really fiddly, and the clever removal of the 1 v X gameplay will certainly push its cause in a market increasingly appreciative of purely co-operative games.
Another aspect of the game achieved via the app are puzzles in the same vein as mastermind and other similar puzzles, which you must solve in order to open locked rooms or other various things in the game. Whilst this is certainly a novel idea and I find such puzzles enjoyable. I query whether Mansions of Madness Second Edition has delved too far into technological possibilities and become a video game with physical parts as opposed to a board game supported by an app.
I’m a little apprehensive at just the extent to which the app is required for the game. What happens if support for the game dies out, and a game-breaking bug never gets patched? These are issues that aren’t present in purely physical tabletop games, and only time will tell just how successful they’ll be. Myself, I have a small gripe with any game that’s not complete out the box or is completely dependant on technology. If co-operative Cthulhu monster fighting or investigation style games are your cup of tea and you’re not against the coming wave of app based games, then Mansions of Madness Second Edition will be right up your alley.
Pandemic is credited with starting the co-op revolution in board gaming, so it makes sense that Chuck D. Yager eventually decided the time had come for Cthulhu to invade the frantic and challenging design by Matt Leacock. Instead of going around the world to stop the spread of viruses, however, this time you’ll be stopping cults and their rituals in order to save the world. As the game progresses, monsters and other horrible creatures will awaken and radically influence the game; a large departure from the original Pandemic. For those who are concerned about a reskinned game, fear not; whilst the elements that made Pandemic great are still there, there is enough difference to be worthy of more than a cursory glance.
Compared to many other Cthulhu games (excluding Elder Sign, which I find lacks the depth and replayability required of a great game), Reign of Cthulhu is quite accessible to newer board gamers, and would likely be a solid entry into the wonderful world of board gaming. With some fantastic looking player pieces, Reign of Cthulhu will likely interest those looking for Pandemic with a twist, or those who are more interested in sealing away ancient evils than curing diseases (I’m a bigger fan of the latter, especially after the wonderful Pandemic: Legacy).
Easily the one I’m most looking forward to whilst also being the most mysterious of the three is the upcoming Living Card Game Arkham Horror, an entry is far more interesting than the previous two in the author’s opinion.
One, it’s not based on an already existing game like the earlier two were.
Two, it’s only the second co-operative Living Card Game to be released, after The Lord of the Rings back in 2011.
There’s a lot of ground to cover and explore in this area, and hopefully Fantasy Flight can take to heart the lessons learned by the early missteps in Lord of the Rings and deliver a gripping and engaging experience from the get go (the core set of Lord of the Rings was great, but the first cycle was lacking. They’ve gotten a lot better lately, and they’ve created really innovative mechanics in the last two years).
Players each take on the role of investigators trying to get to the bottom of some Lovecraftian breed of mystery (who’d have thought?). In addition, taking some recent inspiration from Warhammer 40000: Conquest, each character comes with some unique cards which must be included in their deck; the twist, of course, is that not all of these cards are good. You may find yourself suffering from Amnesia or need to Cover Up some of the crimes of your past! Really keen to see how this works out!
Other substantial departures include a fairly unique token bag system, which seems to present unique opportunities for difficulty scaling as opposed to a purely random dice system. Some tokens will produce effects which vary depending on the character and adventure, while others will simply provide a boost or penalty to your efforts.
The way in which actions are taken and resolved is far more akin to a role-playing game than any other LCG; in fact, many other aspects of role-playing games have also been incorporated with an emphasis on persistent character development between games.
Having the focus be on long term continued campaigns from the get go is ambitious; I’m concerned that single, isolated games may suffer slightly if the focus becomes too much on the campaign, much like Imperial Assault, where the game is unplayable as a standalone. However, the potential for the game to be incredibly rewarding and groundbreaking also exponentially increases from this risky venture, and I’ll be eagerly watching the development of the game over time.
I personally love playing these flawed heroes and trying to save the world from horrid monstrosities from beyond time and space, and the world of HP Lovecraft is rife with many stories to share with friends around the board gaming table. With even more boxes of mystery and wonder to be opened and enjoyed, these games may be your gateway to another world…of fun (and terror, but mostly fun).
Check out some of the games mentioned in this article!