Beings of ancient evil, known as Old Ones, are threatening to break out of their cosmic prison and awake into the world. Everything you know and love could be destroyed by chaos and madness. Can you and your fellow investigators manage to find and seal every portal in time? Hurry before you lose yourself to insanity.
Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu is a re-implementation of Pandemic with many of the same mechanics. Two to four players take on the role of investigators dealing with rising numbers of cultists, supernatural beings, and trying not to go insane. For the players there is one win condition which is to seal the four portals, and like Pandemic there are numerous ways to lose. It is fast, fun, fully cooperative and tough to beat.
Visually this game looks good, the board is dark and thematic, depicting the fictional towns of Arkham, Innsmouth, Dunwich and Kingsport. There are numerous figures representing the Investigators, cultists, and Shoggoths. The various cards are thematic, and all components are good quality.
At its heart, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is a fully cooperative action selection and set collection game. It is more cooperative than Pandemic because all cards are open and visible to all players, so a greater degree of planning on how to seal those four portals becomes possible.
Like Pandemic, the game has a time limitation or if you prefer a turn limitation factor. If the draw deck of player cards runs out, that’s it, game over, so the investigators cannot hang around, acting fast is essential. Another limiting factor, though the players can manipulate this more, is if there are no more cultists available in supply the Investigators lose. Other ways to lose are if all the investigators go insane, if there are insufficient Shoggoth figures to enter play, or if the Old Ones track reaches the end point and Cthulhu rises.
There are a few nice additions:
- Investigator cards are two sided, the reverse side being used if the investigator goes insane.
- The Sanity mechanic. Certain actions, including playing relics, require the player to roll the sanity die and apply the result to their investigator or the overall game. There may be benefit in having one insane investigator and it is possible to recover from insanity if needs must.
- The Old Ones track. Cthulhu is on the last place of the track, the other places on the track are filled with randomly selected Old Ones which are face down until game conditions bring them into play. Each revealed Old One changes some game conditions and brings new challenges into play.
Like Pandemic, each player takes the role of a character, in Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu these are investigators. On their turn each player can take four actions. Those actions are:
- Move their investigator which can be done in various ways. (1 action)
- Trade a clue card or a relic (1 action)
- Fight cultists (1 action)
- Fight a Shoggoth (3 actions)
Players may also play a relic that their investigator holds; this does not require using one of the four actions, but playing a relic does require the player to roll the sanity die.
As in Pandemic, after actions have been taken the player then draws cards and applies those results, commonly adding cultists to the board or moving Shoggoths and at times the Evil Stirs card is revealed at which point more bad things happen, more cultists, an Old One awakens, a Shoggoth enters play and the player must make a sanity roll.
Play continues player by player until either the players manage to seal the four portals, or one of the lose conditions is met. It’s fast, challenging, tense, and fun.
Final Thoughts On Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu
As a re-implementation of Pandemic, this is a very solid game. Personally I like Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu more than the original Pandemic. Here is why:
- The Old Ones track introduces more variation in game play.
- Full disclosure of all cards in player’s hands aids planning and cooperation.
- There is more happening on the board than simply outbreaks of cultists or diseases.
- The theme of Cthulhu is implemented well in both presentation and gameplay.
Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu is an excellent introduction into the area of cooperative games, it is easy to learn, plays in 45 minutes or so, and is both challenging and fun.