Now for something completely different, as they say, to gloss over a jump cut in Monty Python. I really do mean something completely different now though, Cthulhu Tales is not like any other board game I have played. This initially scared me. But I have embraced it now, and this game has been the biggest surprise of 2020 for me. I am talking about only games here. 2020 was a rollercoaster start to finish!
In Cthulhu Tales, you are immersed in the world of Lovecraft and are chained up in a sanatorium. You are trying to convince doctors that you are not mad. In fact, it is your fellow inmates that need to be locked up. You try to seem sane in order to avoid being treated by the doctors. The person who squeaks through the process having undergone the least severe treatment is the winner. Although if I’m honest, more than most, this is a game about the journey rather than the win.
Created in 2016 from Cubicle 7 Entertainment. This is a new Lovecraft themed game from the same designers as Hobbit Tales. Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello who are most famous for their big games The War of the Ring and the roleplaying game One Ring.
Cthulhu Tales plays in 20 to 60 minutes, depending on how flamboyant a tale you spin. This game accommodates 2 to 5 players. The components in this game are great looking. There are large tarot sized cards with individual and inspiring artwork that reflects all areas of the Lovecraftian world. There is a heavy feeling custom D12 and some thick treatment tokens to complete the game.
During the game, players will take it in turns to accuse their fellow opponents of being insane and in need of commitment to the asylum. The accused will use cards to weave a story of why what they are accused of has a logical and altogether reasonable explanation. The cards have three parts to them; the title, the artwork and the flavour text. The game encourages you to take one of these three parts and be inspired by that to create your story.
For example, if I drew “Museum”, “Nightmare Horde” and “Foul Crime”, then I may create an accusatory tale that;
“MJ is in the sanatorium having been found sitting in the middle of a room surrounded by a whole horde of disfigured taxidermy animals. Each had been decapitated and stabbed in the eye with historical dentistry implements from the local museum. MJ was sent to the asylum after refusing to explain what had happened and becoming violent.”
As the accuser, I place these cards underneath the board in slots 2, 3 and 4. A facedown story card is placed under slot 5, and slot 1 remains blank. The narrator will need to connect the cards below the board to those story cards that they place. Not putting them in the most obvious order will make their job harder.
It is now up to MJ to use the story cards to create a story which explains what happened and how he is in fact not insane. MJ will draw a hand of cards and he needs to use these to create a story which ties in the accusation as well as holding together as a coherent defence for his own sanity. His tale helped by the story cards could start a little like this;
“I am a professor of folklore studies at the University of Edinburgh. I specialise in the study of the Scottish folk songs of the medieval period. Whilst I was found in amongst the stuffed animal pieces, my hobby is the artificial preservation of animals for museum exhibitions. The animals that surrounded me on the night of my arrest were in the process of being completed. They were not decapitated as you say, but simply not yet completed…”
Curveball, Don't Go Mad!
Whilst the accused battles to tie the cards they have drawn into their story seamlessly, the other players are trying to throw them off by playing madness cards. Each time they are able to throw in a madness card by matching the symbols, they derail the narrator’s story. They catch them out in a lie, and they exploit that. When a madness card is played, the narrator must try to weave it into their story. This can be in a minor or a major way. It is determined by the rolling of the custom 12 sided die. The die features numbers 1-10, a silhouette of Cthulhu and one of Lovecraft himself.
Major madness effects mean that you were unable to weave it convincingly into your story and the madness and story card it was played on are both discarded. The narrator must work hard to work the remainder of their story cards into their narrative. To complete their tale, the narrator must successfully play 5 story cards onto the board, some of these will need to be tied into the accusation cards that it is placed above.
The scoring of the story is based on the value of the treatment tokens that the player collects during their turn. Treatment tokens are drawn blind and display “mild treatment” like pills and injections, and harsher treatments like straight jackets, electroshock therapy or solitary confinement. These are worth different values from 2-6 points. The winner at the end of all the stories is the one with the fewest points. As I said at the top though, this game is about the journey rather than the score.
I was incredibly surprised by Cthulhu Tales, I was initially scared of the idea of having to be so imaginative. I’m not into RPG games and have never played anything like this. I received it in a Zatu subscription box, and from reading the blurb on the back, I wasn’t expecting much. We were both pleasantly surprised by how much fun we had playing it though, and it has earnt its spot in my collection. There is very little downtime as you are engaged in the story that the other players manage to weave and can play madness cards to throw some Cthulhu theme into their perfectly reasonable story.
If you are looking for something totally different, that is great to look at and sets your imagination on fire, then give Cthulhu Tales a whirl. You might be as pleasantly surprised as me. Get the group to buy into the storytelling aspect and let your minds run wild. Perfect escapist fun.