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Smash Up: Obligatory Cthulhu Review

Smash Up Obligatory Cthulhu

Smash up: Obligatory Cthulhu Review 

Another of Alderac Entertainment Groups earlier expansions to their fabulous Smash Up series, Obligatory Cthulhu see’s the introduction of the Minions of Cthulhu, Miskatonic University, Elder things and Innsmouth factions. Compared with Pirates and Ninjas, I have never heard of anything to do with these factions before which I guess makes this set quite niche. This set I have found to be quite ‘Marmite’, in that you will either love it or hate it. That has certainly been my experience. I’m someone that loves it but most of my opponents do not enjoy using this set, primarily down to the introduction of ‘Madness’. We’ll put a pin in the madness for now but all these factions are built on ‘Madness’. I take the positives from this set in that it provides 4 new factions that come into the game with a very different way of play.

There is not a game rules overview this time, please check out my Disney Smash Up blog for a quick overview. Something to keep in mind here is that you can only play a 2-player game with this set alone. Of course, the series is completely interchangeable with everything else Smash Up so you can always “Smash” it up with another set and bring in a 3rd and 4th player.

So, what does the Obligatory Cthulhu set bring to the series?

The Madness

This expansion brings an additional deck of cards. They are the Madness cards. A deck of completely identical Madness cards. This deck sits on the table top and will become highly involved as the game progresses with the abilities of the factions of this expansion. A Madness card is an action card and as noted all identical, you play the card like any other action card with a choice of two options for your action, you either draw two cards from your deck (and discard the Madness card to your discard pile), or you return the Madness card to the Madness deck. The key issue with the Madness cards are that for every 2 Madness cards in your deck, discard pile and hand (combined total of all 3 areas) you lose 1 victory point off of your victory score at the end of the game. So, you might be the player that gets 15 Victory points first, ending the game, but now you check madness card totals and if you have 7 Madness cards spread between your hand, discard pile and deck, you will lose 3 victory points off your total score which may just takeaway your victory if an opponent has finished with a higher score than this. The Madness is a novel new problem.

Minions Of Cthulhu

A very strong faction that look to wield madness in order to be most effective. By this, I mean that for them to be most effective they have to draw madness in order to unleash their most devastating abilities. The question for the user is how much madness are you prepared to accommodate in the process of doing this? They also like to take out other minions in a very assassinating manner. From what I can tell they are a faction that like to work in the shadows, cloak and dagger in style which makes them a lot of fun to use, somewhat upsetting your opponents from time to time.

Miskatonic University

With my limited knowledge on Cthulhu this is not a faction that aligned with what I knew, but then what do I actually know? This faction, not particularly powerful with minion power, but do love to juggle the Madness. Some of the cards will acquire Madness and others will effortlessly disperse of it back to the Madness deck. To get the best out of these you have to juggle with the Madness, you have to take in some madness to then have Madness to get rid of. The challenge is not to take on too much or have to little. They are a clever faction to use and need a bit of thought in how to effectively play them.

Elder Things

A powerful faction with plenty of punch. The Elder Things love to deal out the Madness with plenty of minions and actions dealing Madness cards to the opposing players when those cards are played. They are somewhat unrelenting with the distribution of Madness to their opponents but when it comes to managing the madness coming back at them they struggle. That may not matter when they have some exceptionally powerful minions and have the capability to destroy opposing minions with ease. They are a very good faction to use.


It is all about “The Locals”. The one and only type of minion in this faction, all 10 of them at power 2. The faction is somewhat simple making them a challenge to use effectively, especially against the powerful factions. They have to get a run of churning out lots of “the Locals” at the same time and over power opposition with great numbers. Arguably, from my non-understanding of Cthulhu, they are just cannon fodder but could combine really well with another faction with a lot of power 2 (or less) minions, like the Zombies or the Robots. They don’t deal too much with the Madness either, so will likely just accumulate a lot of it.

This set is niche, I personally do not understand Cthulhu at all. This Smash Up set is almost an introduction to obligatory Cthulhu for me and that is no bad thing. I like to see different things and maybe it was the intention of AEG to broaden their fan base and appeal to a new group of fans by introducing this theme. My experience though is it is just not popular with people that have played other sets, which is a big shame because I think it is very clever and a lot of fun. Everyone is entitled to their view. I am willing to bet that if you are someone that understands Cthulhu then this expansion to Smash Up will make complete sense to you. AEG are very good at capturing the themes in their faction despite the limitation of a 20-card deck, I could be wrong though, but I don’t think I am.

Final Thoughts

I am a fan of this expansion if others are not. What disappointed me is AEG never continued with the Madness theme and gave other subsequent expansions a bit of Madness input. I think it is so clever and has been one of the biggest impacts to final scoring, there is something significant to consider on your final score. So, this set stands alone with the Madness. The factions are incredibly quirky and really quite out there. I’ve not come across Cthulhu before but I am a follower of Smash Up and this set is a valued edition to this great series.