Halloween is upon us!! . . . . . . . meh . . . . yeah I don't go crazy every year for this holiday period. You get a bunch of films trying to be scary, which turn out to be simply gore fests and horrific reboots. You have kids constantly banging on your door demanding food when you're trying to enjoy yourself. And every commercial store on the street has to surround you with weird decorations and scare you to death with giant spiders! Yeah humbug all you like, it's not for me, but hey the kids enjoy it.
So what can I do to pass through this period with some enjoyment? Bow to the almighty god that is our beloved Cthulhu of course! The Lovecraft Mythos is still a fascinating fantasy /sci-fi horror setting that gives way to some creepy stories and graphic imagery. I still enjoy reading my collection of short stories I have on all the investigators (when I ever get time to read) and I enjoy a lot of games that include Lovecraft as a theme. . . though it has to be said it's kinda getting a little ridiculous now and like Vikings, needs to be put to the wayside for a while in favour of something more original.
However there are still some great games that utilise this theme and that's what this Top 10 is about - when I want to get through Halloween, these are the Cthulhu games I call upon. And even though there are tonnes of these games available, surprisingly there aren't many I would say are good games. Games are ranked based on:
(1) How strong the theme comes out.
(2) How good the game is in general.
(3) How much I can get immersed in the story and setting.
#10 - LOVECRAFT LETTER
Yeah it's another Love Letter game so obviously the theme isn't dripping here. But you do get some quality artwork from one of the great artists that is Vincent Dutrait. It also does put a nice twist on the system where by you now have the Insanity cards that have more powerful effects, but put you on a ticking time bomb to insanity (getting knocked out of the round), made worse depending on how many of those cards you dare use.
The insanity effect works nicely and of course you can opt to stay away from all this and focus on the normal cards as you don't need as many sane victories as insane victories to win overall. It's currently my favourite pick of the Love Letter franchise and has the production quality to match the somewhat high cost.
#9 - PANDEMIC: CTHULHU
Of all the things to merge with Pandemic! However here it kinda works. A spread of cultists makes sense thematically and when you get enough Cultists you'll get Old Ones summoned, which basically means the end of all things. The artwork is probably the best here out of all the Pandemic's with some very grisly looking Old One's.
Other than that though it plays pretty much like a normal game of Pandemic with minor tweaks so it's instantly accessible to casual gamers, if anything it's a little easier to deal with as you don't have such a big map to contend with any more. It probably didn't need to exist as a board game, but it's a solid one none the less.
#8 - CALL OF CTHULHU: THE CARD GAME
Now unless you're a veteran of the game or know where to look up cheap auctions on Ebay, you are unlikely to find this one as Fantasy Flight Games have discontinued it. However you can probably find second hand collections online and get plenty of content for your money.
If you are fortunate, this was a solid LCG with some great art and lots of different play styles depending on your chosen faction or deck build. Tense head to head games with plenty of options. Sadly I was unable to find enough players in my area to make the most of this, but I have to give it respect for being an entertaining experience.
#7 - TIDES OF MADNESS
This neat little card game, based on the underrated Tides of Time, might take the award for the best artwork out of this Top 10 for many. It's essentially very similar to the original drafting game for two players except for the "madness" twist. Some cards, while powerful harm your psyche, but may allow you to score additional points or remove madness tokens at the end of a round.
Delve in too deep though and reach nine madness and you lose the game outright. Very tight two player game with some of the best location artwork ever - it's nice to have a Lovecraft game actually focus more on locations from the Mythos rather than the Old Ones themselves.
#6 - CTHULHU WARS
Ridiculously expensive with chunks of plastic strong enough to cause physical harm, but it sure looks good in its giant box and when laid out on the table. And mechanically it's a solid area control game to boot, cloning a lot of aspects from the great Chaos In The Old World game by Fantasy Flight.
The miniatures are a spectacle to behold on the table, especially the gigantic Old Ones themselves. Add in asymmetrical gameplay and multiple strategies and you have a solid title held back mainly by the insane price tag.
#5 - ELDER SIGN
This entertaining little dice game comes with the caveat that you've invested in the Gates of Arkham expansion. Without it it's a light, yet mostly themeless dice affair that was a bit easy. With this expansion however, suddenly the story elements become more interesting, the difficulty gets a ramp up and you get to explore more of Arkham than just the Miskatonic University you were at before.
As a dice game, naturally the theme will only immerse you so far, but it's a cool, yet simple co-op affair providing you don't go crazy with the player count. Without that expansion it would fall much lower. This is one of those Lovecraft games that's only getting better with time and doesn't yet feel bloated.
#4 - ARKHAM HORROR
If it wasn't for the fact that this is one of the more clunky titles from the Lovecraft franchise, this would be higher on the list. I own everything for this game and yet it's a nightmare to get to the table due to the many rules and complexities it has. However when it comes to pure horror immersion, this is arguably the best (or perhaps second best) Cthulhu game out there.
The encounter cards might not always gel with the Old One you're facing (unless you painstakingly arrange the decks in advance), but they are some of the most immersive ones I've seen. And the imagery on those Old Ones are sometimes enough to bring nightmares (ok not literally, but they\'re pretty messed up at times).
#3 - ELDRITCH HORROR
Arkham and Eldritch Horror are hard to compare - on the one hand, I feel Arkham Horror deals with the horror immersion better. On the other hand Eldritch is more streamlined as a game (even though it's still a long one). It's starting to get too bloated but it's easier to mix and match expansions as you see fit. This feels more like an Indiana Jones style adventure game but with Lovecraft mixed into it so the horror element isn't as strong, but it's much easier to teach and play.
With a bucket of expansions to choose from and no signs that it's drying up any time soon (We even got a campaign setting coming in the next expansion) this one is still a great one to pull out for Halloween, providing you don't do the crazy thing of putting more than four players in! Seriously who plays this with eight honestly?
#2 - ARKHAM HORROR: THE CARD GAME
A big hit for me for 2016 and for a little while was my top Solo game, but recently it's fallen slightly to give the mantle back to Lord of the Rings LCG, but I digress. This is still a really thematic card game with great artwork and some fantastic story telling.
Card games have limitations on how you can portray a theme or setting, but this one does a great job of varying up the scenarios with everything from a monster in a university, train cars being sucked up into another dimension and mingling with actors in a messed up horror house. Being a co-op game it means you don't have to keep up with all the cards, you can play at your own pace, but so far it's been a great experience with me.
#1 - MANSIONS OF MADNESS (SECOND EDITION)
I bet most of you called this. Yeah without a doubt, if you want the best atmospheric, co-operative experience for Halloween and Cthulhu is your thing, then look no further than this poster child for how to integrate an app properly. It's a money sink, especially with expansions, but with gorgeous map tiles, cool miniatures and a fantastic app that sets the scene, it handles the book-keeping and combat and introduces story elements randomly every time, it's just the perfect Cthulhu game. . . well almost. It's a bit long especially with more players so I tend to solo this more. But the app saves your place so as long as you got a spare table you're doing fine. I mirror my tablet screen to a wall TV and soundbar for added atmosphere.
The original Mansions of Madness was okay, but this one has completely replaced it. It's not even that difficult to play as the app tutorial takes you through everything and only occasionally you'll need to check rules. More and more scenarios are being added including downloadable content, some of which take 90 minutes minimum, some of which take over 3-4 hours and span multiple locations. But for all that time, you'll be immersed and that's what I want from a great Lovecraftian game.
So that's my Top Ten, what are your Top Ten choices? Comment and get in touch! And for you Martin Wallace fans wandering where Study In Emerald is on my list........oh dear <tee hee hee>