Happy Halloween! Here at Geek & Sundry, we’re all about horror games. In fact, they’re taking over our shows: tonight instead of Talks Machina, a talented cast will be playing the award-winning horror RPG Trail of Cthulhu from Pelgrane Press. Grab some candy and get into the holiday spirit tonight starting at 7 PM PT on Twitch and Alpha.
With last week’s Alpha premiere of our horror RPG show, Sagas of Sundry: Madness, and Halloween now upon us, we’ve been grabbing and playing games some of our favorite games that bring the horror to the tabletop. Although he may lie slumbering in R’yleh, Cthulhu’s cult has really mastered the art of product placement. The Great Old one tends to turn up in all sorts of places – including in rethemed versions of favorite board games. Whether its because the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired mythos is awesome sauce, or because it is in the public domain and devoid of licensing issues, Cthulhu and his brethren have invaded innumerable titles. Here are three of the best adaptations.
Fluxx stems from a simple premise – draw one card, play one card. Easy peasy. Those cards might change the rules, bestow valuable “Keepers,” or saddle you with a “Creeper” that makes the game unwinnable. Most important are the Goal cards which actually provide the win condition. And that win condition can easily change with the next card play. Whoever first meets the current goal gets the win.
Cthulhu’s involvement makes only a few minor changes to the formula. Most notably, are the Ungoals. Normally, a game of Fluxx is all about meeting the goal. However, these Ungoals, if met, make everyone lose. The new Keepers and Creepers have various Doom or Anti-Doom markers on them. If enough Doom is in play (generally six), then an Ungoal might be triggered and cause a loss for the entire table.
But it’s not really the new mechanics that make Cthulhu Fluxx so notable. It’s the thematic feel. The original Fluxx is definitely chaotic feel – and can sometimes seem overly random. But with the Ancient One involved, it feels much more appropriate. You get a taste of that otherworldly madness as the goal you were working on suddenly shifts beneath you. Or where the threat of putting out one more Doom might mean catastrophe. In other words, it doesn’t feel like Fluxx with a little Cthulhu pasted on. This title is more like a Mythos game with some Fluxx infused elements.
Gloom is a delightful and original little card game where each person gets a family. The goal is to make your family as depressed and dead (in that order) as possible. Meanwhile, you want the other players to be Delighted by Ducklings or to otherwise find some joy in life. It’s a premise tailor-made for the madness of the Mythos.
Cthulhu Gloom operates on a nearly identical mechanical basis. As with the original title, your goal is to bring doom and despair to each of your characters while trying to cheer up those belonging to the other players. It does add one element, though: Story cards. Story cards are up for grabs and can be claimed when their conditions are met. But they also can move from player to player, so you’re rarely guaranteed to hold on to it.
While the original title had a certain Edward Gorey-esque charm, the Mythos really opens up the thematic space. It fits right in with Lovecraftian Lore that your characters are getting increasingly disturbed by their experiences. And it uses the same see-through card system that allows a particularly depressed individual to be roused from their funk by some well placed happy happenstances.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
Of all the games to be invaded by that denizen of R’yleh, Pandemic is probably the most well known – and also the one to see the most mechanical changes. In Reign of Cthulhu, rather than diseases populating the board, it’s the spreading of cultists that concerns the players. And, just as a disease can outbreak, so too can cultists spread their broken ideology to nearby areas.
Also present, though, are Shoggoth. Those creatures move steadily toward gates to other worlds and, if they reach them, can awaken one of the Ancient Ones. As each awakes, it penalizes the players. Sometimes with a one-time hit, but more often with an ongoing rule change that makes things harder for the players.
But it isn’t all horror. Although the board is divided into four color areas, each with several locations, the player cards are not so distinguished. Instead, they are tied just to the color, not a specific location. This means you don’t have to search for one particular card as typically any red card will do. Or any yellow. With everything else working against the players, it’s nice to have small mercies.
What’s amazing about Pandemic is how easily it adapts to the Mythos. Even though there are some significant rules changes (Madness, the Awakening of the Old Ones), Pandemic players will see a lot of familiarity. Even so, the theme really comes through. Instead of fearing that last outbreak, the players are watching doom advance until the final Old One awakens. It creates a tension that combines the best of the Mythos with the excitement of Pandemic.
Join us for a Halloween-themed special of Talks Machina, where GM Eric Campbell (of Shield of Tomorrow) will be hosting a talented cast including Erika Ishii and Xander Michael Jeanneret, from our horror RPG show Sagas of Sundry: Madness; Becca Scott, host of our tabletop game show Game the Game; and Whitney Moore and Blythe Wiedemann from our adventure game show AXYB to play Trail of Cthulhu tonight starting at 7 PM PT on Twitch and Alpha.
Want more horror-themed games?
- Check out our feature on Folklore: The Affliction – a board game full of monsters and RPG elements.
- Have a peek at 4 terrifying horror RPGs to try out.
- Check out our 3-course Cthulhu-themed boardgame menu for a night of games to drive you mad.
Image Credits: GeekInsight, CJ Kremp
Featured Image Credit: Asmodee/Z-Man Games