Board Game Menu: The Three Courses of Cthulhu

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Welcome to Arkham Hors d’Oeuvres, where we promise you will lose your mind over our inscrutable dishes. A staple of New England cuisine, Arkham Hors d’Oeuvres exudes an otherworldly atmosphere as uncanny as the Dreamlands itself. Sit back, relax, and let the waiting staff flay your mind as well as your meat.

Below is our menu for the month, featuring our three-course package of gamey games, diced dice rolling, and existential horror. Each course is finished off with the writhing tentacles of Cthulhu’s gaping maw, and each can be paired nicely with a glass of white wine.

Use this menu to inspire your Lovecraftian game night, and start the night off right with some crispy calamari and creamy New England clam chowder. You can even add some chilled monkey brains, in the style of Temple of Doom, to test your sanity.

Unspeakable Words

The Call of Cthulhu word game by Playroom Entertainment, Unspeakable Words is the perfect starter to whet your appetite. With a playtime of about thirty minutes, it does a fantastic job of warming you up for the more intense courses to come.

If, like Wil Wheaton, word games have been known to drive you mad, then you will most likely find Unspeakable Words incredibly realistic. Players fashion words of power from letters on the cards in their hand; however, they must roll a higher number on the die than the collective value of the letters. If they roll lower than the target number, they lose a sanity point, proving that they did not have the willpower to withstand speaking the word. The best part is that, when you lose all but one of your sanity points, you can start making up words and earning points from any combination of letters.

Here’s an idea for your party: When everyone goes insane and loses all of their adorable Cthulhu-shaped sanity markers, you can put them on top of the Lovecraftian cakes that you baked before the guests arrived. Nothing cures a bout of insanity like cake.

Small Plate
Elder Sign

While not as thematically delicious as our entrées below, Elder Sign is a fast-paced and enjoyable game that pits the players against the ominous awakening of an Ancient One. Created by Fantasy Flight Games, Elder Sign is a cooperative adventure that asks one of Lovecraft’s favorite questions: is the mind of mankind strong enough to push back against the horrors of the unknown? These stakes may seem relatively high compared to Unspeakable Words, but with an average playtime of one to two hours, Elder Sign is merely a teaser for the entrées to come.

The main goal of the game is to win enough elder signs to close off the gateways to our world before the Ancient One amasses enough power to awaken and terrorize all of humanity. You gain elder signs and other rewards when you complete adventures, accomplished by rolling the dice and meeting all of an adventure’s requirements printed on the card.

If you fail to meet the requirements once you’ve committed to an adventure, you suffer the consequences and are slowly driven towards madness and death. Each player takes on the role of an adventurer with a unique ability and his or her own sanity and stamina stats. If either your sanity or stamina is reduced to zero, you die, as your body or your mind has succumbed to forces beyond your comprehension. The players are rolling and plotting against the clock, so you must work together to enjoy this course.

Choice of Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness

Like chicken or fish, like cake or death, the choice between Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness is one for the ages. Two more notches in Fantasy Flight’s belt, these games are Shoggoth eyeballs deep in the Cthulhu Mythos. Both take more than a couple hours to play and about as long as Unspeakable Words’ playtime to set up. However, there are some key differences between the two that can aid in your decision-making. Like Elder Sign, Arkham Horror (as well as its successor, Eldritch Horror) is a wholly cooperative game. It takes place in Lovecraft’s fictional Arkham, where players must battle monsters, close portals, and keep the Ancient One sealed inside the chasm of slumber from whence it came. Players are aided by items they find on the board, among them being weapons, magical trinkets, and tomes.

If you don’t feel like making a scene at the dinner table in front of the other guests, then Arkham Horror might be the way to go. In Mansions of Madness, one of your friends, one of your trusted game night guests, is working against you to help bring all sorts of nightmares to this plane of existence. Whether this person—the Keeper—is actually an emissary of an ancient being or simply an in-game representation of its will is uncertain.

The pre-designed story leads the players throughout one of several possible board configurations, solving the mysteries of the location and fighting off anything from cultists to the nightmarish Chthonians or the brain-toting Mi-go. All investigators and monsters are represented by intricately detailed minis which highlight the sometimes terrifying size difference between the players’ characters and the Keeper’s minions. As investigators, players must solve the mysteries to discover how to beat the Keeper, and then the game is truly afoot.

Bon appetit, investigators. Visit to find and create your own themed game night.

What other games would you add to a Cthulhu game night? How might you decorate your home for such a theme? Let’s go crazy about Cthulhu in the comments section!

Featured image credit: National Cthulhu Eats Spaghetti DayScott King
Image credits: Lucasfilm/Paramount Pictures, Fantasy Flight Games

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