Thursday, January 2, 2014

Still hearing the Call of Cthulhu

I love collectible card games. I started in the hobby in the early 1990s, not with Magic: the Gathering like most people do, but a little later with a few of the standouts in the first wave of imitators: On the Edge and Decipher's Star Trek Customizable Card Game. Later on I started playing the Star Wars CCG (released well before word of the prequels hit), and many others from the truly innovative like Deadlands: Doomtown, to the utterly silly like the one based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I love the idea of creating a unique deck from a collection of cards and testing it against others who have done the same. I was never crazy about the collectible aspect, with some cards being rarer than others and sometimes commanding ridiculous prices on the secondary market, but it didn't bother me enough to deter me from enjoying the games. It did mean that obsessive players could spend a lot of money on their collections, and the market for such games shrank considerably with the economic downturn of the early 2000s.

Fantasy Flight Games had entered the market late with two CCGs based on licensed properties: A Game of Thrones (based on the George R. R. Martin novels) in 2002 and Call of Cthulhu, based on the Chaosium role playing game which was in turn based on the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, R. W. Chambers, and other pulp horror writers, in 2004. The bottom fell out of the CCG market soon after, but rather than give up on their games, the publisher altered the format somewhat, repackaging both games as boxed card games with fixed expansion packs. Both games are active and vital to this day, along with several others that follow the same model.

Call of Cthulhu: the Card Game (as it was re-christened) more or less follows the standard CCG model, with players pitting armies of characters and support cards against one another for control of the table, in this case represented by three story cards played from a separate story deck. Each successful attack on a story adds success tokens, and five success tokens means you've won that particular story, which is then replaced. The first player to win three stories wins the game.

The combat mechanics are simple but allow for a huge variety of play options and strategies, and a unique system that allows any card from your hand to be played as a resource to pay for cards you put in play means you never have a useless card in your hand. It's a compelling game, but for me its two real strengths are the unusual setting of a 1930s New England ravaged by supernatural creatures, and the incredible artwork used to illustrate the cards.

We play this game fairly regularly thanks to a well-organized group that holds events at one of our local game stores, and by an amazing coincidence there just happened to be a tournament going on when Call of Cthulhu came up on the list.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) This game has held our interest since we first started playing it in 2004. Thanks to the incredible versatility of the format in general and the compelling nature of this game in particular, we will frequently spend entire days playing, either at home or at an organized event.

Date played: December  7, 2013

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