My favorite board or card game that I don’t get to play enough is Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. The local non-Magic card scene is all about Android: Netrunner, a game which I do dig, but sometimes goes over my head to a degree that can be discouraging. That hasn’t stopped me from keeping up with releases, of course, because lord knows I like a regular release schedule of things to collect.
With Call of Cthulhu, on the other hand, I’m the local evangelist. What do I love about this game? So glad you asked.
The number one consideration for me about a game is: do I like the theme? With Call of Cthulhu, of course I do. Like the fiction and subgenre of games from which it springs, this card game drips with Lovecraftian horror. Human investigators may struggle against ghouls and unknowable ancient beings. Decaying tomes and strange artifacts offer occult knowledge and power. A carefully lobbed stick of dynamite can turn the tide. It’s got that pulpy 1920s horror vibe, and I love it.
With seven factions in the card pool, you can also play with the trope of strange allies and mortals ensnared in eldritch bargains. The Blackwood Agency may team up with the scholars of Miskatonic University as mere mortals struggling against the outer dark, or the sorcerous powers practiced by the followers of Yog-Sothoth can corrupt the innermost ranks of the Order of the Silver Twilight.
Interplay of Cards and Factions
And off of the theme, there’s the breadth of card interactions. In addition to sheer longevity, being one of the oldest of Fantasy Flight’s card games, Call of Cthulhu‘s card pool consists of seven factions, plus neutrals, with their own hallmarks and mechanical quirks. Miskatonic loves to draw more cards. Shub-Niggurath is fecund with ways to grow resources faster. The Order of the Silver Twilight bounces characters between play and hands. Hastur’s lunatics sacrifice their sanity for strange powers. And so on.
When I draft a deck, I usually start by picking some mechanics I want to play with. One deck in the works uses Yog-Sothoth, who specializes in causing discard effects and recovering cards from the discard, and the aforementioned Silver Twilight. The original idea was to use Yog-Sothoth’s cards to get big characters into the discard, then pull them out again using the Order’s tricks, but it hasn’t proven practical in play. I love the thematic combination, though, since Silver Twilight is a secretive order practicing occult rituals, and Yog-Sothoth is a patron, of sorts, of sorcerers, spells and rituals. They ought to go together great. I just haven’t figured out the finer points yet.
Familiar, Yet Novel Mechanics
If you’ve ever played Magic, Call of Cthulhu isn’t so different that it would seem alien, or require training yourself to think too differently about it. You and your fellow player put out characters The characters may smash against each other while trying to secure story cards, which are essentially units of victory. One side will generally win the fight. Eventually, you acquire enough of the victory units to win.
The differences are where the fun is, of course. For instance, there are no resource cards in Call of Cthulhu, a la Magic‘s lands. Every card in your deck is a useful thing, as a character, a support or a one-off event, but it can also double as a resource to help pay to play other cards. One of the toughest decision points in the game is figuring out which of the limited cards in your hand is going to become a resource, and likely never see play. Do you prioritize the first turn, and give up beefier cards to get out the weenies, or keep something cool back for turn four or five?
Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game hits that mix of theme, rules accessibility and capacity to satisfy my quest for novelty in seeing how disparate cards might work together. Now, I’m not a good player by any means. It takes me a while to pick up on potential synergies between cards when designing a deck — often I may not see any until I’m actually playing the deck and really processing the wording. Any time I play against someone who really knows the game, I’ve gotten walloped. But I am better than I was when I started, so I can see there’s progress. And I hope to play more often. Drop me a line if you’re in the Burlington area or want to meet up on Lackey some evening.
 I will cop right now that I’m just leaving the infatuation stage with Silver Twilight’s bounce effects as a deterrent. Playing Initiate of Huang Hun three times to remove as many of your opponent’s characters is a great sense of accomplishment at first blush, but suddenly you’ve used all of your domains and have no additional presence on the table to show for it, and no way to play events until your next turn.