The Subcritical Mass Dilemma

Yesterday’s Call of Cthulhu tournament at Black Moon Games did not go off, unfortunately. We had three players show up, including myself, which felt like just one shy of anything that felt like an actual event. There was a quick game of trying out some new decks, but that was it. A bummer for sure, as scheduling conflicts didn’t allow for the otherwise reliable fourth player to make it, and people who might have come did not.

I get that when a game like this is just getting started in a game community — and in our case, two distinct, separate game communities on opposite sides of Vermont — it’s tough to draw people in. It’s like learning any complex game, and then add in that it’s highly adversarial with a predisposition to “gotcha!” plays. But there has to be a way to do it, because people do get into these games, and I bet that more of them do so because of a friend or new acquaintance than buying it out of the blue, as I did.

Gaining our fourth player was a real milestone, because it made asking the local stores to host Cthulhu events less asking for a favor in case someone opted to show up and more stating confidently, “Yes, we can get this many players reliably” — albeit reliably when all our schedules line up.

Now, the next step is another player, and another player and another, until the point that we can hold an event, or maybe even a regular get-together, that doesn’t hinge on every single person being available every single time. I bet you it’s going to come from making one to one connections with interested people, rather than sticking up fliers or Facebook events. It’s also going to come from figuring out how to teach this game by playing well without accidentally rules-lawyering a new player into not accomplishing anything at all.

But being on store schedules helps. Having events listings to share on social media helps. Having events at the regional game events, which is absolutely coming up next, helps. I’ve tried the targeted “hey, let’s try this game together” approach in the past, which really turned out to be lessons in how not to teach the game, based on how no one developed any interest in playing. Having improved as a player and a teacher since then, as I did draw in two new players on my own in the last year, maybe that means it’s time to try again with a little more benefit from hindsight to apply.

Call of Cthulhu LCG: Shadows of the King in Yellow

The Mark of Madness box cover: the King in Yellow looms before a French city skyline.And then, just as we were settling in to explore The Thousand Young‘s offerings, a new Call of Cthulhu FAQ dropped and the second Mark of Madness preview appeared. This one shows some of the ways Hastur’s faction will be changing the rules of the game when it comes to terror, such as substituting icons at different struggles as with Straitjacket and getting extra bennies for winning the terror struggle with Hastur, He Who Is Not To Be Named.

Maybe most unsettling is the Sorcerer Mad Maudlin: “Opponents must drive a character insane to resource a card, if able.” Hastur’s the control faction and some of their key cards tax players at the start of the game, like the Seventy Steps. Taxing a player to resource a card is fairly new to the game — I think the Blackwood Initiative was the first to date — but the idea fits right in with Hastur controlling the early game, and it seems so doggone evil. “If able” is probably the saving grace, allowing a player to resource even if all the characters they control have terror icons or willpower.

Speaking of early game control, check out the Dikes of Ys: “The first character that enters play each turn enters play insane.” As the article points out, the protection of willpower and terror icons don’t kick into effect until the character’s fully in play, so everyone is susceptible to this effect. Stack it on top of the Seventy Steps and the first turns of the game are going to be slow and lonely.

I’ve dabbled a bit in Hastur’s faction, but making good use of the control effects are still largely a mystery to me, especially since they are often self-debilitating, as in the case of Lunatics, for instance. Fortunately, my friend Ray is dedicated to cracking the Hastur riddle, as you can see in Decked!here and here, for instance. Having his examples to learn from has been really helpful, both in developing methods to play around obstacles like Cavern of Flame and noting the ways in which they are played most effectively.

Cthulhu LCG: Servants of the Black Goat

Call of Cthulhu The Card Game box art, circa 2014.The Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game scene has been picking up in Vermont in the past couple months. First Black Moon Games started hosting events, and now Brap’s Magic here in Burlington, as the last few Decked! videos have noted.

My process for developing this deck started with a comment by Carthoris on “A ‘School Bells’ deck could use 0-cost Miskatonic weenies to power the Sound of the Dark, and Untimely Burial to make sure you have some desirable powerhouse to awaken.” If you check out the very first draft of School Bells, you’ll see all those cards, plus a motley assortment of Dark Young who key off entering or leaving play.

Servants of the Black Goat

Total Cards: (50)

Character: (31)
2x Shub-Niggurath (The Cacophony)
3x Nug (Seekers of Knowledge)
2x Arthur Todd (Touched by the Abyss)
3x Priestess of Bubastis (Core Set)
2x Budding Dark Young (The Sleeper Below)
3x Ya-te-veo (The Unspeakable Pages)
2x Ancient Guardian (Core Set)
2x Y’Golonac (Core Set)
3x Savio Corvi (Terror in Venice)
2x The Claret Knight (Seekers of Knowledge)
2x The Mage Known as Magnus (That Which Consumes)
1x Lord of the Woods (Touched by the Abyss)
2x Rampaging Dark Young (Secrets of Arkham)
2x Watcher of the Woods (Core Set)

Support: (8)
3x The Festival (The Key and the Gate)
3x The Plague Stone (Terror in Venice)
2x Book of Iod (Ebla Restored)

Event: (8)
3x Dark Rebirth (Terror in Venice)
3x Thunder in the East (Kingsport Dreams)
2x Ia! Ia! Shudde M’ell (Aspirations of Ascension)

Conspiracy: (3)
3x Negotium Perambulans in Tenebris (Dunwich Denizens)

Deck Created with Call of Cthulhu Deckbuilder

The first time out with that iteration of School Bells was miserable, success-wise. Going across a Syndicate deck of Criminal buffing and skill manipulation and a traditional Yog-Sothoth mill deck, I think I came close to winning one match, and the remaining two or three were handy defeats without a single story won on my side. And while that evening was one of failure, I did my best to use it as a rich learning experience. “Fail fast,” as some people hold, and fail forward. Intentionally playing a lot of quick games let me see which cards worked, which didn’t and what elements were missing.

Also, I was fortunate to have Carlo on my side, who recently returned to the game. He’s the tinkering sort of deckbuilder, whereas I want to slap some cards together and see what sticks during field testing. Between playing against him and bouncing emails back and forth, his feedback and suggestions guided much of where this deck went.

Immediately from the first revision, the deck took a hard left, dropping all the Miskatonic cards. My intent with them, beyond sacrificial fodder for the Three Bells, was to draw extra cards and float useful things to the top of the deck fast. Instead, the next version gave up draw and manipulating struggles for resource building and slowing down rush tactics with the Festival and Negotium Perambulans in Tenebris, which enables the powerhouse Savio Corvi.

The Three Bells went after that. While it can be handy, in the deck’s configuration at the time, it was just too slow and costly for a “sacrifice your worst character” effect on the other player. Instead, Plague Stone is the go-to weapon of mass character destruction, with the Mage Known as Magnus providing targeted character removal.

At one point, the deck’s only additional draw was Thunder in the East. Book of Iod came in to fill that gap, and fill the discard with candidates for Dark Rebirth. It still feels slow, but while Shub-Niggurath has effects that skim character subtypes off the top of the deck into your hand, none of them really work for this particular character line-up.

I felt I did pretty well at the Brap’s Magic event with this deck. We had a round robin of four players, and I won two of my three games. There are still some changes I would make, like dropping Ia! Ia! Shudde M’ell, though I haven’t decided what would take its place. And the deck is really lacking in event and support recovery. Once those three Thunders in the Easts are gone, they’re gone. I’d love an in-faction card recycling mechanic that isn’t as costly, random or slow as The Stone on the Peak.

With The Thousand Young out now, I could try revising this deck, but I feel like I’d wind up building it up from the ground all over again, just to avoid choosing the same 48 cards as before, and then only having two slots for new stuff. That said, French Quarter seems like an easy thing to try out here, and it would provide some additional information on how to use Book of Iod most effectively.

Decked!: Servants of the Black Goat vs. The Diva and Her Boys

The dark mistress of the wood’s fecund legions tangle with the entranced lunatics of the King in Yellow in this Call of Cthulhu match. Servants of the Black Goat is a deck I built that started out as “feed 0-cost Miskatonic weenies to the Three Bells,” but over rounds of testing — we have enough local players to make non-tournament get-togethers way more feasible! — it transformed into a strictly Shub-Niggurath deck, using Negotium Perambulans in Tenebris to slow down rush characters and enable Savio Corvi’s general awesomeness. The heavy Dark Young contingent was chosen mainly as the subtype to resurrect with Dark Rebirth, rather than their abilities which really didn’t come into play. Additional candidates for Dark Rebirth in this deck included Servitor and Cultist.

This is the first in a series of games recorded at a Cthulhu LCG tournament hosted by Brap’s Magic in Burlington, Vermont. In the coming weeks, we’ll have two more tourney match-ups, and a casual game played between rounds.

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No Soul Left Behind Advance PDF Has Dropped

No Soul Left Behind, the supervillains in high school campaign for Better Angels, has a backers-only PDF out in the ether as of yesterday afternoon. It’s five months overdue, and communication from the organizers felt way too sparse, but it’s gratifying to get something as real as a proof PDF. Some day there will be an actual book in my hands!

I want to say it’s no worse than Mage‘s slog toward print reality, but Mage was always an inevitability. It was only a question of how grotesquely over-funded and how many stretch goals, and whatever knock-on effect they would have on the delivery timeline. No Soul Left Behind was a much smaller, more intimate affair. We didn’t know if it would fund — though it was a very reasonable initial goal — and then it wasn’t clear how many of the modest quality upgrades would receive funding. And in a way, I already got No Soul Left Behind, thanks to the actual play series from Role Playing Public Radio.

Anyway, I’m glad this is moving forward. Now, in the tradition of Kickstarter backers everywhere, I can declare, “No time to read the PDF in depth, but it looks real nice!” I leave you with this selection from the book’s introduction:

The setting of Better Angels is intentionally vague, anticipating the endless ingratitude readers show towards an artist’s pure and glorious vision.

Infernal Relics First Play Notes

Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Video Game cover, with the core Sentinels arrayed in a shallow V.In the first evening of play with the Infernal Relics characters for Sentinels of the Multiverse, I am reinvigorated. Most of my attention went to puzzling out the Argent Adept’s music and instruments, so I mostly played in safe spaces, like Grand Warlord Voss in Silver Gulch. Minimal ongoing destruction allowed for experimentation and getting as many of the Adept’s pieces into play as possible. I haven’t figured out the full loop of his instruments yet, but I did start exploring sequences, like using the lyre to trigger Inspiring Supertonic, granting a power use to trigger Vocalize to trigger another perform text, and so on. As much as I want to figure this out on my own — and probably should pull out the cards to make it visual — I wouldn’t mind someone dropping a flow chart in my lap, either.

Gloomweaver proved manageable, as long as I spammed the Wraith’s Infrared Eyepiece, or Visionary looked ahead. Akash’bhuta got me the first time, though I’ll attribute that to a team heavy with support characters and minimal damage dealers. I did get her in the end by going with a line-up I’m much more comfortable with, plus Argent Adept. Getting to use other characters’ powers or play their cards on demand at the end of the round, to bat clean-up on any lingering worries is really useful. In the past, I’ve set the Wraith in that position, as she’s so versatile in handling various challenges. Now I can see the Argent Adept easily replacing her there in the lineup.

There’s still more to explore with the Argent Adept, but I want to give an evening to Nightmist next. She seems a bit like Absolute Zero, damaging herself to gain a benefit. And I’m curious to figure out if she has any ability to control the card on top of her deck when it comes to reveal them for magic number values.

Sentinels of the Multiverse Digital: Infernal Relics

Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Video Game cover, with the core Sentinels arrayed in a shallow V.I haven’t spent much time playing Sentinels of the Multiverse lately, but I’ve been keeping up to date with the development of new material for the digital implementation by Handelabra Games. They host a live Twitch stream every week, archived on their YouTube channel, where they preview characters in development, and you can see how development of multiplayer mode is progressing.

Part of why I haven’t been playing as much Sentinels as I when it first launched, aside from a happy surge in opportunities to play Call of Cthulhu more often and producing Decked! videos, is I found the Rook City content to be far more obnoxious to play than fun. I think I beat all four villains — the Chairman, the Matriarch, Plague Rat and Spite — once. After a couple halfhearted attempts to unlock the variants, I realized that I was launching Steam to play, and then not following through to the game because it felt like a chore.

Today, the Infernal Relics characters are scheduled to become available on Steam — and the Android marketplace and maybe even the iTunes store — so I’m looking forward to trying out the new heroes, Argent Adept and Nightmist. As they’re both pretty crunchy heroes with a lot of moving parts to track, having a computer to enforce the rules will be a huge help in learning how to play them effectively — plus having seen them in play on the live stream, as that’s a good source to pick up tips on combinations of effects, both from the developers and when they relay tips from the chat room.

My hope is that Infernal Relics provides a critical mass of options that I find playing more engaging. The core set by itself got boring after a while, and as I said earlier, I found Rook City added not terribly fun heroes and obnoxiously unfun villains, though that may be down to not spending enough time to learn how to play effectively with or against those elements. At the very least, I’m more interested in the mechanical aspects of Argent Adept and Nightmist as compared to Mr. Fixer and Expatriette, so I’ve got that going for me.

In closing, check out the Infernal Relics trailer: