I’ve always wanted to get into collectible card games. In elementary school I was all about Marvel’s Overpower series but never played. I amassed my fair share of Pokemon and Magic cards in middle school – Pokemon because it was THE thing and Magic because of the incredible art. I played Culdcept Saga and a of couple Yu Gi Oh games for the PS2 way back when. I bought a starter deck of Avatar: The Last Airbender cards a few years ago on a whim, just because I love the TV series. Now, as an almost 25 year-old graduate student I think I’ve finally found a game that I’m willing to really learn and play: Fantasy Flight Games’ The Call of Cthulhu LCG.
I don’t know how I found out about it but after I did, I couldn’t get enough. I dug right into FFG’s top of the line tutorial vids, started reading all about the seven competing factions, read strategy stuff on the FFG forums, read/watched reviews; basically for about a two week period all I did was sponge up everything people were saying about The Call of Cthulhu LCG. I didn’t own a single card but I couldn’t get enough! I think this was mostly to reinforce the decision I had already made, that I was going to get the core set and start playing, but I needed a good reason to spend that forty bucks. Then I realized I was going on vacation with my girlfriend. I started to plan.
It was the perfect time to rope my wonderful, beautiful, intelligent girlfriend into playing a card game with me that didn’t involve drinking copious amounts of alcohol, though as it turned out there were quite a few beers involved in our second game. We were heading up to Lake Huron to run a 10k on Mackinac Island and we were staying at my family’s cabin in Cheboygan. It’s remote: no TV, no internet, all I would need to do is hide the car keys and her phone, then I could spring my trap! She would be my captive, with no choice but to succumb to the siren call of H.P. Lovecraft’s most horrifying Ancient One!
Luckily my girlfriend is pretty great, so when I asked her to play I only got the requisite “the things I do for my boyfriend” eyeroll. We sat down and unboxed the game, chose our factions, she pulled Yog Sothoth/Syndicate and I got Miskatonic/Hastur, broke out the rule book and got started. While we had questions about domain draining, card effects, location support cards, and timing issues almost immediately, the games ran relatively smoothly. Some things became immediately apparent, that having domains free for defense is absolutely necessary, and that Miskatonic can rush really really well with low cost characters and investigation tokens up to wazoo.
What else did we learn? Oh that committing to stories so they’re not uncommitted seemed pivotal to defending stories and that, at least in the core set, the Ghost is a crazy awesome defense character for those situations without terror icons. The way you stack your domains matters, the characters you choose to have wounded matters, everything matters, and as much as my girlfriend says she didn’t want to play, I think she enjoyed winning some of those stories.
The most confusing thing for us was the timing. We were never quite sure when to play events, or rather we were confused as to when we were ALLOWED to play events. In the Operations Phase you can play characters and support cards, but can you play events before you have committed your characters to stories? Also, can you play events after the resolution of stories?
Because of this event indecision our second game devolved into a screaming match, my girlfriend claiming I was cheating, though I barely knew enough about the game to cheat. Oh and there was alcohol involved, so that may have had a small something to do with it. Now I think we’ve got a better handle on that sort of stuff thanks to the action diagram in the rule book, but at first we were totally lost and one of us was really salty. We also wondered about location support cards: are they permanent? Do they last the entire game unless destroyed? If so it seems like Victoria Glasser’s Apartment, which doesn’t allow players to restore insane characters during their Refresh Phrase, is a very very solid card, especially since Hastur is so good at making characters go insane.
Other than that I had a great time. Through teaching the gf I think I learned a lot, though I’d love to play against more experienced players who could really teach me the ropes. Also it has become abundantly clear that without collecting any of the Asylum Packs, which have replaced boosters thank gosh, you have relatively few options while playing the game. Out of the starter box you certainly get enough to learn, and for someone like me, who gets transfixed on possible strategies, it teases what would be possible with more cards, or copies of certain cards. I would actually say that’s the greatest strength of the core set, it give just a little taste of the possibilities, of the killer decks you could create with just a few more cards, and now I think I’m hooked. It was awesome to see that in two or three turns I could unleash a maelstrom of destruction on my unsuspecting significant other.
After we played for a while I found that I really liked the idea of playing Hastur and Mikatonic together. I tried looking up some possible deck ideas after I got home but there really wasn’t much out there, and I think I read somewhere that the combination itself wasn’t that great, or at least took a lot of work to make successful. However just from what I saw in the core set cards I started to strategize what I think would be a really cool way to win stories: pack in some seriously quick and cheap characters for a sort of investigation rush/success token battery deck.
My vision was to use three copies of Mad Genius and either send them insane through forced responses like after playing Victoria Glasser, overpaying for Bearer of the Yellow sign, or using them on defense to assure they go insane and can be restored at the beginning of my turn, giving me one success token basically every turn. In combination with Hastur and a three-resource domain, every turn can be used to get success tokens. Also, in combination with multiple copies of Dr. Carson’s Treatment, you have the potential to get as many as 2 extra success tokens on select turns, all without even committing to stories!
Seeing as the game has been out for so long I imagine people smarter than I have probably tried this, and being a skill 2 charater with no icons or text box makes the Mad Genius serious cannon fodder for anyone who wants him dead. Also the fact that you won’t always draw copies of the Mad Genius when you want, or Dr. Carson’s Treatment, or whatever, makes this strategy will undoubtedly hinder this strategy in the end but the thought of playing Dr. Carson’s Treatment right after my opponent has just exhausted his characters for a story and adding two success tokens for my restored Mad Geniuses and winning the story right out from underneath him seems so deliciously evil that I really want to try it out!
So there you go, my first experience playing The Call of Cthulhu. It was awesome and makes me want to play more so if anyone reading this is in the Lansing area feel free to hit me up!