The Cards of Cthulhu, from DVG Games, is a solitaire (with multiplayer option) tower defence game set within the Cthulhu Mythos.
You are an investigator fighting the Cults of the Elder Gods. As the game progresses ‘experience’ points are earned. These can be spent to recruit followers, discover spells and purchase magical items.
Each turn cult Minions appear. As the number of Minions increases so too do the chances of awakening a Horror or opening a Gate.
Horrors are difficult to defeat and can damage an Investigators sanity. Gates increase the speed at which Minions appear on the four Cult boards.
The game is over when an Investigator dies, loses their sanity or too many minions appear on any one of the Cult boards.
Players win by cycling once through a large deck of ‘Cult’ cards. Inside this deck await all the Horrors, Minions and Gates, plus items to help you fight the cultists.
Combating Cultists is a simple case of throwing dice, paying ‘experience’ points where needed or desired then assigning die rolls to the cultists that you are aiming to beat this turn
That’s it. A relatively simple game of drawing cards, rolling dice and hanging on to the end as best you can.
It’s fun, quirky experience that provides a solid solo challenge, however, my initial impressions of The Cards of Cthulhu were not good.
It arrived in a box far too large for the contents. The rule book seemed overly complicated and lacking the ‘sheen’ of more mainstream games. Some of the art was…perhaps not up to the standard of other art in the game. The theme felt unoriginal and uninspiring. Seen one Cthulhu game, seen them all, I guess.
Once I began playing, however, this impression changed.
Gameplay is exceptionally smooth. Turns fly by and it’s easy to get carried away, caught up in your fight against the Cultists. It’s rare that I play a single game. Often 3 or even 4 games can be played during an evening.
The ten investigators have unique abilities, as do their Followers. Followers and items both appear during the card draw. This means that timing can significantly influence a game. A follower that helped ease your way to victory in the last game can appear much later in this game.
This adds a nice degree of tension as each turn you need to manage your experience points carefully. Frustrated cries are heard throughout the house when the best item cards appear one after the other and there are too few experience points available to pay for them.
Victory often feels to be within grasp but tantalisingly far away. The initial trickle of Minions on to the cult boards can rapidly become a flood. Sanity loss is an ever-present threat and there is a certain perverse delight to be taken from sacrificing a new follower to save yourself.
Cards of Cthulhu is not without its flaws. For every stunningly illustrated Cultist card there is an Investigator or Follower that just isn’t. The components are good quality cardstock, custom dice, metal coins and four mounted boards, however, too few experience coins are included. Stand ins are needed during most games.
For all the variability provided by the Investigators, the one victory condition is just that and it does limit the life of the game. Also, despite what the box says about the player count, this is really a solo experience through and through.
Overall, I find that there is far more to like about The Cards of Cthulhu than not. It’s a quirky gem of a game that has been in my collection for a long time. Chances are high that it will stay in my collection for some time yet.