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How to Serve Man

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 12:55 PM

By Marius Hartland


Last week we sent people back in time with The Shadow out of Time, then suddenly snapped them back with Opening Night and brought them into play dazed and confused – such fun! This week we'll be even more cruel, because sometimes you just need some of those green soy/lentil biscuits to feed to your pod people. But before we go onto the main course, allow me to take some time to bring those interested in the game a little bit up to speed by explaining a few things about the factions in the Call of Cthulhu LCG.


Factions and Fiction


One of the first things you learn once you get into the Call of Cthulhu Card Game is the concept of Factions. I've seen the Cthulhu Mythos described as being an anti-mythology. Some elements of the Cthulhu Mythos are intentionally contradicting, because the stories are told to us through the interpretations of unreliable narrators who desperately try to make sense of the incomprehensible events that take place around them. This plays well into the evocation philosophy I discussed last week. This card game doesn't try to simulate any particular story ad verbatim, but instead it tries to evoke the Mythos elements in a way that allows you a lot of freedom. At first, all this freedom can be daunting, especially when there are hundreds of cards involved.


To level the steep learning curve a little, most cards are divided amongst the seven factions, helping you in the deck construction process by providing clues and guidelines as to which cards might work well together, without totally taking away the freedom to create any deck you want.


The flip side of this effect of the factions in the game is that it offers some limitations on what you can do, offering an extra layer of challenge in constructing your deck. To win the game you'll need to make -for example- a deal with the local crime boss or vow an unspeakable oath towards Cthulhu so you'll have some access to their power and influence on the world of Arkham and the various locations visited in the game. In return they want you to serve their agenda in the world. The Faction themes and the game’s Resource system reflect these deals. The more you focus on one faction, the more consistent you'll have access to what they have on offer – but at the same time you are tied to the limitations of the chosen faction. That's where the danger lies that you'll have to overcome. It's the weaknesses of each faction that'll offer the challenge you'll be facing. Mixing and matching your cards by either focusing on one particular faction, or going for a more well-rounded, but less consistent deck, is a measure of playstyle you’ll quickly learn to navigate as you play more and more of this game.


Don't be fooled, though, by thinking that belonging to the same faction also means everyone is friends. This is a game about cosmic horrors and ancient conspiracies and everyone is on their own when push comes to shove. A good demonstration of this is what happened last summer in Bacharach, Germany, within the confines of a mountaintop castle called Burg Stahleck. A group of gamers gathered behind the walls of the 12th century castle to play their favorite games, and one of these games was the largest Call of Cthulhu tournament Europe has witnessed. There was plenty of time to flop some cards between the more competitive events, and test some deck concepts. And thus, Laura from Finland decided to challenge me to a friendly game – my mono Agency deck versus her Shub-Niggurath/Hastur Characterless Combo deck. Without any opposition my policemen quickly started to overwhelm the Story Cards. Then she started to play Glimpse of the Void and kept returning it with Condemned Theater, robbing both of us from the -for me- vital Story Phase. Bound to my faction and choice of cards I didn't have a good way to get rid of this combo , and my inevitable fate was looming on the horizon. Two opposed factions were working in perfect unison. Then I brought my Mr. Grey on the table, who has the ability to put a success token on a Story Card after a character gets wounded. Rather useless, against a deck that doesn't have any characters at all. Neither Laura or I could have expected at the beginning of the game the shocking twist the narrative of our game would take. One could almost see the horror and disbelief on the cardboard faces of my characters when my Sharpshooters started to open fire on my own men, just in the hope to get some extra succes tokens.


What a sense of loyalty and safety factions can provide, just to take it away at the most unexpected moment!




And now for the topic we’ve all been waiting for: This week’s Story Card! All this talk about Factions ultimately leads to an important part of the game: Domains and Resources. That's where
Ancient Apocrypha comes in. Let's take a look at what it does:



This trove of rejected knowledge offers a new twist on the Arkham Edition Story Card The Crooked Manse, and a welcome replacement of the Eldritch Edtion Story Card The Squalid Hamlet, continuing the theme of Discard Pile interaction. It's always beneficial to have an extra souped up domain and some extra resources to chew on and to bring out the bigger characters and other huge effects. The temptation of Ancient Apocrypha is the temptation of having such a resource at your disposal, and it certainly gives some food for thought. Just be careful you don't stew in your own juice.


Since it gives your opponent a Domain and resources too, and they are likely to use it first, it would be nice if there was a card that prevented them to take advantage of the new Domain. Oh, I mentioned that card a couple of times before? I'll mention The Stone on the Peak or Enchanted Cane this time, then. The Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth factions do discard pile interactions well, after all.


Ancient Apocrypha does some other things as well, besides potentially giving you a huge fresh domain to exploit at your will. One of the basic rules of the game is that if you gain a domain, and the card doesn't specify from where, the domain comes from the top card of the players deck becomes the new domain. Since (at least thus far) far there hasn't been a card that actually destroys a domain itself it's a good way of getting rid of a card permanently, if you can somehow control or predict what card is on top of a deck. Happy is the town whose wizards are all ashes, after all.


Mass reanimation is made a little more difficult as well, once all characters in the discard pile have effectively become resources. So, you see, contrary to what is told in Lovecraft's story The Festival (or Descendant of Eibon's flavour text, if space would have permitted it,) happy is the tomb where a wizard hath lain, because it offers you plenty of opportunities when triggering Story Cards. Keep your shovel ready as we're going to dig some fresh tombs and fill it with a huge amount of fresh, tasty bodies when we get Frozen In Time next week!

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