I played an epic game with the Cthulhu Cultists against the Miskatonic University Explorers. It lasted hours.
There was lots going on and the game swung back and forth. At various points it looked like either side could have won.
Both these decks are extremely fun to play. It seemed that every turn something interesting happened.
In one sequence I had a great instance of cascading dormant cards and loads of other interactions all at one time. It went like this:
It is part-way into the game and Miskatonic University’s turn. They win the first story. The dormant card under it is Fiona Day. She sacrifices three cultists to put three success tokens on another story and wins it. This story has ‘From the Depths’ dormant under it, which puts four new cultists into play from the top of the deck.
Also, the original three cultists who exhausted to commit to the story (before being sacrificed by Fiona) allow the Summon the Sleeper ritual to trigger and tutor a Ruinous Star Spawn to hand.
All of this happened at the end if the MU player’s turn, and now it is the Cultist player’s turn.
The Cultists play the Ruinous Star Spawn, sacrificing a Zealous Cultist, a Bone Sculptor and a Mariner to help pay for it. Gustaf Johansen gets to draw three more cards, and the Zealous Cultist drives MU’s Alternative Historian insane as it dies.
The Star Spawn only costs two instead of five, and this leaves enough resources to play another newly-drawn Bone Sculptor and a Horrific Statuette. The cultists just keep getting sacrificed and replacing themselves!
As the Ruinous Star Spawn arrives, it removes all the success tokens from the only story that has any MU tokens, setting them back to nothing.
Finally the Cultist player tucks a dormant Cthulhu under the story ‘A New Challenge’ (one of the stories that the MU player might strategically use to avoid triggering dormant cards).
Quite a staggering couple of turns for the Cultist player. Can the Explorers of Miskatonic University recover?
Not yet. Nothing much happens on the Explorers’ turn. A couple more success tokens, a couple more characters in play.
On the next Cultist turn, a Foul Induction brings a bunch of cultists back from the dead, including all the Initiates of Dagon who cost zero. Using this army, the Cthulhu player wins a second story which has another ‘From the Depths’ beneath it. This puts into play all characters in the top five cards of the deck. The top five are flipped over to reveal Cthulhu!
Ouch! The University is now 2-1 down and facing the Great Old One himself.
The Explorer engine is finally up and running. Ultima Thule bounces explorers into play and Roald Ellsworth and James “Cookie” Fredericks draw loads of cards. But is it too late? Cthulhu can block any story with his ten skill, so MU can only hope to win through investigation struggles.
Luckily, Roald can choose either to draw two cards from the deck or to bring back one from the discard. This allows MU to reuse its Expert Testimonies. Along with Whitton Greene, these are part of the main investigation strategy: adding extra struggles and success tokens.
Adding investigation struggles is very powerful. For example in just one turn of the game, Whitton Green and two Expert Testimonies added three extra investigation struggles. For each investigation struggle you win, you put another success token on the story. It doesn’t even have to be your turn. Four investigation struggles means four tokens!
With Matthew Alexander boosting the explorers’ skill counts, the explorers managed a skill total of 12 vs the cultists’ 9 to put the fifth token on the story and win it. This rivals Fiona’s ability to win from nowhere!
The story did have a dormant card under it. There was moment of tension as it was revealed but it was another Cthulhu who is unique and so this duplicate was simply discarded.
Now the score is 2-2. Each side needs only one more story to win.
Even with Cthulhu, Fiona Day and a Star Spawn in play, the Cultist player is getting nervous. The extra investigation means MU can keep adding tokens even when it isn’t their turn.
Two Horrific Statuettes turn cultist terror into investigation and the Cultists manage to stall for a turn. The explorers have willpower thanks to Roald Ellsworth so the terror isn’t much use anyway.
The big problem for the Cultists is that they need to defend against investigation on both their and the explorers’ turns and they can’t win enough arcane struggles to ready their characters in between. They just can’t keep up.
In the end, facing Cthulhu, a Star Spawn and a horde of cultists, Whitton Greene calls in an Expert Testimony. The Alternate Historian discards two cards to skip both the terror and combat struggles. The story resolution goes straight to investigation and the Explorers win their third story and the game.
The MVP on the MU team is either Whitton Greene with her extra investigation or Roald Ellsworth for drawing so many cards (including her). It is hard to choose. Whitton won all the stories, but could she have done it without the support of the many cards that Roald drew?
For the Cultists, the MVP was Fiona Day. She won a story outright in one action and while holding a Horrific Statuette she could hold off investigation struggles on her own.
Rules I forgot: Not many, I hope.
I did forget to use the Alternative Historian’s ability most of the time. Skipping story struggles is very powerful. No wonder she is restricted and has been errata’d to only work three times a turn.
I do tend to keep forgetting that only the active (i.e. ‘attacking’) player can win a success token by having a higher skill total. If you are defending and have a higher total, you do not get a token you just stop them getting one. The same goes for an unopposed story, only the active player gets an extra token.
Rules I became very aware of:
Uniqueness. This prevented playing many MU characters since they were already in play. On the other hand they could always be discarded by the Alternative Historian. Uniqueness was more annoying on the Cultist side as I had to discard three revealed dormant cards that were already in play (two Fionas and a Cthulhu).
So what could be improved?
The Cultist deck is missing some decent direct removal. The Cthulhu faction is usually good at this.
How about adding in Dwellers Below? They can drag an opponent’s character down to the bottom of the sea, which would be nice for getting rid of an annoying explorer. They aren’t cultists, but add some combat and they are Servitors and so can be tutored by the Summon the Sleeper ritual. I can replace the Bone Sculptor with these. He is a cultist, but when I put him in I was originally looking for some more combat, so the Dwellers could be good.
‘The Stars Are Right’ never got used. I never had both it and a dormant character in hand at the same time. Also, it ‘puts into play’ in the same way as From the Depths. This does not trigger the characters’ regular effects from being played, such as Cthulhu’s destruction and Fiona’s success tokens. ‘Put into play’ is not the same as ‘play’ in the normal way. I had to check the FAQ for this distinction.
So, how about replacing ‘The Stars are Right’ with the conspiracy ‘Raising of the Great Old Ones’? I have not tried a conspiracy before. These count as additional story cards, but have their own patterns of story struggles which can bias the story resolution in one side’s favour. As an example, Raising of the Great Old Ones has two terror struggles and three combat struggles but no investigation struggles at all which scuppers the Explorers’s main strategy. Lets try that.
How is the MU deck? Not bad. The prophecies are sometimes hard to trigger, but they are cheap for their effects. The Cylinders of Kadatheron and Apocalyptic Visions fetch them. The Cylinders also fetch the Expert Testimonies. The Cylinders also fetch the Visions, and Whitton Greene fetches both. I shall leave all of these as is for the time being. They all add up to extra cards, which can be discarded to the Historian in a pinch.
I never used ‘Protecting the Anirniq’, since I already have Ultima Thule for bounce effects. Let’s try ‘Zero Visibility’ to help focus on investigation struggles. I could put Daring Buju back in, but I already don’t like that it requires a spare character. Zero Visibility allows me to do stuff like commit only 1 or 2 characters to a story, since they then don’t have to survive the combat and terror struggles.
Here are the new decklists:
Cthulhu Dormant Cultists
Total Cards: (50)
3x Cthulhu (The Sleeper Below)
3x Fiona Day (The Sleeper Below)
3x Initiate of Dagon (The Sleeper Below)
3x Gustaf Johansen (The Sleeper Below)
3x Mariner (The Sleeper Below)
3x Asuilaak (The Sleeper Below)
3x Watcher of Signs (The Sleeper Below)
3x Obsessive Zealot (The Sleeper Below)
2x Ruinous Star Spawn (The Sleeper Below)
3x Dwellers Below (The Sleeper Below)
3x Irem (The Sleeper Below)
3x Summon the Sleeper (The Sleeper Below)
3x Unaussprelichen Kulten (The Sleeper Below)
3x Horrific Statuette (The Sleeper Below)
3x From the Depths (The Sleeper Below)
2x Foul Induction (The Sleeper Below)
2x Cthulhu Fhtagn! (The Sleeper Below)
2x Raising of the Great Old Ones (The Sleeper Below)
Total Cards: (50)
3x Arctic Ethnologist (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Brette Wulffsen (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Roald Ellsworth (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x James “Cookie” Fredericks (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Matthew Alexander (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Alternative Historian (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Overworked Graduate Student (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Whitton Greene (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x College Prospect (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Ultima Thule (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Station Eismitte (Seekers of Knowledge)
2x Cylinders of Kadatheron (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Apocalyptic Visions (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Expert Testimony (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x A Voros Hal’l Jon (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Por V 1:20 (Seekers of Knowledge)
3x Zero Visibility (Seekers of Knowledge)