Dunwich Revisited

DunwichLegacyWith the arrival a few weeks ago of Lost in Time and Space, the Dunwich Legacy Cycle – the first full adventure cycle for Arkham Horror the Card Game – is complete. Today I want to take a bit of a reflective look at the campaign, what we’ve seen, and what we can expect for the future.

It’s worth saying now that this article will include a fair number of spoilers for the Dunwich Legacy Campaign so, if you haven’t played it yet, you might want to avoid reading this until later.

I’ve been doing a lot of reviews for Games Quest on the Arkham LCG line, and it would be remiss of me not to mention them as a place for some pack-by-pack breakdowns – you can find them at the following links:

Professors To recap, this is an 8-scenario adventure, which starts with the disappearance of Professors Rice and Morgan, the 2 men who assisted Professor Armitage in destroying the Dunwich Horror in Lovecraft’s story of the same name. Players will have visited a Nightclub and a University in search of the men, broken into a Museum to search for a copy of the Necronimicon, caught a train to Dunwich that was almost sucked through a rift in reality, tried to prevent grisly human sacrifice in Dunwich, and scoured the countryside for giant invisible monsters. In the final denouement, they will have scaled Sentinel Hill (despite mysterious forces opposing them), and stepped through a portal into the beyond, hopefully saving the world in time to return home.

Familiar Encounters

BeyondTheVeil
THIS card kept reappearing…

Aside from a new wave of encounter cards in each pack, the Dunwich Legacy campaign made extensive use of cards introduced in the Dunwich Deluxe, as well as some encounter cards from the Core Set. Overall, it tended to be the more abstract cards that got recycled – obscuring shrouds on locations, Doom spread by mysterious rites, and strange hexes and curses to discard you assets and your decks.

This all created a very noticeable contrast with a game like Lord of the Rings where you could expect to see a particular pack of enemies showing up again and again throughout the course of the campaign – I was particularly surprised by how little we saw of the Mobsters from scenario 1b (The House Always Win) who show up at most once more all campaign (and possibly not at all, depending on the notes in your campaign log).

The Consequences of Your Actions

MidnightCultists Fantasy Flight have made the point repeatedly that Arkham Horror is supposed to be played in Campaign Mode as the default option, with Standalone being the variant- we’d already seen a little bit of how this could work in practice from the Core Box’s Night of the Zealot campaign, as players can chose to burn down a location in the first scenario, thereby removing it from the second, and having the undefeated cultists from the second scenario reappearing in the third. Dunwich however, offered the chance to see this fully developed.

Overall, I was pleased with just how much use they made of this – the fact that you can only rescue 1 professor in the first two scenarios ensures that whatever approach you take, you will have some negative consequences to deal with: even once you’ve read all set-ups and outcomes for the whole campaign, there is no “perfect” path to take.

Necronomicons
Sadly, the campaign always specifies which Necronomicon gets stolen…

The interactions with the Necronomicon were also particularly intriguing – what will you do when faced with the chance to gain such a powerful card (the static intellect boost is handy for lots of investigators, and the resource acceleration is incredibly powerful), at the cost of a nasty token added to the campaign bag? I also liked the fact that even once you had decided to take it, it could still be lost in later scenarios, giving you the chance of acquiring the bad token, and the forces of evil getting the book. All of this interacted nicely, and gave a good sense of legacy, like your decisions really mattered.

Dunwich Legacy felt like it did a good job of ensuring that narrative continuity didn’t lead to a game that was unplayable – here the best example was probably in Undimensioned and Unseen, where the number of invisible abominations to be dealt with was actually increased if you were more successful in the previous scenario. Some people have raised thematic concerns about this, but I think it seemed reasonable if you assume that the more sacrifices the monsters have feasted upon, the less need they have to go rampaging around the countryside seeking food – they probably just stayed in for an after-dinner nap. Whatever the logic, it offered a welcome chance to right the ship for those parties that were doing particularly badly.

Drinks I also loved the fact that the designers were more than willing to mess with players’ expectations – the best example here was in Essex County Express where players could help themselves to some free resources, provided they remembered that they “had stolen a passenger’s luggage.” After the nasty side-effects of having a drink in the speakeasy, this was an option shunned by lots of players- only to discover that there was no nasty side-effect at all!

AcidicIchorProbably the biggest disappointment with the ongoing aspect of the game came from the Strange Solution – there had been much speculation about what the pay-off would be, and when it came it was quite underwhelming – just some options for upgraded player-cards. In reality, the option to access powerful effects in Seeker – powerful healing and an explosive fight ability – shouldn’t be underestimated, and the cost of having to upgrade from a specific card AND having to perform a test on that card in a scenario is a really interesting one, it just feels disappointing that we didn’t get something more entertaining that was tied to scenario events more specifically.

Where we go

FacultyOffices Aside from doing a great job of the campaign aspect of things, Dunwich Legacy also continued to do interesting things with our sense of space: in the course of the 8 scenarios we visited a nightclub, a university that had different buildings open or closed depending on what time you got there, a museum that could only be broken into in the middle of the night, and a train where you could only move from carriage to carriage in a straight line.

GatheringLocations The designers have made heavy use during this campaign of location sets with identical unrevealed sides and assorted different revealed sides. Whilst this quite quickly stops feeling particularly “new,” I still think it’s a great way of doing things – when I play The Gathering now, I know exactly what locations are going to be where, and what effects will trigger and when (In case you’re wondering why I’m still playing The Gathering, it’s where I go to watch Daisy die as my latest attempt at a solo deck fails miserably). Having these other locations, where you don’t know until you first enter them what you’ll find, and where you can’t plan out of every detail of the game ensures that these scenarios are still playable once you’ve done them a few times.

It’s also worth reiterating how well Arkham does “place” generally – if I compare it to the Lord of the Rings LCG, a game I’ve enjoyed playing for many years, the difference is night and day. In Arkham my investigator is always somewhere, your investigators is always somewhere – if those aren’t the same place, then we can’t help each other, and the monster at my location is going to attack me, even if you make a better target. It’s little touches like this which make the game so much more engaging than if decisions about movement become abstracted.

Who we fight

AvianThrallThe core box for Arkham LCG established the basic nature of enemies – a fight value, a number of hit points, an evade value, its attack values, and possibly some ability text. Dunwich Legacy hasn’t strayed too far from that, but it has certainly stretched our expectations of what a monster can do. Things like the Conglomeration of Spheres or the Avian Thrall care about what weapon you use to fight them with, and make you think twice about relying too heavily on that Machete (and let’s face it, which Guardian doesn’t love the Machete?)

Whippoorwill The designers also did a great job of capturing the feeling of the Whipporwhills, the flocks of sinister birds which are so often looming harbingers in Lovecraft’s tales- they won’t attack you, and you’ll have to waste actions taking them out, but if you try to ignore them they will follow you around, nagging away at you, and undermining your ability to carry out normal activities.

Of course, the biggest change to “normal” combat we encountered was in Undimensioned and Unseen, with the Brood of Yog-Sothoth, who could only be attacked using the in-scenario card Esoteric Formula

Brood I’m still in 2 minds about the Esoteric Formula – obviously it makes sense that something as large as a Brood of Yog-Sothoth should take more than just knife-work to bring down, and I liked the idea that clues could be used to aid you in the fight.

My problem with this scenario was the fact that everyone had to use Willpower to fight it – generally speaking in this game, different investigators have different strengths: most of the time, there are ways around things – fight with strength, use spells to fight with willpower, evade using agility, or simply focus on clue-gathering, whilst your teammates take care of combat. The fact that this scenario didn’t have an alternative win condition, and didn’t have a way for investigators to substitute a different skill made it feel a bit annoying.

Yog-Sothoth The last scenario, of course, was Lost in Time and Space, and if you were particularly unlucky, you might have found yourself facing Yog-Sothoth itself. Whilst this was more-or-less inevitable, given how the scenarios up-to-now had gone, I was glad that this didn’t just turn into a boss fight: even in the slightly pulpier world of Arkham Horror files, a chef with a Machete and an ex-con with a tommy gun are not supposed to be able to just knock over an ancient one. If anything, I was surprised at how plausible it might to fight him, with careful use of boosts, weapons etc, but I was glad to see that he could not be evaded, and was going to do a massive 5 Horror each time he attacked. Ultimately, it’s entirely fitting for an Arkham Campaign that the way you “win” is by finding your way back home and sealing the gate long before you ever catch sight of Yog-Sothoth.

 

What’s on the Cards for us?

ShrivellingsAs well as having dramatically expanded the range of what was available for the players to confront, the Dunwich Legacy campaign has also given us a load more player cards, particularly cards at the higher experience levels. I wrote an article for Mythos Busters back in the autumn of last year, lamenting how few opportunities there were to really level up into the powerful options, and how a secondary class might as well be a primary one, given how few cards were out of scope.

Since then, things have improved massively, and probably at the time they needed to, when we actually have the XP to spend: XP is a bit harder to come by in Dunwich Legacy than it was in Night of the Zealot, but you’ll still chalk up a fair amount over the course of the campaign, and there’s plenty of choice on what to do.

ExceptionalThe introduction of permanent cards like Charisma, or the skill-boosting talents allow you to really focus the direction of your deck, but even without them, there are plenty of choices to make between powerful bomb effects like a Pocket Watch or Lightning Gun, and basic efficiency upgrades like simply taking the better version of a card.

I’ve never been the world’s greatest deck-builder, and the more the card pool expands, the more I’m sure I’ll find myself floundering with the best route to take. That said, the fact that we’ve reached the end of a full cycle and my wife is still choosing her own deck upgrades (in 6 years she has never built her own LotR deck) is another great testament to how well this game has been put together.

Carcosa

That’s about all I wanted to say on the Dunwich Legacy. A good mysterious cultists and forces which should not be tampered with story to get us started, with a few 1920s mobsters thrown in for good measure. From the little we know about the next cycle, Path to Carcosa, it looks like we could have a very different feel, something more psychological, where the danger is in your own mind, just as much as in the cultist’s knife.

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Monsters of the Mansions: Part II – The Investigators

I’m aware that this blog has a habit of getting a bit number-crunch heavy at times, lots of theory, and not a lot of board game.

As part of an ongoing attempt to stem this tide of text, I try periodically to introduce some more visual content, looking at my efforts with the Paintbrush.

Today I’m going to return to Mansions of Madness- I did a painted low-down of the base game back in the autumn, and today I want to look at some of the expansions.

Mansions-Investigators-All

Suppressed Memories and Recurring Nightmares were 2 boxes that provided the tiles and figures of Mansions of Madness 1st edition for 2nd edition players – they disappointed some 2nd-edition fans with their lack of scenario/card content, but they way that they extend the range of Investigators and Monsters at your disposal made them a must-have for me.

Mansions-Investigators-Kate
Sadly, I can’t really get the pens in focus – that’s how detailed they are!

Between the 2 boxes, there were no fewer than 16 new Investigators made available. Some of them were really nice figures to paint, and I was really pleased with some of the details, like the creases on Kate Winthrop’s lab-coat, and the pens in her pocket.

Mansions-Investigators-Monterey-DexterThe Guys

Generally speaking, the male investigators in Mansions of Madness tend to be less interesting to paint – Darrell the Photographer, and Bob the Salesman particularly fade into the background, although figures like Dexter the Magician and Monterey the Archaeologist have a bit more of the unusual going for them.

Mansions-Investigators-Joe-MichaelThere are also a few rather more dynamic male investigators appearing in these boxes – Michael the Gangster and Joe the PI both come out all guns blazing – Joe feels a little bit over the top to me, but I like Michael’s scope, and he’s a fun investigator for scenarios that have a heavy focus on monster-bashing.

Mansions-Investigators-Vincent-Harvey

Relying more on mind than body, the next 2 male investigators are Vincent the Doctor, and Harvey the Professor – a lot more brown in the palette for these men (there’s no way I was going to paint Tweed pattern on something that size). I also liked Vincent’s Saw – definitely the approach to medicine you expect your Arkham Investigator to take.

Mansions-Investigators-AshcanOf course, no Arkham Investigators set would be complete without everyone’s favourite Arkham LCG Investigator, Duke, who comes to Mansions in the company of his faithful sidekick, Ashcan Pete.

Because Duke is so small, it’s quite difficult to get any meaningful detail onto his miniature (aside from the red scarf around his neck, but being the only dog in the set, he still stands out from the others quite well.

 

 

The Gals

Mansions-Investigators-JennyJenny Barnes is a character who takes quite a bit of flak from various members of our play-group, and you have to admit that her outfit looks better suited to society balls than creepy old houses. However, she’s a character with quite an interesting backstory, and very good utility in most of the different games, so I still wanted to do a good job on this one – the colour-scheme for her dress and hat vary across the different Arkham Files games, but on personal preference I went for the blue rather than the purple end of the spectrum.

Mansions-Investigators-GloriaGloria, the author was another fun one to paint- the shades of green weren’t that remarkable, but anyone who carries a typewriter like a handbag has done more than enough to catch my attention.

Sadly, this miniature arrived slightly damaged (leaning forward at quite a funny angle) and, although I’ve been able to correct it a bit with a hair-dryer and pot of cold water, there’s still a noticeable lean.

Mansions-Investigators-Amanda-Carolyn Amanda and Carolyn, the student and the Psychiatrist respectively, both have fairly blank outfits, but with a lot of utility in Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror, I still wanted the figures to look good – they certainly aren’t the stand-outs of the bunch (Amanda’s glasses are way too dark/thick-framed), but I think they’re passable.

Mansions-Investigators-Mary-MatteoSister Mary, like Father Matteo from the 2nd Edition core box, appears in clerical robes, and I decided to follow FFG’s illustrations with a brown colour-scheme, rather than black and white, which leaves them looking a bit less similar to one another.

 

Mansions-Investigators-MandyLast, but by no means least comes Mandy, the Researcher – this was a really difficult figure to paint, combining my two pet peeves from this range of figures – glasses and excessively detailed shoes. Overall though, I was quite pleased with the end result, particularly when viewed from a table-top gaming distance: the dark wash bringing out the detail lines in the jacket really well.

 

That’s about it for today – I want to aim more towards little and often with these pieces, but hopefully I’ll be back soon with some more Monsters

The Baggage of the Mythos

Some Musings on the place of Lovecraft in Lovecraftian games in the 21st century.

A little under a week  ago, I stumbled across some of the rumblings generated by a recent article published by Cynthia Hornbeck. Hers was not a name I’d heard before, but both Hornbeck’s own blog and the Board Game Geek news article which brought it to my attention, describe her as a former employee of Asmodee North America, (the umbrella organisation who are now behind other big names you might have heard of such as the publisher of a lot of my most-played games, “Fantasy Flight” and the UK distributor, Esdevium).

conan Hornbeck’s article took aim at the recently released Conan board game, which she cites as being an abysmal example of sexist, racist stereotypes. She also argues that acquiescing to something like this in board games helps reinforce misogynistic, racist norms in society at large.

I haven’t seen the new Conan board game itself, so I’m not going to get in to the details of the claims she makes about the game (for those who are interested, amongst all the shouting, the comments section below this article has a few people taking issue with some of the factual claims Hornbeck makes about the game.)

I did review an older Conan game a few months back, and as I read back through my review, I think I would stand by the main thrust of my argument – roughly: there’s some dodgy stuff in here, but the game is so abstract that most of the time you don’t really notice.

Reading it with Hornbeck’s article fresh in my memory, I can see how people might want me to make more of this aspect, but I think that I’d assumed anyone considering a Conan board game would be sufficiently into the Conan theme that they’d be aware of/ have already made their decision on this type of thing.

Despite that long-ish intro, I didn’t come here today to talk about Conan. If you’re interested in the topic, I’d recommend having a look at Hornbeck’s original article, which is certainly thought-provoking, even if it feels hyperbolic in places, and some of her conclusions seem stretched. There’s also the article on Kotaku which brought the original blog piece to a slightly wider audience, and gives the company behind the game a chance to respond.

What I wanted to pick up on though was a single line near the start of Hornbeck’s article, which struck a bit closer to home.

Conan is closely based on the books of Robert E. Howard, who was coincidentally a close friend of another highly influential author racist, H. P. Lovecraft.”

As I’ve mentioned more than a few times lately, the second half of this year has seen a heavy Cthulhu-Mythos theme to it in our house. Whilst some of Hornbeck’s conclusions seem a little strong to me, and her comment on Lovecraft felt a bit lazy, I did come away from the article feeling challenged by one of her exhortations towards the end.

“As a gamer, start refusing to purchase or even play a game that objectifies women, excludes women, excludes non-White people, makes non-White people the enemy, etc.”

Am I playing games like that? I don’t think so. But then, I am a white, middle-class man. It would hardly be unprecedented for one of us not to notice this sort of thing. I decided then, to take a look back through the games and see how it felt they were doing at creating a world which captures the mobsters and monsters feel of an Eldritch 1920s without having to import a 100 year-old worldview.

Lovecraft

h_p_lovecraft_alone Starting with Lovecraft himself, I think we can say without argument that H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) said, wrote, and (presumably) thought a lot of things that would be considered ignorant, rude and at times, even downright racist in today’s world.

Beyond that, it gets a little more complicated – and people who have done far more research than I, have already spilled many gallons of ink on whether Lovecraft was simply a product of his time, or whether he should be regarded as a bigot, even within his own historical context – overall, it seems to me to lean towards the latter, but there are advocates of both sides.

Personally, when I read Lovecraft, I can wince when a leading character has a cat called “N*gger Man” or at some of the derisive offhand descriptions of Blacks, Asians or other characters, but by-and-large, that doesn’t stop me reading his work – some of it is very good, other bits feel tortured and overblown, and I’d certainly say I’m more drawn to the ideas he had and the world he created than to his particular craft as a writer. Lovecraft’s crimes against women are largely by omission rather than commission – i.e. it’s not so much what they say or do, so much as the fact that they often don’t appear at all.

Mythos

necronomicon2 It’s important to remember that the Cthulhu Mythos is not simply the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft himself was heavily influenced by writers who came before him, such as Edgar Allen Poe, and also borrowed things directly from earlier works such as Carcosa and Hastur, taken from Ambrose Bierce, via Robert W. Chambers The King in Yellow.

Within Lovecraft’s lifetime, his works interacted with those of others: Robert E. Howard (yes, the Conan guy)’s The Children of the Night, features a character reading The Necronomicon, and there were other writers who interacted with the world he had created. However, it was only really later, and largely through the work of August Derleth that the Mythos expanded, becoming something which numerous later writers could contribute to, and which has seen the setting expand beyond Lovecraft’s original works. In recent times, writers like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore (who would be unlikely to make anyone’s list of bigoted or narrow-minded authors) are among those who have cited Lovecraft and his Mythos as an influence on their writing.

michaelmcglen For me, the appeal of the Cthulhu Mythos setting is a little hard to describe, but I think that there are definitely some key elements to it: I’ve already used the phrase Mobsters and Monsters, and I think there’s something about that 1920s aesthetic which has to be there – jazz and prohibition, the horrors of wars past, and the optimistic decadence which looks to a brighter tomorrow. It’s also, as has been well explained over at Mythos Busters amongst other places, the idea of battling cosmic forces too powerful to comprehend: the aim is survival, and a fully triumphant victory is simply never on the cards. Lastly, I think that there’s an element of forbidden knowledge – the idea of things that Man Was Not Meant To Know, that your mind is in as much danger as your body when you look in to these things.

The fact that most Cthulhu games do offer some hope of victory, however hollow, says to me that we are dealing with the wider Mythos, the version imagined by Derleth rather than simply Lovecraft’s starting point. I think that this Mythos has been developed broadly enough that it’s possible to have a game that feels “faithful” to the setting without being dependent upon outdated ideologies.

From Theory to Game

All of that is well and good, but establishing that something is possible and establishing that it has actually happened are different things, and I wanted to move on next to look at the actual execution of these ideas in the game.

Arkham Horror Files

I’m mostly going to concentrate on Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files range – this is the umbrella term that covers Mansions of Madness, Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, Arkham Horror the Card Game, and various others.

Play the Man

There are 52 different investigators who appear across this range of games – I’ve collated a list of these as best I can, and by my reckoning there are 23 female investigators and 29 male: it’s not a completely even split, but it certainly doesn’t feel like this is just token representation.

femaleinvestigators
The female Investigators from Mansions 2nd Edition (Core Box + Recurring Nightmares)

In terms of the roles that these investigators play, there is a fair amount of breadth for both genders: yes, the Secretary and the Dilettante are female, but so are the Spy, the Scientist and the Martial Artist. The PI, the Fed, the Soldier and the Gangster are all male, and there is a noticeable tendency for those in the more influential position to be male – the Senator, the Professor and the like, but this is still supposed to be the 1920s and it’s probably more of a stretch to imagine a woman being given that kind of senior academic appointment back then than it is to suggest that there might be ghouls and monsters hiding in the shadows.

Not every investigator appears in every game – in fact there is nobody yet who appears in all of them – but for any of the games, picking up the Core Box (this is Fantasy Flight, all the games have expansions…) will give you a broad spread of options across the genders.

All White?

Race is a slightly different question: at a rough guess, only 5 of the 52 investigators are non-Caucasian: Akachi Onyele, Lily Chen, Minh Thi Phan, Rita Young, and Jim Culver. They are respectively a Shaman, a Martial Artist, a Secretary, an Athlete and a Jazz Musician, which suggests a certain amount of tropery in linking race and occupation.

Rita Young is a source of particular controversy: a character whose backstory involves persecution in the Deep South, particularly at the hands of the KKK, pictorial depictions of her have covered a fairly wide range of skin tones, with her pre-painted miniature looking decidedly white.

rita
L-R: My attempt at painting her miniature, the character card from Mansions 2nd Edition, and the Pre-painted miniature as sold by FFG

Personally I went for a skin tone that seemed more in keeping with the bio when I painted the miniature and, whilst it came out slightly darker than I’d intended, it makes more sense to me.

On top of these characters, you can add a few others like Finn Edwards, Marie Lambeau, and “Skids” O’Toole who are still decidedly white, but not Anglo-Saxon, which seems to have been where Lovecraft drew the line.

I think it’s possible to go too far with trying to make characters in a game “representative” – to the point where the designers are more concerned with making sure they’ve got enough of type X or Y, and not enough with an interesting concept / backstory – in that respect, I don’t really mind that I haven’t found an exact 50:50 male/female, and 50:50 white/non-white split. Could they have created more non-white characters? – absolutely! Do I think it would be good if, were they to expand the roster of characters, more of them came from non-white backgrounds? – Yes! Do I think the games as they are feel like they lack options in character choice? Not massively.

Who We Are and What We Do?

ranzakIf I’m picking a character to play in a game, whether it’s Arkham, Pathfinder, Lord of the Rings (gender in Tolkien is a whole other article, and this one’s already getting long…), or any other, I’m generally a lot less interested in their gender or the colour of their skin than I am in their ability, what they’ll actually be like to play – I’ll confess that in Pathfinder, I’m drawn to the more obscure races (Goblin, Tengu etc) but there’s no real parallel for games set in New England (although if Fantasy Flight want to let me play as a Mi-Go who has decided to side with the humans, I’ll definitely take them up on the offer).

It’s kind of cool that Grazzle, my current Pathfinder character is Lizardfolk, but I’d quickly have got bored with that if it weren’t for his phenomenal healing ability. I am neither a waitress nor (as far as I’m aware) the reincarnation of a powerful sorceress, but that doesn’t stop me from having fun playing as Agnes in the Arkham LCG.

minh_thi_phanIt’s worth noting that the descriptions and occupations are about the characters’ backstories: whilst they will influence their strengths and weaknesses, they don’t limit them in an absolute sense. Yes, in the LCG Daisy Walker sucks at hand-to-hand combat, but she can still toast ghouls with a copy of shrivelling or two. In Mansions, my wife mostly plays as Min Thi Phan – a bookish woman she can identify with – but with agility and observation 4, she can gun down cultists with the best of them.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that this is still a game and part of why we play games is because sometimes the Hail Mary pass comes off: Agatha Crane probably wouldn’t have been our choice to face down the Priest of Dagon, but somehow she rolled the 3 successes on 3 dice needed to slide across the floor through his legs, and whack him in the groin with the pickaxe: that moment, where the little old lady KO-ed the boss monster still stands out months later as one of the best moments playing this game, in a way that it simply wouldn’t have if Michael McGlen the Gangster had rolled 2 successes on 5 dice to cave the monster’s head in with a crowbar.

 

Other Games

In terms of what I’m familiar with, there aren’t that many other Cthulhu Mythos games out there which go that heavy on characterisation – Mythos Tales is a very flavourful experience in Arkham, but there’s never really a moment where we’re concerned with who “you” the player are.

pandemic-cthulhu-board-game-hunterPandemic: Reign of Cthulhu has “roles” – more a character class than any kind of backstory. She may not look like me, but the Hunter is generally my first pick for her un-paralled ability to take down Shoggoths. The Reporter (also female) is another key figure, able to get round the board better than pretty much any other character. As I say, it’s not the most thematic / role-play-y of Cthulhu games, but there are multiple female characters, and they include the most powerful / hands-on.

Obviously, there are dozens, if not hundreds more Cthulhu games out there. However, I don’t know the RPG well enough to comment on it, and things like Munchkin Cthulhu or Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion are light enough that I don’t feel any real need to go too deeply into their characters.

Conclusion

Overall, whether you read Lovecraft’s work or not (I do, periodically, but I think a lot of the other stuff, including some of FFG’s tie-in fiction, is as good if not better), I think it’s perfectly possible to play Cthulhu games without affirming any of Lovecraft’s more dubious views. In a way that may not be true for Conan, there is enough scope in this world for game designers and game players alike to create varied characters: characters who give everyone an opportunity to play as a character they can relate to, if that’s what they want.

As noted above, I am white and male: it’s possible that I’m not the best person to be making these judgements – that’s why I’d really like to hear other people’s thoughts: are Lovecraft’s views an issue for you when considering a Mythos Board game? Do you agree that the world these games inhabit is a bigger, more creatively open space, an acceptable place for us to game in? Or are there aspects you struggle with? Perhaps you disagree with Lovecraft’s views but are happy that a game is just a game, and aren’t even bothered about how far they carry over to your table-top experience.

I’d be interested to know people’s thoughts in the comments.