Nov 25, 2015

[Games] Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set

I've been wondering how to handle the remaining Smash Up expansion reviews since each new set just adds more factions and not much else. The core game mechanics remain the same and we're not exactly getting new rules, more like new keywords associated with this faction or that one. Should I still write a lengthy piece or should I just make something quick and dirty? Decisions, decisions...

But at least for the Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set, I'll try to spend a bit more time. This expansion stands somewhat apart from all the others in terms of flavor, game mechanics and overall feel. And that's pretty special.

Now I have to admit that I was never all that much into the whole Lovecraft deal but it's hard to escape its influence in the geek world. In many ways, this expansion is quite the public acknowledgement of this fact and the role Cthulhu and the other elder gods play in popular geek culture. And so in that sense, the self-aware nature of this set is intrinsic to its charm.

Synopsis: Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set is a full expansion for Smash Up as created by Paul Peterson. Like other sets, the game is best played with the support of the Smash Up base game, although one could still theoretically play a 1-on-1 game using the expansion alone.

Like Awesome Level 9000, the set introduces four new Factions to spice up your games. But this set stands apart because of how they introduced a new rule and accompanying cards to support it. In this case, we have new Madness cards that can be gained due to various Minion or Action card effects. Now a Madness card on its own can allow you to draw 2 cards or enable other card effects. However during end game, each Madness card is a -1 VP penalty for your final score. So you can tap into Madness during your game to push things along, but in the long run you'll want to cleanse yourself of these Madness cards in order to survive.

The Miskatonic University represent the largely human element in the game who hope to use science to understand the dark magics at work in the world. There's also the town of Innsmouth, who seem pretty mundane individually but gain power in numbers. The Minions of Cthulhu tend to have a lot of tentacles. And lastly you have the Elder Things, whose fearsome powers can bring the whole world to an end.

Each have their pros and cons and of course it make sense for all players to have at least one Cthulhu-related faction in their decks in order for the game to make sense. After all, everyone needs a chance to both gain and remove Madness cards and the cards specific to this set are the only ones that can manage that.

The whole Madness mechanic is a fascinating one that seems to be too powerful at first, but then you remember that your average turn is still limited to playing one Minion and one Action card. Thus even if you use multiple Madness cards to gain cards into hand, you can only do so much with them. And if you end your turn with more than your maximum hand size, then you'll end up throwing away some of the cards you gained. Thus figuring out how to balance the level of Madness you maintain and making sure that the card effects that you trigger in exchange for Madness cards are certainly worth it

Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set is a fun little set that works best with serious Lovecraft fans but still has something for everyone. The unique play style afforded by Madness cards really shakes up the game and certainly ups the ante for your Smash Up games. Thus the set gets 4 Madness effects out of a possible 5.

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