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Lovecraftian Board Games

The success of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game likely contributed to the appearance of Lovecraftian board, card, and dice games. The card game Dark Cults came out in 1983, just two years after Call of Cthulhu, but it was Arkham Horror in 1987 that really began the Lovecraftian board game phenomenon. (Note that links on game names lead to BoardGameGeek.)

Arkham Horror (Chaosium, 1987)
This game pits players, cooperatively, against a flood of monsters spilling through “gates” onto the streets of Arkham. Players must close the gates before too many open and the Old Ones break through. Several of the buildings shown on the board (artwork by Steve Purcell) are based on actual buildings in Essex County, Massachusetts, with which Lovecraft was familiar. The buildings (and their real-world inspirations) include City Hall (Custom House, Salem), Newspaper (East India Marine Hall, Salem), Silver Twilight Lodge (Pickering House, Salem), Historical Society (Old Town House, Marblehead), and Hospital (Jeremiah Lee Mansion, Marblehead).
Arkham Horror (Fantasy Flight Games, 2005)
Not just a reprint of the earlier Chaosium game, but a complete re-design. The concept of the original game remains, but every component has been updated and new elements of gameplay have been added, which has led to greater complexity. Numerous expansions for the game have been released. (Purchase from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Half.com.)
Call of Cthulhu: Collectible Card Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2004)
More straightforward than Chaosium’s Mythos, this game is much more likely to draw in new players. The card art is also much more attractive, but the simpler mechanisms give the game a somewhat mechanical feel and detract a bit from the atmosphere.
Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008)
A non-collectible version of the above game. The core set includes 20 cards from each of the seven factions, allowing players to easily create decks and start playing. In addition, dozens of expansions are available. (Purchase from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Half.com.)
The Cards of Cthulhu (Dan Verssen Games, 2014)
Boards represent the cults of Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Chaugnar Faugn, and Arwassa, where minion and gate cards are placed. Players purchase item, follower, and spell cards, and then attempt to roll dice combinations that will defeat the monsters before too many are awakened and a cult summons its Elder God. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Chez Cthulhu (Steve Jackson Games, 2010)
Players are roommates trying to get “Slack” by inviting over friends (“Deep Juan”), shopping for things (the Economicon), and taking part in activities (watching CSI: Arkham). A spin-off of Chez Geek that adds madness to the mix. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
Creatures & Cultists (Pagan Publishing, 1992)
Once players have killed enough of their opponent’s cultists, they can attempt to summon their cult’s deity to win. A silly card game with fiddly rules that first appeared in issue four of The Unspeakable Oath and has since been republished by several companies. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
Cthulhu Dice (Steve Jackson Games, 2010)
This game consists of a single 12-sided die (with sides showing Cthulhu, an Elder sign, an Eye of Horus, four tentacles, and five Yellow Signs) and 18 glass stones (for “Sanity”). Players roll the die and lose or gain tokens; the last player with tokens remaining wins. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Cthulhu 500 (Atlas Games, 2004)
A humorous mix of stock car racing and Lovecraftian horror. Players use cards to perform actions or to add crew and modifications to their cars. The mechanisms at the heart of this game are very clever, though the passing and damage rules are a bit clumsy. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Cthulhu Fluxx (Looney Labs, 2012)
Like the other Fluxx games, players begin with two simple rules and then constantly modify them by playing cards. Keeper cards (like the Necronomicon) are collected in the hopes of achieving a Goal. Along the way, Doom accumulates and could bring the game to an end with everyone losing. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
Cthulhu Gloom (Atlas Games, 2011)
Players control Lovecraftian “families”, trying to make them as miserable as possible before being the first to kill them off. The game features transparent cards, which allow modifiers on stacked cards to augment, replace, or cancel each other. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Cthulhu Mash (Evil Polish Brothers, 2003)
A random tile, “monster generating” game that can be played solitaire, multiplayer, or cooperatively. Several reviewers have commented that the game feels like a board game version of a video game, with players killing monsters and collecting “power-ups”. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Cthulhu Realms (Tasty Minstrel Games, 2015)
Based on the previous year’s Star Realms, players build decks to drive their opponents insane. Deck construction is accomplished during play by “conjuring” entity, artifact, and location cards. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Half.com.)
Cthulhu Rising (Twilight Creations, 2008)
An abstract game in which two players attempt to complete and score columns and rows of tiles. The game is so devoid of theme that if it weren’t for the rules and box copy, one would never know that one player represents cultists attempting to raise Cthulhu and the other player a group of investigators attempting to stop them. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Cthulhu Wars (Petersen Games, 2014)
Designed by Sandy Petersen, creator of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, this pits factions of Old Ones against each other in a struggle for control of Earth. Although huge “miniatures” are a big draw for this game, it has excellent game mechanisms including asymmetric faction abilities. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Cthulhu!!!: Hastur La Vista, Baby! (Twilight Creations, 2014)
Like their earlier Zombies!!!, the game revolves around placing randomly-drawn tiles and killing the figures that appear on them. This game adds rules for sanity (which is lost when players encounter byakhee) and relic cards (sets of which are used to sanctify sites). (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Cults Across America (Atlas Games, 1998)
Essentially a light point-to-point movement wargame with a humorously Lovecraftian theme. Each player controls a cult attempting to win by either collecting sufficient Victory Points, controlling a string of adjacent cities from coast to coast, controlling the greatest number of City Points, or being the last surviving player. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Dark Cults (Dark House, 1983)
A card game for two players who take on the roles of Life and Death. One attempts to keep the protagonist alive while the other tries to kill him off, but this is more a story-telling experience than a game. The beautiful black-and-white illustrations on the cards by “Eymoth” (the game’s designer, Kenneth Rahman) are enough to make this game worth owning.
Do You Worship Cthulhu? (Toy Vault, 2006)
A Lovecraftian re-theme of the public domain party game commonly known as Mafia or Werewolf. Players play villagers in an attempt to root out the Cthulhu worshipers; optional roles include seers, protectors, and vigilantes. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
The Doom That Came to Atlantic City (Cryptozoic Entertainment, 2014)
A Lovecraftian parody of Monopoly in which players represent Great Old Ones who destroy houses and create gates, unleashing Doom upon the world. Players have Doom cards with their secret victory conditions, but any player creating six gates immediately wins. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
Elder Sign (Fantasy Flight Games, 2011)
Players cooperate to solve adventures by rolling dice combinations and playing cards, trying to locate enough Elder Signs to seal away an Ancient One before it devours them. Thematically similar to Arkham Horror, this game is lighter and yet depends on more cooperative strategy. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
Eldritch Horror (Fantasy Flight Games, 2013)
A globe-spanning cooperative game that is more streamlined and has a stronger narrative than Arkham Horror. Players have encounters, combat monsters, gather clues, perform research, and attempt to solve mysteries before an Ancient One awakens and ends the world. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
The Hills Rise Wild! (Pagan Publishing, 2000)
A miniatures game in which players play one of four factions vying for control of the Necronomicon so they can summon their god and win. The board consists of sixteen 6″-square tiles and the “miniatures” are cardstock figures that are folded so they stand. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Innsmouth Escape (Twilight Creations, 2008)
A one-versus-many game in which one player attempts to rescue a number of captives and escape from Innsmouth, while the other players (one to four) play Deep Ones trying to capture him. Despite being set in Innsmouth, the game board shows a blurry map of Providence. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Kingsport Festival (Stratelibri, 2014)
A reimplementation of the designer’s earlier Kingsburg that adds spells and sanity rules (which help balance the game). Players allocate their dice to various Mythos beings to gain domain cubes which are then spent on spells and to increase their power in the town of Kingsport. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
Machina Arcana (Juraj Bilić, 2014)
A cooperative game combining steampunk and Lovecraft in a subterranean setting. Players explore, find equipment, battle monsters, and simply try to survive. The game comes with three scenarios, each with 10 or more chapters, providing considerable replayability.
Mansions of Madness (Fantasy Flight Games, 2011)
While Arkham Horror covers the entire town of Arkham, Mansions of Madness focuses on a single location. Investigators search for clues to uncover and thwart the plot of the Keeper. This is the closest to a board game version of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. The second edition, released in 2016, uses an application so a Keeper isn’t needed. (Purchase from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Half.com.)
Munchkin Cthulhu (Steve Jackson Games, 2007)
The original Munchkin has spawned scores of spin-offs and expansions, and the Cthulhu Mythos was not spared. Players assume the roles of investigators, professors, cultists, and “monster whackers” taking on such creatures as H.P. Munchcraft, Nightie-Gaunts, and Shrub-Niggurath. (Purchase from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Half.com.)
Mythos (Chaosium, 1996)
Chaosium’s foray into the collectible card game arena, this atmospheric game began with starter decks and then added five expansions: Expeditions of Miskatonic University, Cthulhu Rising, Legends of the Necronomicon, The Dreamlands, and New Aeon. In addition, a non-collectible “Standard Game Set” was created. New Aeon includes “The Internet” card which features the 1997 edition of The H.P. Lovecraft Archive.
Rise of Cthulhu (Chuck D. Yager, 2015)
A set collection card game in which two players attempt to control the towns of Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport with their cultists. When each Old One appears, control of one of the four towns is determined; when three have appeared, the player controlling the most towns wins.
Shadows over Normandie (IELLO, 2015)
A “standalone expansion” to Heroes of Normandie, this squad-level wargame pits Allied soldiers against the Nazis’ Cult of the Black Sun. This cult is allied with a group of Deep Ones and other Lovecraftian horrors bent on summoning Cthulhu. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Smash Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set (Alderac Entertainment Group, 2013)
Players shuffle together two of four decks of cards—Minions of Cthulhu, Elder Things, Innsmouth, or Miskatonic University—and then compete over “bases” by playing minions and actions. Although an expansion to the base game, the components are sufficient that this can be played without it by two. (Purchase from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
The Stars Are Right (Steve Jackson Games, 2008)
An abstract tile-matching puzzle game with artwork by Lovecraftian cartoonist François “Goomi” Launet. Playing minor creatures increases a player’s ability to flip, push, or swap tiles so he can manipulate the constellations and then play more powerful monsters. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
A Study in Emerald (Treefrog Games, 2013)
Based loosely on the Neil Gaiman short story, players take on the roles of Loyalists—devoted to the Old Ones that have already conquered Earth—or Restorationists—sworn to return it to mankind. Secret roles, deck-building, area control, and Sherlock Holmes combine in this Victorian-era game of intrigue. A second edition, released in 2015, streamlined the game somewhat. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Tekeli-li (Japon Brand, 2005)
A trick-taking game in which players try to avoid taking tricks. The cards include the Necronomicon, Azathoth, Byakhee, Cthugha, Cthulhu, Deep One, Fire Vampire, Hastur, and Nyarlathotep. Every 100 points in cards earns a player an unnamable marker, and the player with the least markers at the end of the game wins—the remaining players are “frighteningly havocked”.
Unspeakable Words (Playroom Entertainment, 2007)
Players score points by creating words from letter cards that feature illustrations of Lovecraftian monsters. The more points a word scores, the greater the chance of failing a “Sanity Check”; fail five times and a player is eliminated, while the first to 100 points wins. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
When Darkness Comes: The Nameless Mist (Twilight Creations, 2005)
When Darkness Comes is a tile-based horror roleplaying board game which can be played either cooperatively or with a gamemaster. The Nameless Mist is a Lovecraft-themed expansion with six scenarios that requires the base game and is set on the campus of Miskatonic University in Arkham. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
Witch of Salem (Mayfair Games, 2008)
A cooperative game that is themed after Lovecraft by way of Wolfgang Hohlbein’s series of Der Hexer von Salem books. This is like a light version of Arkham Horror with players moving around the town of Arkham, defeating creatures, attempting to close portals, and ultimately banning a Great Old One. However, Witch of Salem is more a strategy game than a narrative one like Arkham Horror. (Purchase from Amazon.com.)
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Page Last Revised 13 August 2016
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