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The Seals of Cthulhu: A Game Where Strategy Rises From the Depths

Seals of Cthulhu Review Edition

The Seals of Cthulhu Review Edition
(All photos of Thing12 Games product were taken and edited by KristaG)

In the mysterious town of Arkham, Massachusetts, a group of Cultists strive to collect a variety of powerful arcane artifacts in order to not only gain control of the city but to summon the Elder Gods and ultimately bring about the apocalypse. As is typical to this genre, there is a troupe of Investigators not only trying to stop them but also trying to keep the artifacts out of the Cultist’s hands by finding and keeping them for themselves to ensure the fate of humanity. Will you be aiding the Cultists and bringing ultimate doom or will you fight the good fight and collect the artifacts for safekeeping?

Seals of Cthulhu ID Cards

Example ID cards for both the Cultists (darker themed cards) and the Investigators (lighter themed cards). These do feature placeholder art that has already been updated since I received the review edition of the game.

The Seals of Cthulhu is the newest game from Thing12 Games and will be appearing on Kickstarter on May 22nd, 2018. Designed by Sean Epperson and featuring artwork from Darrin Michelson, Son Duong, and Kris Quistorff, this is a 2-player card game that focuses heavily on bluffing your opponent while bidding back and forth on artifact cards. A typical basic game takes about 15ish minutes, but a more advanced game with the use of ID cards can take longer. This review is based on the “review edition” prototype, so artwork, components and box contents are subject to change during the campaign. The Cultists and the Investigators each come with 4 influence markers, 4 optional use ID cards, and 7 team specific themed cards (2 Elder Gods to choose from to try and summon and 5 halves of an artifact). However, there will be the potential to add another 5 Elder Gods to the game through stretch goals.

Seals of Cthulhu Set Up

Each player gets their respective deck of cards, their influence markers, and the person who had the most recent nightmare (usually me) takes the active player token.

When setting up a game, players must choose which side of the dichotomy they want to be on – Cultist or Investigator? Once decided, each player will then gather their themed components and build their hand of 6 cards. Each player will always have a Gate, Potion, Necronomicon, Journal, and Gate Closure card at the beginning of the game. The Elder Gods are interchangeable, but it is recommended that new players begin with Shoggoth. The first player is determined based on who last had the worst nightmare, earning them the “Active Player” token. Both players take their 6 cards into their hands and the game is ready to play. There are multiple symbols on the cards, but they are fairly self-explanatory and even have written reminders on the cards themselves so you can keep track of what the values mean.

Seals of Cthulhu Artifacts

An example of a completed Artifact (Necronomicon) and a broken Artifact (Journal). Each has different powers that can only be used on your turn and only if the Artifact is complete. Some artifacts, such as the potion, are only 1 card and are automatically completed when they enter play.

Each game is played over 5 rounds. The active player chooses which card they wish to play face down in the play area. Then they must decide how much influence they are willing to lose in order to get the card (basically, how much you’re willing to buy off your opponent with). Bidding for the card can be done using Influence Counters as well as face up cards and continues until a player either chooses to take the offered influence of cannot bid any higher and is forced to take the offered influence (this will include any face-up cares that were used in bidding). Once bidding is concluded, the player that did not take the influence will get the card, flipping it face up in front of them and the Active Player token is passed to the next player. The goal here is to try to get the cards that will combine to create a whole artifact so you can gain use of their powers. Any artifact powers a player wishes to use, such as being able to swap cards on the table with those in your hand or potentially creating combos by flipping cards face up/face down, must be played on their turn. If using ID cards in the game, these abilities can only be used once per game. Turns continues until both players are left with only a single card in their hand and then it is time to score. To determine the winner, simply add (or subtract, depending on the Elder God cards in play) up the Control values on each of the face-up cards. The player with the most Control wins. It is important to note that just because a card is worth a lot of Influence does not mean that it will have a high Control value at the end of the game and vice versa.

Overall, I was really impressed with the concept of the game, the designs on the cards, and the card flipping mechanics was most intriguing. I love trying to find new games that play really well at 2 players, but we ran into a couple of snags with this one. On several occasions, we were able to break the game by always bidding low and completely wresting each other out of being able to form any artifacts! Then there were the times where the card flipping worked really well and the bluffing and bidding and trying to outdo each other came together for a great game so I’m not sure if it just needed a little tweaking on our play style, a few house rules, or perhaps a little bit more playtesting. The concept is great and I can not help but be excited about it, but I also feel there’s a meta involved that isn’t entirely clear until you’ve played it several times. For example, there are some serious strategies that can go into how you place your bid, when to place your bid, what cards are great to play early on vs later, etc., but you won’t know any of this until you have a couple of games under your belt. As it stands, I feel there is a lot of potential for the campaign to bring a lot to the game with stretch goals and some wider feedback. While The Seals of Cthulhu is a game I think would be perfect for several of my friends and their partners, it is probably not one that I’m going to pick up for myself. However, this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be down to play a game or two at a friend’s place!

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