Play Time: 40 minutes
Age Recommendation: 14+
Difficulty to Learn: 4/10
Learning Curve: 4/10
Luck Variance: 5/10
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Awards & Honors:
Golden Geek Best Cooperative Game Nominee (2016)
Theme and Overview
In Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, players cooperate to seal a gate in each of four locations present on the game board (Arkham, Dunwich, Kingsport, and Innsmouth), each a memorable setting from the Lovecraft Cthulhu lore. To do so, players must collect a set of five matching Clue cards of that location’s color and spend an action to discard them at the space representing the gate on the board. To collect sets, players must communicate resources, coordinate trades, and hope to draw additional cards for the set at the conclusion of each turn all while fending off cultists and Shoggoths that threaten to overrun the earth.
At the start of each game of Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, players each select a character card. Each character has a unique ability to contribute to the team and this is often a good time to discuss the team’s strategy as you decide what each player’s role will be.
On each turn, a player has four action points to spend. They can can choose from a list of actions that involves some variations of moving to adjacent spaces, through portals, and to or from bus stations; removing cultists or Shoggoths (larger enemies requiring three action points to defeat); giving or taking cards from players who share a location; or sealing gates.
The game includes a reference card that will help new players to remember these options.
A player ends their turn by drawing two cards from the player deck and then adding more cultists to the board based on the summoning level indicated by the track on the top of the board. Just like in Pandemic, drawing from the player deck can be bittersweet as you may find Clue cards, Relic cards (similar to event cards in Pandemic) that will be helpful in gaining some competitive edge against Cthulhu’s minions, or you may encounter an Evil Stirs card which will awaken an Old One (flip the next old one card on the summoning track at the top of the board and see what bad things happen next) and spawn a very nasty Shoggoth on the game board.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu introduces the sanity mechanic in which characters are often asked to roll a sanity die (when interacting with Shoggoths, using Relic cards, or while resolving an Evil Stirs card). When a player rolls the die, they risk spawning additional cultists at their location or taking damage to their sanity. When a character suffers four damage to their sanity, they have gone insane and their character card must be flipped over. The number of actions a player can perform during a turn while insane is limited to three and their character abilities may be impacted negatively as well. They will regain sanity their when a gate is sealed.
As each gate is sealed, players are allowed to remove one cultist from each space in that gate’s location. Cultists and Shoggoths will continue to appear there until a relic card called The Elder Sign is used. When the fourth gate is sealed, the players win (they do not need to be sealed by an Elder Sign). If, at any point, Cthulhu awakens, there are not enough cultists or Shoggoths left to spawn, the player deck runs out, or all players have gone insane, the players lose.
Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu contains 91 character cards, player deck cards, and summoning deck cards (63.5x88mm) and 16 Old Ones cards (61x112mm).
Corey: I have played the original Pandemic game and quite a few of the expansions and actually prefer this version to all of them. Reign of Cthulhu runs very smoothly and many of the newly introduced mechanics seem like a streamlined version of the mechanics from the original game. While I miss the chaos of an outbreak triggering a chain reaction across the board, the trade off of having to race across the board to battle a Shoggoth is even more exciting to me. The introduction of the sanity mechanic in Reign of Cthulhu may seem like an unnecessary nuisance at first but it actual plays out in a really interesting and flavorful way.
Notably, playing with just two players in this game tends to be quite a bit easier than three-four as you get to act more frequently with the same hand of Clue cards. I’ve heard of variants in which players can control two characters separately, each with a separate turn and a separate hand of cards. This would effectively make it a four-player game experience controlled by two players and should add a bit of challenge for those who feel that they need it. There are also variations on the set-up in which Clue cards are removed from the player deck prior to the start of the game.
COREY POINTS: 7.5/10
Nikki: This is a great game for the spooky season! It’s fun to team up to investigate four fictional New England towns, break up cults, banish Shoggoths, and try to prevent Old Ones from being awakened all while endeavoring to seal gates and maintain your sanity. It’s very satisfying when you manage to seal a gate when your character is insane which results in getting your sanity restored through a trip to either the hospital or church. Speed, an adaptable strategy, and a little bit of luck are key to succeeding in this game.
NIKKI POINTS: 8.25/10
Corey: The variation in each game (aside from the placement of the cultists/Shoggoths and timing of Evil Stirs) is limited to the character cards you have to choose from at the start of the game and the Old Ones that are dealt face down to the summoning track. Your character’s ability does quite a bit to play into the way you participate in the game and this provide some freshness to each play-through but it doesn’t take long to figure out what needs to be done with each character to optimize their usage. The detriments that the Old Ones introduce can provide another level of variety. This might include limitations on when players can use relic cards, use gates, or how many cards are needed to seal a gate.
COREY POINTS: 6.5/10
Nikki: Part of the replay value of this game comes from the difficulty variations provided in the rulebook. First time players can start with the introductory game in which all 44 Clue cards which provides the greatest number of cards that can be drawn from the player deck. More advanced players can opt for the standard game in which 1 Clue card of each color (there are 4 colors total) are removed, or the expert game in which 2 Clue cards of each color are removed. So if you’ve been able to seal all the gates in the introductory game, or standard game you can always try to level up. While there are no expansions for this game to date, there are plenty of expansions for the original Pandemic game, so we may be lucky enough to see some expansions in the future before we all go insane.
NIKKI POINTS: 7.25/10
Corey: Thematic immersion shouldn’t be too hard when you’re using subject matter as rich as Lovecraft. That said, they knocked it out of the park. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu almost feels like “Arkham Horror Lite”. I think many gamers would appreciate this. Arkham Horror is sort of the “OG” when it comes to Lovecraftian Horror co-op experiences but it certainly takes a good chunk of a day and some careful combing of a very dense rulebook so a faster and more concise Cthulhu experience is appreciated.
COREY POINTS: 8/10
Nikki: As expected, this game feels like you’ve stepped into a Lovecraftian Horror story. Everything is on theme from the different investigators (Hunter, Detective, Doctor, Magician, Reporter, Occultist, and Driver) to the Old Ones cards.
NIKKI POINTS: 8.5/10
Quality of Components
Corey: Spot on. The character pieces are unique molded plastic figures that match the characters on the cards. One could even paint them if they feel so inclined. The cultists and Shoggoths, too, are molded plastic figures and are even numbered on the bottom of their base so that you can keep track of them (as the quantity is important to your team’s success you’ll want to make sure you don’t lose any).
COREY POINTS: 9/10
Nikki: The components of this game are all of great quality. The cards are all made of nice thick paper, and the tarot card sizes for the Old Ones cards are nice on-theme touch. The sanity and seal tokens are both made of nice thick cardboard. The game board has this lovely matte texture that really brings out all the dark colors of the game.
The star of the components might just be the luminescent Sanity die (which was particularly fun to photograph). It’s too bad that rolling the Sanity die during the game is the most nerve-racking part of the game!
NIKKI POINTS: 8.5/10
Corey: This game is fricken’ beautiful. Not only do the front faces of the cards look great, the art on the card backs is stunning, too. The game board is intricately detailed, colorful, and fluidly imbeds space for card decks in logical places amongst the artwork.
COREY POINTS: 9.5/10
Nikki: The aesthetics of this game are perfect for the Lovecraftian theme. The colors of the game board and pieces are rich and deep, but they are not too dark to overpower the beautiful art. Everything is cohesively and thoughtfully designed from the backs of the cards to the details of all the locations – it all feels like it is part of the same game universe.
NIKKI POINTS: 9/10
Our overall score based on the responses of both reviewers in five different categories (10 points possible for each).