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Cthulhu: Death May Die; Where You Punch Cthulhu in the face

Looks like CMON gets a good week/bad week from me. Last week I gave a cautiously critical review of Zombicide Invader, questioning whether it adds to the series or takes away. This week on the other hand, they get a huge accolade on Cthulhu: Death May Die, with it very likely overtaking Zombicide as my favorite "fun" game, and shooting straight into my top 10. 2019 has been an incredible year for my collection, with 4 of my top 10 games being new to me this year.

Cthulhu: Death May Die was a game I was very nervous about. Despite multiple attempts and some close calls, I have yet to really enjoy a Lovecraft game. Not because of the theme, that's neither a positive nor a negative for me, but because of the mechanics. Arkham Horror The Card Game came closest, but it wasn't good enough to justify the deep dive into an LCG. So When Chulhu Death May Die (CDMD) was announced, I very hesitantly went for it. The gameplay looked different than any Lovecraft game I had played...but the curse of Arkham is such that no game yet had made the cut.

When it finally arrived last week, I gave it a single play...and after dying horribly, I was pretty impressed and eager to jump back in before going into my thoughts. With 3 subsequent plays this weekend, and finally taking down the elder one in our 4th session of CDMD, I'm confidant enough about this game to put it in my top 10, and to rank it above Zombicide.

CDMD shares some basic similarities to Zombicide. You have characters, they roll dice to attack, you have variable actions to choose from, and bad guys keep entering the board. But that's where it ends. In CDMD, you have a very specific goal, and a clock in the form of a ritual, that will bring the Elder One into play. And even then the clock continues, if you don't handle the Elder One, it's game over. For you and the world. This means you can't take a cautious approach, you need to balance caution with risk, as time is a very relevant factor. That balance can also be seen with your sanity, since encountering monsters will inevitably slowly cause you to go insane. At first this is a good thing, as you'll gain abilities and dice to help you defeat the Elder One. But if you push it too far you'll go completely insane, and there's no coming back from that.

If any of the investigators die before the Elder One enters play, the game is over for you. But if the Elder One has entered play, you can fight to the last man standing. I sat that quite literally since in our only win, Albert Einstein went in for the final kill, with all other investigators dead behind him. 

And then there's the modular gameplay. Each game is a combination of one episode and one elder one. Mixing these together creates a unique game that plays out differently each time. While the episodes contribute far more uniqueness than the Elder One, nonetheless the same episode with different Elder Ones plays out in an entirely unique manner. In the base game alone, that leads to 12 unique combinations, but throw in a few expansions, and you can play the game 75 times before ever having the same combination twice. Each episode and Elder One is truly a story, involving a bizarre set of rules and adjustments to gameplay that forces you to heavily adapt your gameplay from one game to the next.

CDMD plays like a fun dice chucking beat em up, but with abilities that are far more fun than Zombicide, gameplay decisions that are far more risky, a clock that adds a permanent tenseness to the game, and a modular gameplay that is far more engaging than the scenarios in Zombicide. I still love Zombicide, it might not sound like it, but I really do. But Cthulhu: Death May Die has overtaken it. Sure, I have room in my heart for both, but it's still an impressive feat. I'm hoping CMON continues to support the game, I can say with certainty I'm along for the ride.


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