Shametember 2016 - Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu Review

Finally got this to the table on the very last day of #Shametember as a double-feature with Isle of Skye. Just enough like Pandemic to be familiar, and just enough theme and new mechanics to give it its own flair. Theme did NOT feel tacked on, as we feared.

The board and components are beautiful--colorful without detracting from the dark atmosphere. The board is a bit *too* dark, and fonts difficult to read, but the locations and card placement markers are minimal enough that one will soon learn where everything is and won't have to read as much to navigate after a few plays. The artwork on the cards are evocative, and the Clue cards couldn't be any easier to read if you tried. In fact, compared to the art and design on the other cards, they seem downright plain, sporting a simple woodcut style image in white on a solid color background; but I offer that as an observation, not a complaint.

The addition of Awakening Rituals (the cousin of Infection Rate) bringing out random Ancient Ones and various one-time or permanent effects definitely makes it feel more consequential to raise the rate, even in the early game. Shoggoths appearing and moving toward gates as a further risk to life and limb was also a nice touch. I was disappointed to find there was not a mechanic analogous to Eradicating Disease from the original Pandemic, save for a single "Elder Sign" Relic you may or may not draw which allows one gate to be sealed, preventing Summoning in that town for the remainder of the game (barring extenuating circumstances). However, in retrospect, with travel largely simplified, and a smaller map of locations to deal with overall, if one could seal each gate with an Elder Sign, the run to the end of the game to close the final gate might be quite flaccid.

One part I felt was weak was sanity. The random die roll feels out of place in a Pandemic game, taking you out of the action/roleplay more than I thought it would. The inability to regain any sanity except by being the one person to close a gate, or a draw random Relic, is frustrating, and not in a "gee whiz that's a bummer" but a "dammit, why can't I just go to a sanatorium and heal up with action points or something?!" Maybe a house rule is in order should this continue to chafe.

My only other complaint is the miniatures. On the one hand, as lovers of miniatures, we're happy to have them and it enhances the thematic immersion of playing different roles. However, the necessity of keeping the cultists small enough to spread 26 of them all over the board means they look like tiny little blue Jawas next to the Investigators, and the awesomely-sculpted Shoggoths lose their imposing power when we still stand a half-head taller than them side-by-side. I almost would have preferred a more abstract threat in lieu of the cultists (growing dread?) represented by tokens or cubes than teensy-tiny robed baby-people.

As with original Pandemic and its offshoots, the less players, the easier it is. With two players, we closed all the gates, and that was with overlooked rules that worked against us: we forgot to a) draw a Relic card each time we did and b) remove one cultist from each location in a town. We are also fully aware of the luck-of-the-draw involved, as with any Pandemic game. A few well-placed Summoning of Shoggoths on or nearer to gates and our Ancient Ones would have been awakening in no time.

Definitely an excellent addition to our complete Pandemic Collection. Looking forward to many more games!

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