Cthulhu’s vault from Jolly Roger Games and Ultra-Pro unboxing and Review

Ahhhh Cthulhu..... you get everywhere these days since the work of Lovecraft is in the public domain. Which is not too much of a problem or me, since I am a big fan of the mythos and worlds (and otherworlds) created by Lovecraft.  Olivia and me love playing games set in that world such as the excellent Elder Sign and the huge and deep Eldritch Horror.  We love playing the games and making up stories about characters as we play.  Cthulhus Vault though... is ALL about storytelling.
 The box is a shiny dark grey in colour, with a Cthulu head subtly marked on the front, i like it, its simple but effective.

I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R'lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’mur-Kathulos, Bran and the Magnum Innominandum—and was drawn back through nameless aeons and inconceivable dimensions to worlds of elder, outer entity at which the crazed author of the Necronomicon had only guessed in the vaguest way.... There is a whole secret cult of evil men (a man of your mystical erudition will understand me when I link them with Hastur and the Yellow Sign) devoted to the purpose of tracking them down and injuring them on behalf of the monstrous powers from other dimensions. 

—H. P. Lovecraft, "The Whisperer in Darkness

Cthulhu's Vault is a card game for up to six players. Collaborative in nature, players work to tell the story of the monster's defeat, but unlike many storytelling games, the ending is not set. Within the storytelling are mechanisms for unexpected turns of events...
Players begin with a hand of cards, each an element to work into the story being told. As they tell their story, they play a card, and if they can link multiple cards from their hand together, they receive a bonus of some sort usable later in the defeat of the Great Old One (or his ascension if the player turns out to be a cultist).

Each Story card you play lets draw from the random token pile, and when a certain number of skull tokens are revealed... that players  old one awakens! and the game becomes a battle between the remaining investigators vs the Ancient one.
3-6 players and ages 10 and up.  The age was not a problem to olivia, she is used to the world of Lovecraft, and can sure tell a good yarn!

The objective is to tell a great story and then reach the climactic fight between the investigators and the Great Old One which is told in story-format as well.
Cthulhu's Vault is co-designed by Richard Launius and Jim Dietz. Launius is the designer of the classic 'Arkham Horror' (huge favourite of Olivia and me) while Dietz is the author of 'The Cthulhu Rainy-Day Activity Book' and the Lovecraftian novel 'The Last Post'.

Lets head through the other world portal and see what horrors lay waiting for us.......

 you get a mix of bits in the box, a big bag of wooden tokens, some dice, a rulebook, component list, two sets of different sized cards and some sleeves.
 The dice are pretty funky, i like the symbol on the 6, these may well find themselves getting bored for other games as well.
 Components list, very handy to keep an eye on what you have got in the box.
 a sample of Ultra-Pro sleeves, bit disappointed there is not enough in the box for the cards included... as they do need sleeving. (we shall come to that)
70 wood tokens, when i took these out the bag quite a few had a strange "film" on them that needed rubbing off, it wasn't hard, just a wipe with your hand, but a little annoying to go through 70 of them.  They all have the swirl symbol on one side,and either a skull or investigator icon with numbers ranging from 1 to 2.

 The rulebook is nice, and very easy to read.  Its well laid out, full colour and explains the game in a simple way, and gives you hints to help in the story telling.
 Once you have read it a couple of times and played a couple of games you will only need to refer to it on occasion.
 You get several decks of cards, the battle deck above takes effect when the old one is awakened.  You build the deck based on the investigators and how many players so it gives you the combat order randomly each turn.
 The Ancient ones have their own combat deck.  They will draw 3 cards from it and play one each turn, and replenish.  They have the action they can do on it, and a special action for certain old ones at the cost of spending the relevant token.
 The investigators again get their own combat deck with often two options on it, some available only if you are a spell caster, some involve dice.  These can be worked into your story.
 There a couple of hese handy power guide cards, that give you the turn order for reference.
 There is a nice selection of investigators to choose from, all with some nice artwork on, there own health hand size (for the combat part of the game) special rule and backstory.  Its one of the reasons i found it best to pick our investigators first.
 Here we have my favourite the War Vet, and Olivia's favourite the Occultist.   These where our picks in out first game... we would find another victim.. i mean player to make up the numbers.
 There is a large selection of Old ones, some newer, some classics ranging from Shudde M'ell to YIG
 of course the classics like Hastur are represented, all have their own special rules on their card, and some lovely flavourful text.  My favourite is Hastur, each time an investigator speaks his name they lose d6 tokens (which at the battle point represent health.  There is a reason he is "the unspeakable one"  Really gains theme points for that, i love it.

"... after stumbling queerly upon the hellish and forbidden book of horrors the two learn, among other hideous things which no sane mortal should know, that this talisman is indeed the nameless Yellow Sign handed down from the accursed cult of Hastur—from primordial Carcosa, whereof the volume treats..."
- H. P. Lovecraft
 The of course the classic Cthulhu.  There is one of my favourite ones missing though, Shub-Niggurath, “The Black Goat of the Woods"
 The story cards, again feature lovely art, a title, some background to help in your storycrafting, then of course their game values.

My main issue is with all the cards, and its their low quality, they feel very thin, and easy to chip the edges or break.  This is certainly a game that MUST be sleeved if you intend to play it more then once.  Perhaps why Ultra-pro put some sample sleeves in? at lest it gives you the right sizes, but with cards like this they should have either increased the quality, or included enough sleeves for all of them.  A sad downside on a game i am enjoying.
Each story card has a symbol in the top left corner, and a bonus symbol down below. If the next card played matches the bonus symbol you get the rewards on the card as well as the ones below.  These are how you build up your tokens.
Here is our set up for our first game. We each picked our investigator, and where dealt a random ancient one which we where to keep face down.  Then a hand of story cards, out starting tokens, and then created the token pool to draw from and set up the first card. the Lodge.

Now we played through the story mode first, we had Me playing as the War veteran, Olivia as the Occultist, and willing victim (colleague) Pat as the Bootlegger.

This will be a fairly lengthy post, but Olivia wanted to share the story with you, as she was very proud (we let her do most of the story as she was having so much fun making it up for this stage)

 I set the scene with the Lodge card.........

We had all been loyal to the lodge, a meeting place for open minded people, people with an interest in the stranger things you can not discuss in normal society.........

Then i handed over to Olivia, who played cult, which you can see matched the bonus on the lodge so she got extra.... but back to the story..

Someone said there was a cult in the lodge..... who where taking away our books and using them for bad things.  I heard about this and i did not like it.

We knew they where secret, so i got my friends together prepared an ambush, we where all ready to see what they where really doing.....


We waited.. but it was total silence not a single sound. this was scary.

The moon came through the window a red blood colour.  This was a bad luck sign i am sure.

Witch (at this point Pat checked the tokens he had and realized his ancient one had awoken)

A witch burst through the door breaking the silence, screaming in a language i did not know she pointed at my firend and he collapsed to the floor shaking.........

Now we have established Pats ancient one is going to arise, so we need to sort our tokens, and prepare for battle, plus see who it is we must defeat.

 The Keltwald spirit.  At this point in the game the battle decks are got out, and the story decks removed.  This is where we go into combat.

Of course being a story telling game, Olivia had to add some story and some suprising gore into it.

The bootlegger was rolling around shouting until his clothes ripped.. then his skin ripped and something that looked like an evil tree began to claw out of him

I had 7 tokens for life i discard the others, but could choose what mix i kept.  Same for olivia, but she kept mainly her skull ones, as these are used for spells, and she has the spellcaster trait.  When a card has that symbol one you must spend by flipping over the relevant tokens.  They do not deplete you r health, but are only one use of course.

My hand limit was 3, Olivias was 2, and the Ancient one always gets 3.  We set up the battle deck so it had me, Olivia, and one ancient one card (you can have more depending on player limits, but it is nicely written on the cards themselves)  The old ones life is determined byt the number of players, again all on a nice easy reference card.

An example of a turn, I drew first activation, so fired my 38 pistol doing one wound, so took a token from the Ketwald spirit.....

Olivia was next, and used an Elder Sign which did 2 wounds, and then rolled a dice, and on a 1 or 2 would do that many extra wounds, so she got a 2 for 4 wounds in total.  Not a bad start for us!  Then the ancient one did 2 wounds to me which hurt, and he used his ability to regen one.

After everyone has gone, hand sizes are returned to normal and the battle deck shuffled and drawn from and play continues.

Its encouraged you carry on the story in this part of the game as well, which Olivia did for every round, but if i was to write all of that down this would become an unreadable post, so lets zip down to the last couple of rounds.....

 Things arent going well for me, im down to two life, Olivia is barely scratched as the ancient one has been going after me trying to knock me out of the game before turning on the Occultist.

So to show you how Olivia carried the story on this round.... i shall hand over to her....

The soldier fired his gun in a bold attack and did lots of damage the spirit was whurt and it looked angry! then it whipped its branches out and slashed the soldier... blood was everywhere...... he was on his knees badly hurt, but i had to take my chance.. so i lit the dynamite he rolled me (apparently carrying dynamite is not ladylike - Mart) and threw it at the spirit, but i knew it would hurt me and my friend.  When it exploded i felt it graze me and had a little bit of blood, but then i looked at the soldier and he was laying down.. not moving.. maybe he is dead i do not know yet.  The monster looks really hurt (down to only 1 wounds left - Mart)

It was time for the next round, Olivia the Occultist vs the Ketwald spirit, she had had one lucky escape from it so far when pat played a card that on an even roll would have devoured her in one go but rolled a 3 missing.  Then it was down to Olivia.

I jumped and dodged the spirit..... then i got out my little gun from my tights (Olivia has seen plenty of westerns with me and she knows girls can keep guns in their "tights" little derringer type ones like the character from Colt Express she likes uses too - Mart)  I aimed the gun.... and shot him right in the face he screamed which hurt my ears and made me sick.... when i looked up he had gone. 

So the investigators won, it wasnt easy..... but it was fun. the storytelling makes it... then there is meant to be a brief epilogue and the game is done.

I went over to the soldir to shake him to wake him up... or see if he was dead.  When i rolled him over his face had melted, so i screamed (she actually did!... scared the Hastur out of us - Mart) then i ran, i had to get away from this lodge and never come back.

More players are more challenging as the ancient one has more life, but then ou have more investigators working together too.  I would like to try it at 4 player, but i think 5-6 may be too many.

A couple of little problems with the game, the wood tokens needed cleaning first, and the card quality was  bit low, very thin, very flexible, so if this is hitting the table regularly you WILL need to sleeve them.

there is not much variety in the battle cards, i know the idea is you are meant to be storytelling, but instead of a load of the same .22 pistol card, ow about some variety liek a shotgun, or a shovel, or something.  Yes with storytelling you can kind of fix it, but it would have been nice, perhaps she will see more options in an expansion?

Some people may find it strange how the game switches from the storytelling aspect to fighting an old one, as different mechanics are used, but i did not mind it, and it certainly did not stop the story telling for me anyway, kind of fitted the theme that you can imagine your character has inadvertently found out too much information and the Ancient one has appeared using him as a vessel and destroying him in the process.  I did find it odd that in the standard rules the investigator role is only given out after the old one has risen... this didn't feel right to me, as you need to invest in your character first for the best storytelling, but luckily it does mention in the manual you can pick them first, and this helped us get into character.  A nice touch on the cards is it tells your  role, not their name so you can impose yourself on them, and Olivia had great time making up her name and backstory before we even got into the game. 

Olivia's thoughts......

I loved telling the story, and making it scary and fun, its a good game to play when you want to make up your own stories in the world.  It was not hard to learn, though i did have to ask dad sometimes how to say some of the names and he showed me how to play and helped if i was stuck reading cards. (i still have problems with most of Lovecrafts monsters - Mart)

With an RRP of £27.99 this game should provide plenty of story telling and old one killing (hopefully) fun.  Go find your local game store and pick up a copy, or ask them to order you one in if they do not have one!


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