Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu reveiw and unboxing from Z-Man Games

Regular readers may know I have a bit of a soft spot for the works of H.P Lovecraft, and have several games that feature his "Mythos" such as the epic Eldritch Horror from Fantasy flight Games, and the storytelling game Cthuluhus Vault from Jolly roger Games.  I also only recently got to play the epic game that is Pandemic from z-Man Games.  When I saw a game that combined certain elements of Pandemics mechanics, with the world of Lovecraft i knew it was a MUST have.

But after playing it, is it any good? is it a replacement for Pandemic? read on and we shall she.

Beings of ancient evil, known as Old Ones, are threatening to break out of their cosmic prison and awake into the world. Everything you know and love could be destroyed by chaos and madness. Can you and your fellow investigators manage to find and seal every portal in time? Hurry before you lose yourself to insanity.

In Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, you'll experience the classic Pandemic gameplay with an horrific twist that'll have you face ten Old Ones, each threatening the world with their unique powers. As players take on the roles of investigators attempting to seal a series of portals before monsters of unspeakable horror pour into our world there is, of course, a high risk of the investigators losing their own minds.
Instead of curing diseases like in the original Pandemic, players seal portals and shut down cults in the classic New England fictional towns of Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport. Can you and your fellow investigators manage to find and seal every portal in time? Hurry before you lose yourself to insanity and the evil that lurks beneath your feet...
The box art is great, full of the kind of art i love and associate with Lovecraft, the 20s/30s style, and the menacing face of Cthulhu himself in the background. 
The back of the game gives a break down of ages 14 and up recommended.  Olivia got this one easier than Pandemic itself, but perhaps the "scary" theme makes the age rating what it is, though it did not bother her at all due to plenty of experience with other games.  2-4 players, yes it plays great with all those numbers, but once more they have missed a trick by not mentioning how well it plays solo with you controlling two investigators... its fantastic solo, so for me that's a great selling point they have missed here with it, so if you wonder, can it be played solo? yes... is it good solo? yes!
You get a nice little contents guide on the back of it, and you do get a fair chunk in the box... figures!! yes.... that's right! if you have played Pandemic before it was cubes for the diseases which worked perfectly well, and different coloured pawns for the characters, which again worked perfectly well, but figures! this shows they are really putting effort into the theme of the game.

Now lets crack it open, and take a dive into the world of Lovecraft...........

There is quite a lot packed into the box for sure!
This is something new.... a special, and rather lovely looking sanity die.  This is rolled at varying points in the game, and could result in nothing happening, your investigators losing 1, or 2 sanity, or cultists appearing at your location to ruin your day.
You get a big bag of cultist minis, these guys pop up to spoil your day on the board as they try and summon the ancient ones.  Shoggoths are powerful brutes that roam the board heading towards any open gates and causing more havoc waking up more ancient ones, so you need to make sure you deal with these guys sharpish.

Each investigator gets a lovely thematic card with artwork on, and a special ability.  The models are really nice especially for "board game" models, and really help get you into the theme.  There are 7 to choose from, each with a different ability, but each starts with 4 sanity tokens that can get lost (and recovered in game), a cool thing is if the characters go insane, you flip the card... and their action limit (4 apart from the doctor who has 5) is dropped one, and their ability changes, as does the artwork into a washed out format.

Each turn your character can take 4 actions, and you get a handy double sided card that goes through the options for you very clearly, and is a solid reminder.
The back of the card reminds you all about sanity in the game, what happens, when you must roll, and how to get it back, again minimizing the time you need in the rulebook.
Ahh the Ancient ones themselves, there is a selection of 12 in the box, and each have their own abilities that affect the game, and as more are revealed, all the effects start to combine.
The art on these cards is fantastic, and very thematic.  Cthulhu is always the last one revealed as when he appears the game ends, but you never know which of the others will appear and when.
Cultist cards come in four flavours, one that matches each of the four cities on the board, though they each have individual locations on the board listed.  These are drawn after each player has gone and culitists added to these locations.
Now onto the board itself.... its a thing of beauty, its not too big, and it has spaced for all the decks of cards in play, plus all the locations of the four major cities mentioned in Lovecrafts work, all with lovely thematic dark artwork.  Dunwich of course.....
Arkham.... with the university is a must have.
Innsmouth, and its factory, all things linked and referenced in his work, i love these touches, and of course not a place i would want to linger near the sea front for any amount of time.  Lastly Kingsport completes the set.
The human players get a deck of cards, again with a city in each colour.  To close down the gates, you need 5 cards of the matching city (though Ancient ones effects could change this!!)  The palyers draw 2 cards from this deck in their turn, and they could get Relics (talking about them below) a city card, or one of the very unpleasant Evil Stirs Cards.  As soon as you draw one of these cards you must roll for your sanity, then reveal the next old one, a Shoggoth appears as well, then the summoning discard pile is shuffled and put on top of the current deck, meaning all those locations that have just had cultists in are going to get some more sharpish! and when there are already 3 in a place and a 4th arrives, they are sacrificed, and ANOTHER Ancient one awakens.  Never a card you want to see, bu you can adjust the difficulty of the game by adding more, or less of these cards into the deck.
Relics come in different flavours, and a certian number based on player count are shuffled into the main deck, with the rest aside as a special Relic deck.  Most of these require you to roll a sanity check to use them, but the results are well worth it.
The Rulebook is a thing of beauty again, theme practically oozes out the artwork, and provides you a really good thematic story in the beginning if you are new to Lovecrafts world.
There is only one way to win, but PLENTY of ways to lose, so its not an easy game by any means, but it is thematic, lovely looking and a TON of fun.

The Rulebook does an excellent job of guiding you through set upstep by step, and all the rules, which to be honest are not that complicated, in fact i would say its not more "simple" than Pandemic, but its more Streamlined.  Most importantly, it does not FEEL the same, so there's plenty of room for both games on your shelf, and in fact i recommend them both, as it will be easy to switch between without having to learn a massive amount of new rules, just some tweaks, and theme changes.

Time for a game, running the Detective, and the Hunter.  The board is set up with random old ones, (except Cthulhu the last one who ends the game)

Then you deal out where the cultists will start, 2 cards are drawn and 3 cultists put on the locations. then 2 cards with 2 cultists, then finally 2 cards with 1 cultist.  Both the Investigators start at the Arkham Train station.

a Shoggoth starts ont he board as well, now he is going to be trouble, as each time you draw a summoning card, it may have a small shoggoth symbol on it, and if it does, the shoggoths slithers? off moving a space towards the nearest portal, which if he reaches causes another Ancient one to wake.  The more ancient ones that are awake the more cards you draw from the summoning deck, meaning the more Cultists are out, which then means of course the closer you are to another Ancient one waking up. meaning the closer you are to losing, you get the idea!
Time to get clearing down the board, The hunter can use 1 action to take down a shoggoth instead of 3 normal characters need, but he had to be stopped, or he would have shuffled? over and popped into the portal causing an Ancient one to wake up.
Well... that didnt go well, he shuffled off and escaped before we could stop him, so Yig has now awakened.... and his ability has made things a lot tougher.... now we need 5 cards of one colour, and one colour of a town that connects to close a gate! that's tough, but luckily the ability to exchange cards is easier in this game, as you only need to be in the same town, like Arkham, rather than the same spot.  And with Yig on the loose, we are going to need the help.
after many turns, things are getting tight, we have closed the gate in Arkham, and Dunwich, but there are 3 Ancient ones up all with different effects, and the boards getting thick with Cultists and Shoggoths.  Should we run out of either when required to draw one, we lose.
With some lucky draws, and the right cards (the Detectives ability to close gates with one less card really helped when Yig appeared) we managed to seal all the 4 gates for a win, but it was certainly getting rough out there.  This was the introductory level of difficulty too!! when we tried it again on "normal" we got spanked once, and the world ended..sorry our bad! and we came to within a turn of winning the second one.

An excellent feature is the box control, everything packs away nice and easily, with compartments for all the models and cards and die, and some ridges at the side of the box to keep the board tightly in place.

So... What do i think...... I think its blooming great, i love the mechanics, the models, the production quality... its easy enough for brand new players, and has enough depth of thought for more experienced players, and with more players becomes more fun and amusing as you are all discussing the best way to deal with things, counter cultists, swap cards the best use of relics, and of course those moments when it all goes wrong! and of course more players reduces starting cards in your hand as well, and effects other things so it never feels like more people will dominate the game.

Its a great game that will leave you with stories to be talking about after play, glorious deeds, massive failures, the times you went insane but still got through or as  an insane character closed the gate and woke up in the hospital with your sanity restored.  The great shoggoth of Dunwich... that ambled around lots of good moments, lots of fun.  This game does not replace pandemic, it merely gives you a whole new experience with some basic rule carry over, it never felt like we where playing pandemic, it just felt like we where having our own lovecraftian adventure.

the fact its set up and take down time is a lot less then say Eldritch Horror, or Arkham Horror, its the perfect game when you need the Cthulhu itch scratched quickly but still with quality.

Olivia Says......

I like the models... its cool, and its not too hard to play and it feels like i am playing an epic game of Eldritch horror and killing monsters and cultists but it only takes dad a little bit of time to set it up.  This is a great game to play if you do not have much time.

This game has an RRP of £46.99, and is full of lovely models, beautiful cards, and an excellent game, its a MUST have for any Lovecraft fan, and really for any pandemic fan, though you do not need any knowledge of Pandemic to enjoy the game.  In fact if you are one of the odd people who wasnt a fan of Pandemic, this is still worth giving a try due to the streamlined nature, and a different enough feel.  Either way... head on over to your Local Game Store and grab a copy

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