Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn of Fluxx.
Cthulhu is just about everywhere these days from plushies to running for President, and rightfully so considering his epicness. Lost Generation pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft’s scary imagination churned out Cthulhu, a giant “Old One” evil deity who is buried asleep under the sunken city of R’lyeh, in 1928. Like many of Lovecraft’s “ignorance is bliss” themes, Cthulhu is a monster who, simply by knowing that he exists, causes madness. Something about him, most likely the charming tentacle-face, has caught the public imagination, and now he even has his own card game: Cthulhu Fluxx from Looney Labs.
Taking the rich Cthulhu Mythos (Lovecraft, like Stephen King after him, wove together many of his tales into his own universe), Looney Labs game designer Keith Baker has created a new addition to the Fluxx series that is my current favorite. Each Fluxx has its own quirks and individuality that goes along with the motif at hand. While not as interactive with the thieving of Pirate Fluxx or fast-paced as Star Fluxx, Cthulhu Fluxx gives a sense of foreboding and brink-of-destruction like no other.
The art by Derek Ring helps set the mood with eerie images, somewhat cartoon-like, but still shadowy and monstrous. This dark mood continues with the game mechanic. Like all of Fluxx, the basic rules are “Draw 1 Card, Play 1 Card.” From there, the game can get more complex with additional draws, plays, hand limits, special draws, and actions. When a Goal card is played, players can win by having the appropriate Keeper cards played in front of them. Cthulhu has eight Creeper cards, which are played like Keepers, but are immediately played and often block players from winning. More than any Fluxx yet, Cthulhu has a number of goals that can be met by Creepers themselves, such as having The Body along with The Reanimator.
In addition to evil supplying victory on a number of occasions, Cthulhu Fluxx features a series of Ungoal cards that, when the conditions are met, cause all players to lose the game. Just as Lovecraft wrote, sometimes nobody wins, only evil. Many of the Creepers and darker Keepers have hourglass icons that give a Doom count, contributing to Ungoals such as Dunwich Horror which requires the Creeper Yog-Sothoth and “a higher doom count than six” to end the game. Sideways hourglass Anti-Doom icons on lighter cards stop the Doom count, and magnifying-glass Investigator icons carry additional powers depending on the rules in play. Key to this game of evil is Secret Cultist, a single Surprise card giving a player victory in the case of an Ungoal and there is also a Meta Rule that can be decided beforehand which allows the player with the highest Doom count to do the same. At any time, any player could be trying to sabotage the whole game to win evilly.
While a healthy knowledge of Cthulhu can make the game more fun, it is not necessary to play as many of the cards feature secondary titles to explain. For example, the Drunk Keeper has a side title of “Zadok Allen,” which may cause Cthulhu geeks to squeal giddily at the tribute. Fans of the Cthulhu Mythos will love these references while those who are not as familiar with Cthulhu are not left in the dark with the regular card title and rules explanations. I heartily recommend the game to both, as long as they enjoy the sensation of impending doom. It may even lead to new interest in Lovecraft’s other works to figure out what a “Mi-Go” is anyhow.