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Introduction to Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game (LCG)

Posted by Denny Koch on May 13, 2010

Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game is a Living Card Game (LCG) by Fantasy Flight Games. It is the successor of Call of Cthulhu – the Collectible Card Game (CCG) which was discontinued when the new format was introduced in 2008.

What’s the difference between a Living Card Game and a Collectible Card Game?

The main game concept is identical: players choose factions and then try to build a powerful deck which will “beat” other players’ decks. This genre is known as “Dueling Card Games“. Depending on the game, you have to follow a basic ruleset for constructing your deck (a minimum or maximum number of cards, a point or cost system, allowed number of copies in one deck), but apart from this, you are free to build and explore the “ultimate deck“.

In contrast to a traditional Collectible Card Game or Trading Card Game (Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, Marvel Vs, The Lord of the Rings TCG, Pokemon), the Living Card Game breaks away from the Collectible Card Game model.

A Magic Booster, containing 15 random cards

In a Collectible Card Game, you have to buy booster packs if you want to improve your deck and if you want to find rare and powerful cards. You don’t know the specific contents of a booster pack, though, so it can happen that you have to spend $100 for a very rare card while finding 85 copies of a cheap card. Since most game systems regularly publish new booster packs, you have to spend a huge amount of money if you want to stay up-to-date and if you want to improve your deck and counter other players’ new cards.

This “blind buy” purchase model is the most problematic aspect of Collectible Card Games. The collecting and the thrill of buying new booster packs without knowing what’s inside can be somewhat addictive, so often players are forced to quit the hobby because they cannot keep up the pace and spend too much money in buying useless boosters with multiple copies of cheap cards they already possess. If you want to play competitive, you are forced to invest your money in booster packs or to pay tremendous prices for specific cards sold on eBay.

A Living Card Game (LCG) offers a new card distribution model. Instead of selling randomized booster packs, cards are sold in fixed add-on packs. The contents of such a pack are public knowledge and fixed. In Call of Cthulhu, these add-ons are called “Asylum Packs”. They are published monthly and belong to certain “story cycles” with focus on different aspects of the game: focus on certain battle types (terror, combat, arcane, investigation), characters, locations, or skills. You don’t have to buy all Asylum Packs, if you don’t want to. Instead, you can choose which packs would really improve your factions or your deck or your strategy – and which are worthloss for your individual style.

Most players buy all Asylum Packs nevertheless, just to “have them all”, but this doesn’t hurt as much as buying booster packs. One Asylum Pack costs about 7-11 $, depending on the shop where you buy them, and that’s it. You don’t have to hunt a rare card anymore, you simply order the Asylum Pack with your favorite card on amazon or buy it in your local game store. Even if you are a hardcore competetive player who duels on tournaments, you don’t have to buy more than three copies of each Asylum Pack because you aren’t allowed more than 3 copies of each card in a single deck. If you play Highlander format (“there can be only one”, no more than one copy of each card per game), one of each Asylum Packs is more than enough. Publisher FFG even listened to their fans – the newer Asylum Packs contain three copies of each card, so there’s absolutely no need to buy more than one copy of each Asylum Pack any more.

Besides from the different distribution model, a LCG still offers the same dynamic customizable game play as a CCG. You can customize and build your perfect deck, but without the blind purchase model. In the end, the LCG model gives you the best of both worlds.

Asylum Pack 12, part of the "Summons of the Deep" cycle with focus on strange transformations

What’s Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game?

Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game is an offspring of the Call of Cthulhu game series. Close relatives are the boardgame Arkham Horror and the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game. All games are famous for their brilliant artwork and Lovecraftian atmosphere, recreating the 1920s.

Games by Fantasy Flight Games are generally of high production quality (Arkham Horror is the best example, the components and artworks are stunning), so the artworks of the CoC Card Game are very convincing and true to Lovecraft’s universe.

CoC is a 2-player game, but multiplayer variants are available on the FFG website. Traditionally, this game is played with two players.

The object of the game is to solve stories. The player who is the first one to solve 3 stories wins the game. A story is solved by committing characters with individual abilities to a story. These characters will then battle the opponent’s characters in a sequence of “struggles”, starting with a terror struggle, a combat struggle, arcane struggle, and investigation struggle. In addition, both players can use special abilities or events or items to turn the tide. Good resource management is as important as a synergetic deck with a good balance of fast, cheap cards and powerful, slow cards.

This tutorial video, published by FFG, explains the basic game concept and the rules:

How do I start?

The Core Pack

If you want to start playing CoC – The Card Game, you have to buy the “Core Set” which serves as a starter pack. It contains 165 cards, a mapboard, and six very cool Cthulhu miniatures which serve as domain drain markers. In CoC, there are seven playable factions (3 human factions, 4 demon factions) which can be combined or played as a single faction in any way you like. Most players prefer mono-decks or two-faction decks, though, but anything is possible and you are free to experiment.

The Core Set serves as a “standalone” game and the casual player can play the game without the need for ever buying an Asylum Pack or building an individual deck. When playing the Core Set, you simply mix two factions of your choice, add 7 neutral cards and start playing against your opponent who does the same.

It’s not important whether you mix two human factions, two demon factions, or one demon and one human faction. All combinations are allowed and you can choose your favorite factions after their weaknesses and strengths, their coolness, or because you like their cards. Some factions are good leading factions, some are better used as supporters, but part of the fun is to find out which factions suit your individual playing style best. You need different strategies for different factions and combinations, and some may be stronger than others, depending on the player and his strategy.

One of 6 Cthulhu domain drain figures (Core Pack)

Casual players may be content with the Core Set, mixing factions, and dueling each other without building individual decks. There is no need to add Asylum Decks to the game and you can play the Core Set as long as you wish.

But you should keep in mind: playing with the Core Set exclusively doesn’t allow for customization; you can play 21 2-faction-combination decks and put them against each other in 105 combinations. That’s it. If you want to delve into the “true” depth of card customization, you need add-ons. The time will come when you know each faction by heart, when you found “your” factions, and when you want to add more and cooler cards to the game.

Then you can buy one or some Asylum Packs to supplement the basic game:

Asylum Packs

Players who want to delve deeper into the CoC-mythos will soon feel the urge to buy one, some, or all Asylum Packs. There is no “rule” which Asylum Packs should be bought after the Core Set or which Asylum Packs are “better than others”. It depends on your playing style, your factions, and on which aspects you want to focus your customized deck. Soon you will discover that deck building is a science and art.

Check out our list of all available Asylum Packs.

Buying additional Asylum Packs, customizing and optimizing the game is the main aspect of a Customizable Card Game, whether you play Collectible or Living Card Games. Building experimental decks and throwing your decks in battles against your opponents, constantly refining and improving them with new cards, or giving them a new focus, or coming up with nasty surprises is a very important aspect of the game. To get the most powerful deck or to successfully counter your opponent’s most powerful deck is the ultimate objective of the game, much more important than profanely winning a story.

Since this article is intended to be a short introduction which gives only a rough overview over the game, I won’t delve into the deep secrets and science of deck building. But chances are good that we will publish articles about factions and strategy from time to time, based on our personal experience with the game.

All you need to know is this: if you are a casual player, not interested in the collectible, customizable aspects of the game, you can buy the Core Pack and play it out of the box as a standalone game with your friends. You can even add a few Asylum Packs from time to time, or only one, without making a meal of it. It’s not rocket science, after all. But if you want to play competitively, it soon can become rocket science – and that’s exactly what dueling games players are interested in.

Besides this, the Asylum Packs box covers can be used as domain cards. The game doesn’t include any specific cards as “domains” (which hold your resources), and you simply use the backsides of unused cards. Using the nicely done cover artworks as domains adds some flavor to the game.

Gameplay

The effect of a story card affects both players, so you have to choose wisely whether you want to apply the effect

One game can take between 10 minutes and 1 hour – depending on the players, their strategies, and their decks. Generally, CoC is a fast game and an attractive alternative to Arkham Horror where the setup alone can take hours, depending on how many expansions you include into your basic game. The Card Game, on the other hand, doesn’t require much setup and can be played almost instantly.

First, three story cards are placed on the table between the two players in the center spaces of the mapboard. On both sides of the story are five spaces for “investigation tokens”. Players earn those for winning duels and using their investigation abilities. A player who is the first one to have five tokens on his side of a story card wins the card. Each story card has a certain effect which affects both players. The winner can choose whether he wants to apply the effect – or not.

The player who is the first one to win 3 story cards wins immediately.

During setup, players create their decks by either mixing two factions of the core set or by using their individual custom decks, and shuffle them. Then each player draws the top 8 cards of his deck and keeps five of them in his hand. The other three cards are attached to the three starting domains – these are the “resources” of the game which must be used for playing cards and applying effects.

Shub-Niggurath requires to drain a domain with at least 7 resources

All faction cards are color- and icon coded and “cost” a certain amount of resources to be played. You need to have at least the number of cards in any one domain which is printed in the card cost section of a card, and at least one of the symbols in the domain must match the card’s faction icon (there are special rules and exceptions, of course). Cheap cards require only 1 or 2 cards in a domain, very expensive (and powerful) cards require domains with 6, 7, 8 cards. Especially the Great Old Ones (Cthulhu) take some time before they can be played.

Since you are only allowed to place 1 resource card into a domain each turn, it takes some time before these powerful cards show up. Cheap “rush” decks are one strategy to counter powerful but slow cards. Slower decks with powerful cards will add events and support effects which slow down the game.

After a special Turn One, in which the first player is restricted in his actions, the normal game begins.

Players follow a Sequence of Play: During their turn, they refresh their exhausted cards (cards which did an action last turn that caused them to “exhaust” themselves), insane characters can be healed from insanity (but they remain exhausted), and domains are refreshed. You don’t “empty” a domain when you play a card and pay it with the resource costs of a domain, but you “drain” the domain by placing a Cthulhu figure on the domain stack. This domain becomes unavailable until it is refreshed. You have to be careful; if you drain all your domains during your turn, you can’t play any responses during the opponent’s turn.

After the Refresh Phase, a player draws 2 cards from his stack. He may than play one card from his hand as a resource and attach it to one of his three domains (certain special abilities and events can cause players to draw more or less cards or to have more than three domains). Cards attached to a domain are not considered to be playing cards anymore and loose their icons, abilities, and keywords. They only serve as domains and nothing more.

In the Operations Phase, a player places characters on the table (paying their resource costs by and draining domains), places locations, plays events, attaches cards to other cards etc.

Playing with the Core Pack

The last phase is the Story Phase where a player commits characters to one, two or all stories, challenging the opponent to send his defenders. Only “ready” characters on the table can be committed to stories; if the opponent’s characters are all exhausted or if he has his characters still in his hand, he cannot commit any defenders and the active player wins the battle uncontested. This brings him more investigation icons than winning a contested story.

The “inactive” player can’t refresh his cards and domains during his opponent’s turn, but he can respond to his opponents actions with certain card effects – if he is able to pay the costs. Actions can be “disrupted”, countered, reversed, or rendered effectless.

In general, CoC is strongly focused on resource management, when to drain a resource, when to committ a character, when to play a card, when to use a certain effect – and when not. The resources available are very limited and players are forced to make hard decisions all the time – “do I save this powerful expensive card for a later turn or do I use it as a resource?”

Players take alternate turns until one of them wins his third story card. Then the game ends immediately. If a player hasn’t any cards left in his deck, he instantly loses the game, regardless of the number of story cards he earned so far.

We don’t want to explain the game in detail here; the description is only intended to be a short overview without any claim to be complete. For more details about the game sequence and the rules, check out the tutorial video above. In addition, we have collected useful links on our Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game micro site, for example the original rules in pdf format.

Combining factions

There are seven playable factions in CoC – The Card Game. Three are human, four are demon factions. They can be combined or played as a mono-faction in any way a player prefers. You can combine two or three or even seven factions, if you want to, but the more factions in a deck, the more difficult the resource management. You can even use as many cards as you wish (with a minimum of 50 but with no maximum size), but the more cards you have in a deck, the smaller your chance of drawing a specific card.

Cthulhu, draining a domain....

The average deck, both for casual and competitive gaming, consists of 50-60 cards and 1-2 factions. But nothing can stop you from building experimental decks with 3-7 factions or decks consisting exclusively of neutral cards or a deck with 200 cards. It’s up to you.

The factions are very different, have specific strengths and weaknesses and require certain strategies. Some combinations are recommended for the beginner, some are unadvisable, but in the end, anything goes. Perhaps you are the one who discovers a special strategy for a specific combination, perhaps you drive your opponent mad by a very uncommon deck. In the end, you should decide which faction you prefer, based on your own intuition and how which factions YOU think to be cool. Don’t listen to others and their “ultimate” deck building strategies, you can develop your own strategy and theme decks. Actually, there are no combinations outside in the CoC universe which aren’t played by any players. Some are more common, some are less popular, but in the end, you can beat any combination if you build a clever deck and if you exploit your opponent’s weaknesses.

No faction is the “uber” faction, but some are considered to be better supporter than lead factions, at least in the core pack. But in the end, even this can be changed by you and your individual deck. The most important thing is to learn the strengths and weaknesses of a faction, balance them or stress them even more in your deck, and find your opponent’s weak spots. This is something which will take time and is the funniest part of playing a Customizable Card Game.

In addition to the factions, the game contains neutral cards which can be combined with any faction and payed with any domain symbols.

The seven factions

I. Human Factions

Agency: The Agency is the “investigator” faction, their members are cops, law enforcers, and detectives from the Blackwood Detective Agency. Their strength is plain combat… guns, melee, shooting, bombing, beating up the opponent’s characters. In addition, many of their characters have the “willpower” keyword which protects them from going insane when facing horrible terrors. Overall, the Agency is well balanced.

Miskatonic University: This faction consists of students, scholars, and professors of the famous university. They are specialized in deck manipulation and investigation. Their characters often have investigation icons and they can can do funny stuff with cards and decks, but on the downside, they are horrible fighters and they are not very terror-resistant. Most of their characters are not very strong, but they are fast and cheap.

Syndicate: Criminals, mafia, the underworld of human society. The syndicate’s strength is stealth, the ability of exhausting the opponent’s characters, skill lowering, story switching, but their characters are not too bad on combat, either, but vulnerable from terror. Many of their characters are fast and their characters can “rush” for the stories before the slower factions even leave their HQs and hideouts. In addition, they have some really nasty support cards.

II. Demon factions

Cthulhu: The One and Only. A good mix of terror and combat which some characters specialized in the Arcane. They have strong, but slow characters, huge events and strong support cards. Their main intention is the destruction of cards and sacrifice. Cthulhu is a very strong faction, but the price for that is the cards are pretty expensive. The main intention of a Cthulhu player must be to slow down the game and stall his opponent.

Hastur: The King in Yellow and his famous theater play are in town! Hastur’s focus lies on terror and on driving his opponent insane as well as on hand control and cancellation with some really weird cards and effects. Investigation and characters, on the other hand, are not his strongest side.

Yog-Sothoth: The Keyholder to Gates into other Dimensions and their cultists. They are specialized in deck and discard pile manipulation and in getting cards back. Strangely enough, their characters are somewhat weak against terror, but they are well balanced, but not as good as the Cthulhu or Agency characters. Some of them are pretty good, but not outstanding, while the main fun lies in some weird and complicated special abilities and events.

Shub-Niggurath: The Black Goat of the Woods and her horrible spawn. Spawning many cheap monsters is her greatest strength. This is a good rush deck because many of their characters are cheap, and they are quite balanced in combat and terror. Their weakness, though, is getting rid of the opponent’s characters. In addition they are lacking arcane and investigation skills.

In addition, there are neutral (grey) cards which can be used by all factions. These include characters, events, and support cards.

Rules Problems! Help!?

Whether you just bought the Core Set or are a seasoned CCG player – getting a hang of the basic game principles, the resource management and correct timing of cards can be quite challenging. Generally, the rules are doing a good job, but you should download the official FAQ as well. Getting the FAQ is mandatory if you want to play the game correctly because it contains card errata, rules and lots of clarifications which are vital for gameplay and which are NOT included in the basic rulebook. You need these information for understanding the basic game concepts and for getting them right.

Each Asylum-Pack deals with a specific topic. "Mountains of Madness" introduces "Polar" events and creatures. Here: a Yeti

A general good advice is: stick to the Sequence of Play, as outlined in the rules flowchart. If you want to play a card or use a special card effect, use the good old COWTCA: Concentrate On What The Card Allows. Take the card texts literally and don’t ask, “does this include this or that effect, as well?“, or “does that mean that…?“. The card text contains every relevant information. If Cthulhu’s card states that “a player has to sacrifice one of his characters each time he draws a card”, then, yes, this is true for Cthulhu’s opponent as well as for the Cthulhu player (the card doesn’t state “your opponent has to sacrifice a card each time”). And yes, if Cthulhu is the last card on the table, the owner has to sacrifice HIS card (the card doesn’t state “except from THIS card”). Following a card text to the letter is the easiest way to avoid problems and conflicts and timing problems shouldn’t arrive if you follow the Sequence of Play and the card texts.

If you still have questions, visit the official Fantasy Flight Games Call of Cthulhu forum. It’s lively, monitored by seasoned players who will happily and patiently answer all questions, even dumb ones, and even very noobish ones, so don’t be afraid to ask there!

When you are new to the game, you should browse in the official forums and the CoC forum on boardgamegeek; you will discover that many of your questions have been asked before.

Last but not least, don’t be afraid of “choosing the wrong faction” or “building the wrong deck”. Experimenting and improving is part of the fun, so if you build the most horrible deck in the world, learn from it until you are satisfied with your cards – and then… devour your opponent! 🙂


2 Responses to “Introduction to Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game (LCG)”

  1. Adrian said

    Well, yeah! Thanx for the info! Today I bought the core set with two deluxe expansion, can’t wait the first rounds! Yiihaw!

  2. hoohaahee said

    Thanks very much for this informative and helpful intro!

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