Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is a 2 to 4 player cooperative boardgame, with a playtime of around 40 minutes. It’s recommended for ages 14 and up.
For those who have never played the original Pandemic, it is a well-known boardgame in which you are tasked with stopping the spread of disease. Pandemic is a cooperative game, so you all work together to win the game. There are four different coloured regions, each of which is under threat by a disease. There are various ways to lose the game, and your objective is to find a cure is for all four diseases before any of these happen.
Although there are a few expansions for the original Pandemic, Reign of Cthulhu is not an expansion, but rather a reimagining of the game. For those who have already played Pandemic before, you’ll be glad to know that Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is not a simple re-skin. There are, in fact, changes to the gameplay, as well as just the design differences.
The general gist of the game is that cultists are running around in four regions: Arkham; Innsmouth; Dunwich; and Kingsport; attempting to summon Old Ones, including the mighty Cthulhu. Together you work to seal the gate in each region to prevent the awakening of Cthulhu, and to stop the area being overrun with cultists or Shoggoths (terrifying beasts which can also spawn). After setting up the board, players will take their orders in turn. There are three steps to each player’s turn: first of all they have four actions to use; secondly they draw two player cards; finally they reveal summoning cards.
For the first part of your turn, actions include choosing to: walk, take a bus, use a gate, defeat a cultist, trade clue/relic cards, or seal a gate. You may also defeat a Shoggoth, although this takes three actions. After taking your four actions you will draw two cards from the player deck. These cards can be Clue cards (which are one of four colours corresponding to a region on the board), Relic cards (which are cards with a variety of positive special effects), or Evil Stirs cards (which have a variety of negative effects, including awakening an Old One). Finally, summoning cards are drawn, which dictate where cultists spawn. During this step, any Shoggoths which are on the board will also move one location towards the closest open gate.
If you haven’t played the game, these steps can seem confusing, but when playing they are actually relatively intuitive, and the game flows rather well. Sealing a gate requires having five Clue cards for that location in your hand, so you’ll have to work together and plan ahead to the next person’s turn to ensure you have everything on hand to seal the gates one by one. As the game progresses, you have to be careful of Old Ones awakening. There are 12 Old One cards in total, although only seven at a time will be used in any given game. As each Old One has a different effect when it is awakened, you won’t know what to expect when this happens. This can lead to differing difficulty levels, as which effects you get at which points in the game can change between having a minor impact, or being a huge detriment.
Looking at the design changes, you’ll see that reign of Cthulhu has received a total artistic redesign; from the board to the cards, everything has been carefully redesigned to fit the new theme. As well as the new art work, one of the nicest design changes is that in Pandemic: Reign of Cthulu your characters have full miniatures to represent them on the board. These are well crafted, and nicely detailed for their size. Reign of Cthulhu allows you to choose from seven different types of characters (each of which has an individualised miniature), rather than the five in the original Pandemic. Different characters have different abilities: for example, the driver can choose to move 2 locations, instead of 1 when walking, meaning that he requires less actions to move further.
One of the biggest mechanic changes is the introduction of sanity. Players start with 4 sanity tokens, and you can lose these through a variety of ways, such as being in the vicinity of a Shoggath, warping through a gate, using a Relic, or drawing an Evil Stirs card. If you lose all 4 sanity tokens, you will go insane, your character card will flip over, and you will now receive a negative effect based on the positive one you have previously. For example, the driver, when insane, MUST move 2 locations, instead of 1, when walking. If all players go insane, then the game is lost.
There is only one way to win the game, which is to seal all four gates. Conversely there are many ways to lose the game, beyond just when all players go insane. Other ways for the game to be lost include: if the supply of cultists run out, the supply of Shoggoths run out, if there are no clue cards left, or if Cthulhu awakens.
There are a couple of other changes from the base version of Pandemic. For example, movement is easier in Reign of Cthulhu, as Clue cards are for regions, rather than specific locations, and players can warp through gates, at the potential loss of sanity. Of course, there are also more rules and nuances not described here, which add to the game as well, such as other ways Old Ones may be awakened.
Although some games taking on a popular theme can end up gimmicky, or just be a design pasted onto an already existing game, this is not the case with Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. There are certain changes to the mechanics that make this easier to play, however there is also the added the replayability value of the Old Ones.
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