A little more than a month ago, we did a review of a card game called Smash Up, not because it had just come out, but because its just a really good game. Even if you aren't a card or board gamer, and have strictly kept to MMO's or Call of Duty, the game is simple enough for anyone with a gaming background to pick up and play a few rounds, laughing about mocks every single gaming theme or trope that's in nerd culture.
I mean, in the spring, they came out with an expansion called Awesome Level 9000, which IS awesome because of its inclusion of Ghosts, Plants, Steampunk machinations, and my personal favorite, Bear Cavalry - because Russians on bears gives you the excuse to name cards things like "General Ivan" and "...You're Pretty much Borscht." What's great about Smash Up is that it was built specifically to be a mix and match game, so including a new deck of 20 cards immediately deepens the game. Plants build off spawning lots of tiny monsters temporarily? Well, lets just pair them with the Robots from the original game. Bear Cavalry eats minions that get moved around the board near them? I sense the base-swapping Pirate deck might be a good match. The combinations are endless, and of course, 'Plant-Zombies' I have seen quite a few times since picking up the expansion and main game itself.
Now, just in the last month, Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion has been released, and the game has changed yet again...and the potential for everyone to have a ridiculous combo has expanded yet again. However, now something has changed, and the world quivers in fear - the introduction of Madness cards.
Before we continue though, I must ask...Why Cthulhu? Why has this creation of H.P. Lovecraft have a hold on the modern imagination, especially for nerds and gamers? The books that were published on the concept of invoking fear and anxiety and forcing contemplation on the meaning of rationality have been turned into a source of inspiration for many game developers, and as South Park or the game Cthulhu Saves the World has shown, even humor. However, its become a mainstay in the gaming world to have an influence from Lovecraft, to the point where the cheeky Smash Up name makes sense...but why?
It's quite simple, actually - Cthulhu has become synonymous with something different, something other. Its an unspoken accord - you see that a game has Lovecraftian influences in it, and you know it isn't going to play by the same rules. You understand, immediately, that something is off, that something isn't quite normal anymore, and that by moving into a universe where tentacled monsters live is letting yourself deepen a suspension of disbelief, to let yourself ignore the absurdity of the situation to revel in it. I could write articles about this alone, and at some point I might, but a simple example is made in humble Smash Up - the theme of this expansion lets them introduce a new rule without people blinking an eye - the thought of having a new restriction or worry that's attached to cards filled with unspeakable names just seems to fit.
I'll admit, I was worried at first when I saw they were introducing a new card type - I've seen games that I've prized for their simplicity become clunky and bogged down as additional rules or complications are added. However, in the near-dozen games I've played with these things hitting the field, I haven't felt that way. Its a very simple concept that goes like this - each of the new expansions can cause either yourself, or other players, to put madness cards into your hand or deck. The cards themselves are actually pretty awesome, and are an action that lets you draw more cards to remove the card from play again. Where it hurts is at the end of the game - where for every two of these cards you own, you start losing victory points...
...Nothing is quite as satisfying as playing as the Elder Gods and driving your opponents into drawing as many of these cards as possible. You finish the game in second or third place...and you end up winning due to your foes frothing at the mouth and losing sanity. Its a brand new element that just adds to the insanity, and can be combined in amazing ways. The Innsmouth deck boasts only one creature type...but one that causes you to look through your deck constantly for copies. Combining this with Robots that gain power via amount of creatures, or with the card draw of wizards...
...Or perhaps take the Miskatonic University deck, which lets itself use and discard madness easily, using it before removing it. Fueling a high cost dinosaur to become even stronger...
...Maybe the cultists are your fancy, drawing madness cards to fuel rituals to change the actual point-scoring cards on the field? I think you see where I'm coming from by this point - this expansion is a great addition, and allows for a twist on the game without removing its crazy ability to mash together genres and style to create hilarity. It actually turned out better than I was expecting, and for that I am happy.
With that being said...what are you waiting for? Get the game already, so that you too, might amass a horde of Ninja cultists to take over the world with. Or perhaps Elder God pirates are more your style - who am I to judge?