Mechanics are the backbone of a tabletop game, but they aren’t everything. Without themes and fiction, they’re nothing more than cold, hard math. As such, board games seek to immerse themselves in some sort of story, and very popular trappings – those stories are the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft is an iconic horror, science, and fantasy writer whose works endure to this day. Lovecraft’s stories depict a hostile, uncaring universe and the monstrous beings that inhabit it, threatening humanity. Many board games use the surface images of Lovecraft’s storytelling, some with much better results than others.
Updated on January 26th by Isaac Williams: The works of H. P. Lovecraft are an ever-popular theme for a board game. Cthulhu has graced more game covers than Lovecraft would have ever dreamed. This list has been updated with even more of the best board games that draw on Lovecraft’s fiction.
15 The Doom That Came To Atlantic City Improves On Its Base Game
The Doom That Came to Atlantic City is part of a series of send-ups of Monopoly. It uses similar mechanics to that infamous board game. However, it refines them in many areas. In addition, it completely changes up the fiction. Players control Great Ones attempting to destroy the world through gates in Atlantic City.
The Doom That Came to Atlantic City does have some of Monopoly‘s pitfalls. It relies on dice for movement and players can lose through sheer bad luck. However, it makes some marked improvements. Players have unique abilities that can turn the game on its head. It’s also much faster, often over in an hour. The game isn’t revolutionary but it is fun.
14 Munchkin Cthulhu Is Yet More Of A Classic
Munchkin Cthulhu doesn’t do much to rewrite the Munchkin playbook. For the most part, it’s very similar to other Munchkin sets. It provides new enemies and cards that are Lovecraft-themed. The only real concessions to the fiction are a new Cultist class and a few cards with sanity-themed mechanics.
Nothing Munchkin Cthulhu does will appeal to non-Munchkin fans. Likewise, it doesn’t make unique use of its theme. However, it’s the marriage of two simple and popular concepts. It’s more content for Munchkin fans that puts a new twist on gameplay. For fans of both Munchkin and Cthulhu fans, it’s perfect.
13 Tides Of Madness Balances Risk And Reward
Tides of Madness is a rare Lovecraft game that doesn’t focus as heavily on monsters. Instead, it uses Lovecraft’s themes of ancient power and the loss of sanity. It uses similar mechanics to its forerunner game Tides of Time. Players assemble a kingdom by drafting cards. Every time they do, they discard one card to use as a relic. The aim is to make as prosperous a kingdom as possible.
However, Tides of Madness changes things up with its madness mechanics. Certain powerful cards have a tradeoff in giving madness. This madness is itself a tradeoff. A moderately high amount can give more points. However, if a player ever amasses too much, they lose immediately. It’s an effective gamble that improves Tides of Madness‘ gameplay.
12 Shadows Over Normandie Is A Complex But Rewarding Wargame
Many Lovecraftian board games echo the fiction. Players take control of everyday investigators caught up in horror. Shadows Over Normandie takes a very different approach. Rather than battling the forces of cosmic horror with journalists and professors, one player goes to war against them with an army.
Shadows Over Normandie is a wargame spun off from Heroes of Normandie. It pits the Allies against horrific Lovecraftian monstrosities and the Nazi cultists who summon them. The game is complex and can be fairly impenetrable for new players. However, it rewards mastery and can lead to sprawling, exhilarating tabletop battles with a unique theme.
11 Mountains Of Madness Plays With Players’ Perceptions
Mountains of Madness‘ base gameplay is fairly simple. Players have to explore the titular mountain, recover the relic, and escape. To do so, they have to complete the challenges on each section’s card. Players overcome these challenges by playing cards as a group that total a target number or range.
Mountains of Madness shines in its restricted communication. Players have a limited time to communicate before putting down cards, and cannot talk once they have. As the game progresses, it places more restrictions on players’ ability to communicate. The difficulty increases organically and in a way that makes brilliant use of the game’s source material.
10 Bloodborne: The Board Game Takes Action-Horror To The Tabletop
Bloodborne: The Board Game isn’t directly themed after Lovecraft’s work. Instead, it adapts a video game that is. Bloodborne: The Board Game takes the iconic FromSoftware action-RPG and puts it on a game board. Players control Hunters on the night of the Hunt, patrolling Yharnam’s Streets to curtail the rising beast threat.
The game is a thoroughly enjoyable dungeon crawler with an intuitive and engaging combat system. The source material’s biggest Lovecraftian influences are absent from the base game. Nonetheless, it still replicates the feeling of struggling against an otherworldly threat and persevering against all odds.
9 Unfathomable Is Pure Deep One Survival
Many Lovecraftian games give some grand objective. This might be closing some form of gate or rift allowing threats into the world, or curtailing the assault of a cosmic threat to save the world. Not so with Unfathomable. This game simply tasks most of its players with surviving. They’re aboard a ship that has come under attack from Deep Ones.
Most of the players in Unfathomable are humans attempting to survive their voyage to Boston. They have to keep their ship afloat and manage its resources. At least one player, however, plays a hidden Deep One. They aid their fellows by sabotaging the ship and the other players from the inside. The result is a board game of deception and mistrust, with a rising sense of hopelessness.
8 Elder Sign Is A Quick And Thrilling Game Of Ancient One Combat
Fantasy Flight Games publish some of the best-known Lovecraftian games on the market. One of their quicker and less complex is Elder Sign. It has a familiar fictional premise. An Ancient One is attempting to break through into the world, and the players control investigators attempting to stop it.
However, Elder Sign is deliberately easier to play and designed for quicker games. Players take turns exploring rooms. They then attempt to overcome the obstacles in those rooms for rewards. The objective is to stop the Ancient One before it can appear or slay it when it does. Elder Sign isn’t the best Lovecraft-themed board game. Nonetheless, it’s a good purchase for those who want something simpler.
7 Cthulhu: Death May Die Is An Unapologetic Action Fest
Many board games based on H.P. Lovecraft take on a similar tone to his works. His stories were light on combat or action. They were investigative horror where the protagonists wanted to stay as far away from the eldritch threat as possible. As such, many board games have impossible or risky combat.
Cthulhu: Death May Die deliberately ignores this concept. It isn’t the most faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s work. Instead, it is a pulse-pounding and light-hearted game designed to emulate an action-horror movie. Players slaughter cultists and monsters in their droves using the game’s intuitive rules system. Cthulhu: Death May Die‘s action focus really stands out.
6 Machina Arcana Blends Cthulhu And Steampunk
Lovecraftian fiction is best associated with the 1920s. The steampunk genre deliberately tries to emulate an alternate version of the Victorian era. Machina Arcana mashes the two together. Players wield steampunk technology and trappings as they go up against Lovecraftian monstrosities.
The game is somewhat dense and rules-heavy. It’s not unworkable, however. It won’t take long for players to get to grips with the mechanics. Before long, they’ll be exploring the dungeon and battling its monsters with confidence. Machina Arcana is well-balanced, thematic, and flat-out beautiful. It’s worth it game for fans of either genre.
5 Arkham Horror Has Endured For A Reason
Arkham Horror is one of the best-known Lovecraft board games in existence. Its origins date back to 1987, first released by Call of Cthulhu‘s Chaosium Inc. Since then, it’s had new editions released in 2005 and 2018. Arkham Horror sets the standard for Lovecraft board games. A group of players explore the town of Arkham and try to prevent gates from destroying the world.
Arkham Horror pits players against the clock. If a Doom Counter ticks down, players have one last chance to fight an Ancient One. If they fail in this fight, the world is destroyed. Before then they explore, fight monsters, acquire tools, and close gates on other worlds. Arkham Horror is beloved for a reason. It’s tense, fair, and mechanically tight. However, it can be overly complex for some.
Most games based on H.P. Lovecraft’s works tend to be cooperative. Even those that aren’t cast most players as regular humans attempting to survive. Though it keeps other Lovecraft themes, Cthulhu Wars eschews this. It’s a sprawling, unit-heavy wargame. Players take control of monstrous cults all dedicated to ending the world.
The game is deliberately over-the-top and avoids taking itself too seriously. It lets players battle it out over the entirety of Earth with cultists, monsters, and their own great ones. Cthulhu Wars‘ miniatures are noted for being impressive and beautiful. As a result, it’s well-liked by many Lovecraft fans despite not being a faithful adaptation.
3 Pandemic: Reign Of Cthulhu Adapts A Beloved Game For The Genre
Pandemic is a modern classic board game. It’s seen a number of alternate versions and adaptations. One of the most notorious is Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. Players don’t control medical professionals trying to halt four plagues. Instead, they control investigators trying to stop four portals before they release monsters into the world.
The game changes surprisingly few of Pandemic‘s base mechanics. It instead provides a few additional rules and a heavy dose of fiction to support the game. The base rules translate surprisingly well to a Lovecraft-esque story. As a result, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is a thematic and entertaining experience with a slick rule set.
2 Mansions Of Madness Blends Board Gameplay And Technology Perfectly
Mansions of Madness is a Cthulhu-themed dungeon crawler. However, it has less of an emphasis on combat. Players explore a number of thematic locations relevant to the Lovecraft mythos. They acquire resources, solve mysteries, and run from their foes. Combat is almost always a last resort.
Mansions of Madness is accompanied by an app that guides much of the action. It’s s noted for both its rising tension and its replayability. With huge randomization, the game can take on a great many forms. However, almost every playthrough will end with victory or defeat by the thinnest margin.
1 Eldritch Horror Reimagines A Classic
Fantasy Flight Games’ Eldritch Horror is a game with heavy inspiration from Arkham Horror. The new rules both simplify and expand that game. The action grows to cover the entire world, rather than a small part of New England. Players struggle to stop cosmic threats from appearing on Earth and destroying it.
Eldritch Horror makes use of a common premise to Lovecraft-based games. However, it does it with so much depth, dynamism, and attention to the mythos that it stands above much of the competition. Arkham Horror has been a classic for years, and Eldritch Horror simply refines it for a wider audience.
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