I know, I know — another Cthulhu game. I realize I just talked at length about one, but I do have something of a confession to make. I’m a sucker for Lovecraft, well… anything… but especially games. I know they spawn like flies in the realm of tabletop, and I know not a single one truly encapsulates the gloom and doom of inescapable horror. The theme is getting close to the point of supersaturation, and yet the Mythos’ rate of use continues to grow. Even as I saw this game at Origins Game Fair, I rolled my eyes and let out an audible sigh… but knew deep down that I was going to play it. And I did. Because of course I did. What I didn’t expect was this particular game stands out not for its theme, but for its twist on a familiar mechanic.
If you’ve played Crazy Eights (or any variation of the game, including the near ubiquitous UNO), then you’ll have an immediate understanding of how this game is played. Each person takes turns playing a numbered cards into a communal stack in the center, each number equal to or higher than the card on the top of the pile. If you can’t play a card, take the entire stack into your hand. Goal is to get rid of all the cards in your hand. That’s it. Those are the only rules you need to know to start playing.
Of course the game isn’t as straightforward as that, obviously — but you already assumed that. The game employs a clever mechanic of effects that trigger anytime sets of equal numbers are laid down on top of one another. Play one 6 card, nothing happens. But play three 6 cards OR a 6 card on two other 6 cards on the stack: an event occurs! Or players may play special event cards that can be played on any number in the stack. These events benefit of the player triggering them; or at the very least, to the grief of her or his opponents.
Not that I would call this game mean spirited, but it’s certainly got a fun and lighthearted “take that” mechanic built into the set building or event cards. Sure, the first time your opponent gleefully forces the stack of 20 to 30 cards into your hand might feel like a heavy weight to slog through. But then you realize, you haven’t just been handed a yoke around your neck: you’ve been thrown a bandoleer of ammunition! And therein lies the balance of the game. Those in the rear (i.e. more cards in their hand) are able to play more cards each turn with the added bonus of taking aim at those in front with the set bonuses. This naturally evens the playing field, self correcting in favor of keeping the players near the same level of advantage.
So, how does this have anything to do with Lovecraft? Well the premise of the game is that the players are all hapless discoverers of a labyrinthine city in the middle of the ocean, one in which you soon find yourself hopelessly lost. Hence the appropriately named Lost in R’lyeh. While there, Cthulhu wakes up. Bad day. And not having gone full-crazytown just yet, you all rightly decide it’s time to get right back to the boat and leave. But you know that you have little chance of surviving in direct competition with dread Lord Cthulhu, squid-gods be praised, so you resign to the notion that at least you can trip your buddies in hopes they become the snack that slows the horror down long enough for you to escape.
Sure, the premise seems like a stretch now. And even playing the game; yea, it’s still a stretch. But once the end of the game is in sight, the players remember what’s at stake: if they don’t make it out of R’lyeh and back to the boat, their brainmeats are lunch for a hungry Elder Thing. What started off as a quaint– yet clever — game of playing numbered cards, has now turned into lively banter about who will be the permanent– yet short lived– resident of Cthulhu’s subaquarian fortress. But hey, even if you still find the theme a bit of a stretch (and trust me, it still is), there’s enough player interaction and quippy game mechanic to keep it interesting.
That leads to another interesting aspect of the game: there’s only a single loser, the inverse of the “last man standing wins” condition that many player elimination games subscribe to. So, fun fact, with a few notable exceptions, I hate player elimination games. I dislike games that knock people out of the running for the win, relegating them to the sidelines to watch the rest of the players duke it out. Not only are you not playing a game– which sucks– but you’ve also got the wounded ego of losing to boot. So, the bad news is that Lost in R’lyeh has player elimination. Good news is that the players eliminated are the winners! Despite still being forced to be audience to the rest of the match, it feels earned rather than a punishment. Plus, once the first person wins, typically it’s not long before the others trail in behind. Remember, the game tries to keep it a close race until the end.
Lastly, the game’s value is high compared to the cost. Generally I don’t like to talk about whether or not a game is worth your money, since that sort of thing is highly subjective. But Lost in R’lyeh retails at $15 SRP, which in and of itself is standard fare for a simple deck of cards. Except not only does this deck stand out with tarot sized cards of good card-stock, but the storage case is a tin with neat-o textured artwork on the lid. Neither of those things are crucial or even relevant to the gameplay, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit it enhances my feeling of the game’s value or even the overall experience.
- Setup time: ~1 minute
- Play time: ~20 minutes
- Cleanup time: < 1 minute
- Number of players: 2-6
- Table Footprint: 1 sq ft. per player
- Core Mechanics:
- Hand Management
- Player Elimination
- Take That
You may like if you also like:
- Lovecraft Mythos
- Games that can be easily learned/taught
- Games that can be completed in under 1 hour
- Games with direct player interaction
You may not like if you prefer:
- Cooperative or team games
- Games that rely on more strategy or deeper thinking
- Tactical or fighty games
All images from the Atlas Games: Lost in R’lyeh page